Sorority Consultants Teach Your Daughter To Refrain From Talking About Anything Interesting — And Wear Accessories!

sororityConsidering that modern children are prepped for everything from their fourth grade math tests to private school interviews to SATs, perhaps it’s not at all shocking that a new blooming and booming preparation service for young people is upon us. The Princeton Review may guarantee an increase in your child’s test scores by 150 points, but tell me, how much would you pay someone to school your daughter in the art of Rush week and sorority life?

The New York Times reports that “the road to sisterhood” is now rife with $100 to $8,000 workshops in which young ladies are coached in a process that reads much like “speed dating meets interviewing meets beauty pageant meets upscale academic summer camp, complete with a counselor,” according to author Sunday Tollefson. But unlike tutoring, which hopefully gives your child some mean math skills along with an edge on the competition, you’re essentially throwing down money on sorority consulting so that your little girl can smile pretty:

Appealing facial expressions, confident body language and good conversational skills are critical. “Practice, practice, practice in the mirror, saying your name, and see what you look like when you listen,” advises Denise Pietzsch, an etiquette consultant in Ohio who works discreetly with clients heading to Miami University. “If you’re a great active listener, they will remember you because you let them talk.” Her typical fee: $125 an hour.

“Good conversational skills” aren’t exactly what I would use to describe what agencies much like Rushbiddies.com are reportedly teaching young ladies. Taboo subjects like politics and faith are discouraged much in the way that they would be for a job interview. But I don’t think that instructing young women how to forsake core beliefs in conversation in exchange for chatting about The Amazing Spiderman should exactly be called the “art of conversation”:

One day is devoted to carrying yourself properly and the art of conversation. Treat rush, she says, as you would a job interview. Avoid politics and religion. “I teach them how to make interesting small talk: what you saw at the cinema, a trip to Europe. I don’t know too many 20-year-olds who are having a debate about economics.” Another day is for getting physically ready — hair, makeup and wardrobe. Ms. [Samantha von Sperling, an image consultant] organizes “outfits down to accessories, completely strategized.” Just in case a client forgets, outfits are photographed and placed in a style file.

Why concern yourself with debating or articulating your thoughts to strangers about religious liberty, the 2012 election, Obamacare, or — yes, economics — when you can stand around crafting sound bytes about spring break in Barcelona? Much better to encourage 20-year-old girls to lead with their “appealing facial expressions” than passion and smarts.

(photo: Wallenrock /Shutterstock)

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    • Eileen

      This is why I’m so glad I went to a university without sororities, unless you count the foreign service “sorority,” where – you guessed it – favorite topics of discussion included foreign policy, religious diversity, and trade economics.

    • Ipsedixit

      Well isn’t this article just dripping with disdain.

      Full disclosure: I was a member of a national sorority and ran Panhellenic Fall and Spring recruitment for a university near Miami of Ohio.

      I am not what you would consider a typical “sorority” type, then again, neither were most of the others who joined a sorority at my university.

      While a coach isn’t something I would spend money on, the tips you outlined aren’t exactly that crazy. I wouldn’t start talking about politics, religion, foreign policy, etc with someone I just met, whether it was at sorority rush, a work function, the courthouse, or at the playground. It’s just not proper etiquette.

      That doesn’t mean that those topics are off limits once you get to know someone, but right off the bat? No way. But this picture that sorority girls are fembots who care about fashion, MRS degrees, and accessories is tired, outdated and a bit naive. I’m a sorority alum. I’m also a lawyer. My sorority roommates are a couple special ed teachers, a doctor, a UN employee, and a chemical engineer. No mommy bloggers, though.

      • Justme

        You took the words right out of my mouth.

        And let’s be frank about 20 year old women….ahem….girls. MOST girls this age (and yes, there are exceptions) don’t exactly have amazing opinions on politics and religion. I know many women that are much OLDER than 20 years old that couldn’t carry on a conversation about politics and religion.

      • Ipsedixit

        Yea, I think college age ladies are just figuring things out. College is a place where you can learn from others, bounce ideas around, and learn to respect differing viewpoints.

        Just because I choose to talk about a recent vacation doesn’t mean I couldn’t talk your ear off about recent controversial topics in the legal field. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

        At these rush events you have about an hour with each sorority. You carry on short conversations with a few people. You don’t have time to get super in depth.

        I don’t think the coach is telling these ladies to dumb themselves down to be accepted, I think she’s just teaching them basic etiquette.

