In mid-August, the summer after I graduated high school, I packed my little blue Daewoo to its gills and began the drive to my new home in Baton Rouge, La. While I had dreamed of this day for months, it was difficult to leave my hometown and all of my friends. However, 14 hours in the car filled my mind with reasons why I wanted to move south—I wanted the official break from Indiana. My parents told me if I was going to get out, and not end up living there for the rest of my life, I should just do it now. They were right. I knew nearly all of my friends would be attending state schools, which would be fun at first, but I didn’t want to redo high school; it was bad enough the first time.
I had thoroughly convinced myself I was going to move to Louisiana, where I would discover myself amongst the hazy summer heat, sweet tea, and slow-talking boys. I had romanticized the south ever since I spent a summer in Charleston, Sc. as a child.
I was traveling to school a week early than most of the other students because I was enrolled in Greek rush. Having no family members in any fraternities or sororities, I knew I was in for a unique experience. We, the rushies, were to get to campus in time for registration, and the first round of parties.
While the first round of parties is said to be the most casual, as we were served ice water with lemon, I learned much about my newfound home and I wasn’t sure if I was going to fit in. The girls, my peers, were wearing floppy hats and designer dresses and pricy pumps—I was wearing The Gap. We were sent ideas for outfits, but I had never seen anything like this in my life.
I heard stories from my older friends and their rush experiences back in Indiana, but southern Greeks are no joke. I just saw it as a chance to meet new people. I had only been to Louisiana two times before now, once to visit the campus and once for orientation. I knew no one and was going to need a few friends, and fast. I figured this was my only sure-fire way to meet hundreds of people; nothing like paying for them.
Rush is so organized it is nearly scary. All ten of the houses on campus arrange a schedule of parties that stretch along the entire week, as the sisters meet more than 1,000 potential new sisters. The parties are divided into rounds, with girls getting eliminated as the rounds progress.
Going into the first round of parties, I wasn’t nervous. I figured I could easily find something to talk about, considering I was from out-of-state and had many different interests. But my fellow rushies had something I didn’t—money. My family was near upper-middle class, but I definitely wasn’t prancing around in BCBG pumps and pearls. Partly because it wasn’t my style; it wasn’t even the style of my peers in the Midwest, but these girls didn’t just have money—they came from old money.
Welcome to the south.
Since I was brand new to campus, I was able to objectively look at each Greek group I visited. Overall, I liked the girls I met. Of course, there were a few I didn’t click with. When I walked into one house, we were handed ceramic owl cups filled with ice water. As I talked to my potential sorority sister, she slowly fanned me with an Asian-inspired hand fan.
“Did you have a summer job?” she asked, smacking on a piece of gum.
“Yeah, I worked at a frozen custard shop,” I said. “What about you?”
“Ugh. I have been working as a nurse’s assistant,” she said. “It’s okay sometimes, but you know, it’s mostly bitch work.”
“So, what does your dad do?” She asked. I wanted so desperately to lie to her and say my dad was a janitor. But I told the truth—he owned a company. She still wasn’t impressed.
At another house, I ruined my chances of getting in when I mentioned I enjoyed everything about writing for my high school newspaper except for selling ads. Turns out, that is exactly what the sorority’s philanthropy was—selling ads for a children’s organization. Oops, insert foot here.
Despite the flubs, the most stressful part of rush was the nighttime. My roommate, who was chosen randomly and who I hadn’t met yet, wasn’t on campus yet since she was not rushing. So I spent my nights alone in our dorm room. My rush group leader, a student who we could confide in with questions and concerns about rush. After each day of parties, the sororities would vote and make a cut. Our rush leader would either call us or show up at our door and tell us if we got cut so we wouldn’t show up for the 6 a.m. posting of The List. I told her I was more comfortable with the call. Afraid of getting the call, I would call my dad after dinner and talk to him late into the night until we both thought I was “safe,” since I never had my rush leader beep in.
By the last day, I had made it through rush, got a bid, and ended up at a party on the lawn of my new home. That night, we went to the home of one of my new sister’s parents where there was a pool and tubs of jambalaya. It was a weird feeling knowing that, hours earlier, I had really no idea who these girls were, but now they were my friends. Or, supposed friends.
During the first week of class, my sorority held several functions with the fraternities. The announced our first “grub”—an event held at a bar with a theme, where everyone brought a date. The theme for this grub was “Mystery Mad Hatter,” meaning we were supposed to bring a date we didn’t know. Lucky for me, any date I brought was going to be someone I wouldn’t know.
During that initial pool party, we were paired up with a sorority sister who would help us get to know people and show us around campus. My buddy that week was Meghan, a girl who rushed me on my final night. Luckily, she was very welcoming and knew someone she could set me up with for my first grub.
So Friday night came and I was ready for my blind date function. Meghan and I met up with her boyfriend and my date, Brian, at a friend’s place to pre-drink. I sat with Brian on the couch as he talked with one of his friends.
“Have you ever been to his house?” he asked me, pointing to Brian.
I shook my head. Brian was from Bossier city, that was nearly four hours north of Baton Rouge. I had hardly seen this city, let alone any others in the state. Like most people I eventually met at LSU, everyone assumes you’re from Louisiana and that you’ve been everywhere. Out-of-staters are nearly unheard of.
So his friend proceeds to tell me how great things are at Brian’s house, because he has a live-in maid. Apparently the maid was black because Brian’s friend felt it necessary to speak in ebonics as he asked Brian what he wanted for breakfast, mocking the maid. Brian and his friend laughed about the way the maid talked and the things she said.
I was appalled. Months earlier, when I explained to my high school guidance counselor I wanted to go to LSU, she told me I would be the first person to graduate from there and attend LSU. A majority of my classmates were confused. Why would I pick a school that’s out of state, but not in a glamorous place? My classmates were running on the ideas of Adam Sandler in “Water Boy.”
But I knew better. After my first visit to LSU’s campus, I fell in love. I was certain the south would not disappoint me. My journey to LSU started with my love for dance. As captain of my high school dance squad, I was constantly watching music videos and dance competitions. My sophomore year, the LSU Tiger Girls won the national title for dance, putting them on my radar. My senior year in high school, I still loved dance, but my original dreams of being a celebrity choreographer were crushed when I did a school project that proved I wouldn’t make any more than $30,000 a year and my career probably wouldn’t see my 40th birthday.
However, I still kept LSU on the map when my next door neighbors told me they were LSU alumnae. Since I was still interested in going out of state, they assured me if I visited the school I would be hooked. They were right.