“Bama Rush” reveals the extreme measures young women take to enter sorority life at the University of Alabama — a provocative social experiment some say is the blueprint for Greek life at campuses nationwide.
“It was definitely scary, but I felt it was important to be vulnerable and show other girls that they can open up and that they’re not alone in this,” Isabelle Eacrett, a 19-year-old Alabama student and sorority member featured in the film, told Fox News Digital.
The University of Alabama is the top recruitment school in the country, with prospective sorority members going so far as to hire recruitment specialists to help them get into certain houses.
Rush consultant Trisha Addicks, who is featured in the new HBO Max documentary, described the rush process at Alabama as “cutthroat.”
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“It’s just uniquely Alabama,” she said.
Prospective new members (PNMs) go through an intensive, four-round recruitment process, which includes interviews and social functions, before they choose a sorority and vice versa. Some students opt out of Greek life because of the cost alone.
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The average annual cost of rushing for new sorority members at Alabama is more than $8,000, according to the documentary. Tuition for in-state students is less than $12,000 annually, and about $30,000 annually for out-of-state students.
After all four rounds of the rush process, PNMs who do not fit a sorority’s expectations may get “dropped,” meaning they have to turn to their second, third or even last choices.
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The documentary, which features four students’ “rush week” experiences, comes after “#Bamarush” videos went viral on TikTok last year as students posted videos of their outfits and “rush” advice that generated billions of views on the video-sharing app.
However, Eacrett says the film is about more than what students portray on TikTok. “I believe sorority life is more than what people think. … It has less to do with outfits and appearances and more so to do with your journey as a person.”
“A lot of people don’t recognize how smart these girls are and how important academics are in Greek life, especially in the South. It has a lot to do with your acts of service, philanthropy and sisterhood, obviously.”
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The documentary also highlights an air of mystery and tradition surrounding Alabama’s Greek life system. A “secret” society made up of certain sororities and fraternities on campus called The Machine, for example, apparently controls high-level decisions at the some-38,000-student school.
Some women featured in the film discuss a lack of individuality in the rush process, saying PNMs should stand out, but only to an extent. They should be unique but not entirely different from the other women they are seeking to join.
Author Elizabeth Boyd described the process as “a proving ground of competitive femininity and the contemporary performance of the Southern belle.”
One student featured in the documentary, Shelby Rose, stopped filming with HBO halfway through. She said HBO approached her when she was a senior in high school entering her freshman year at Alabama, and she thought the documentary was going to be different from what it ultimately ended up becoming.
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“I love every single sorority at UA, and I have nothing but positive things to say about the campus and the sororities,” she said in a TikTok explaining her decision to stop filming. “So, since I did stop filming, like, right before rush week, and I feel as blindsided and confused as everybody else. … I do not agree with any of the negative things said about the University of Alabama, campus as a whole and the UA Panhellenic Association.”
She said she has “lost trust” in the film’s creators because “it was portrayed in a very different way” to her when she signed on to be featured in it.
Eacrett, meanwhile, says she was happy with how the documentary turned out.
“A lot of people didn’t understand what the documentary was going to be. I think people expected it to be some exposé or exposing secrets of sorority life, and if anyone hasn’t seen the documentary, I encourage them to delve in with the idea that this is more than that,” she said. “This is stories of young women, and I hope people gain insight on what it’s really like to be a young woman in our age, with social media, with pressure coming from all directions.”
She added that she thinks “a lot of people wanted was some hard-hitting piece on the secrets.” What they got instead was a movie meant to “uplift girls and to show what they’re really going through.”