      • Jenni

        Yes! I read this and thought ‘Why is it so bad that a girl who wants to get into a sorority learn how to make conversation beforehand?’
        The thing is, most highschoolers don’t know how to hold an actual conversation like this, which is the type that you would use when doing a serious job interview.
        When I rushed girls (or recruited, as rush has a bad connotation anymore), we were told to stay away from the 5 Bs – Bible, Bush (dating myself a bit, but politics), Boys, Booze and Bills. This encompassed a lot of what you could talk about, but the girls could say anything they wanted. If they wanted to go on and on about the community service they did with their church, that was great. But we couldn’t answer them if they asked if most of the house went to church on Sunday (even though many did).
        Also, we didn’t have an hour with the girls. For the first two days, we spent about 15 minutes with them (in 5 minute rotations with 3 different members). Then for the next days leading up to the last one we increased the time till it was about 30 minutes with the girls. Not really that much time to be able to get to know them. That was why we stayed away from hot topics like politics and religion; people will talk about those for hours, and get very defensive about their position.

      • Another Steph

        Yep, agree with all this. Debating religion or politics with someone you’ve just met – even with someone you know fairly well, if they’re not up for it – is eye wateringly rude. And I think a conversation skills workshop is a fantastic idea. I meet so many people who just talk, talk, talk about themselves, and when I’m talking I can tell they’re just waiting for their turn to speak. Learning how to listen is a valuable skill for anyone.

    • Amber

      I am not sure why people feel the need to quickly and negatively lampoon sororities. These are organizations that allow young women to interact in an enviroment that is both social and philanthropic in nature. For larger schools in the south (Ole Miss, Alabama, Texas), these schools are limited by the number of girls going through “rush” and the number they are alloted to take. Just like prepatory schools, or GMAT classes, you want to get the best edge and the most knowlege going in. I think these are a brilliant idea. I was the first in my family to rush a sorority and did not know how to dress or what to talk about. It was extremely competitive at my university and where you lived, what high school you went to and how you dressed matters. It also mattered how social you were and how friendly you made yourself to the actives. Yes, I discussed what I did in high school, the latest trends and things I enjoyed, but as I grew as a pledge and active, I found 3 of my best friends who are all now attorneys (I with my MBA). A lot of these suggestions are just common courtesy. Also, with the way a lot of girls are dressing today, sometimes, they just need a little help being more conservative.

      I strongly agree with “Dixit” below as well. You wouldn’t go up to a stranger and when discussing things about yourself talk about your thoughts on the recent Euro crisis or the job rate in America. You talk about who you are. Sometimes, girls have no clue and can use a little bit of help and with etiquette the way it is the United States, I think several adults could benefit as well.

    • Kateri

      Bravo Ms. Beck!

      As a 20 year old female who holds her religious and political opinions very near to her heart, I must say I consider von Sperling’s words a slap in the face. If von Sperling ever reads this, I’d like her to know that yes there are young women out there who debate economics. And politics. And religion. In fact, there might be more of us if she wasn’t distributing the archaic advice of “Shut up and look pretty.”

      And before someone goes and labels me as a raging butch feminist, (because somehow putting intelligence before appearance equals lesbian) know that I don’t see anything wrong with taking care of yourself physically and putting your best foot forward. But that doesn’t mean we throw away a century of women’s rights to merely focus on looking hot! C’mon ladies… you look good, so now start cultivating your minds to match your exterior!

      • Justme

        You can hold those views and opinions as near and dear to your heart as much as you want………but that doesn’t mean it’s always appropriate to spew them within the first five minutes of meeting someone.

        Teaching young women basic adult conversation skills isn’t dumbing them down but instead it gives them valuable skills when hunting for a job, meeting new clients for dinner, socializing within a new circle of peers, being introduced to your future in-laws for the first time, etc. All of those examples are places where certain topics are typically off limits – at least for most people. I certainly didn’t go in guns blazing ripping my future mother-in-law on her dated political views the first time we sat down to dinner together. I saved that for after the ink was dry on our marriage license of course.

        But in all seriousness, with the pervasiveness of digital communication among the younger generation, young women (AND men for that matter) should be taught and reminded of how to carry on a polite and pleasant conversation.

      • Ipsedixit

        Good God. My mind is cultivated just fine, thank you. I like to debate economics, politics, religion, etc. I also know where it is appropriate to do so and with whom. Meeting someone for the first time is not the correct place. These are nothing more than glorified etiquette classes.

      • CW

        There’s a time and a place for debating religion and politics. A cocktail party (which is essentially what Rush parties are though minus the alcohol) isn’t one of them. My sorority didn’t look for airheads (we had the highest GPA of any chapter on campus and my sisters included a Fulbright scholar and a Rhodes finalist) but a woman can demonstrate her intelligence through talking about non-controversial topics like her intended major or what her favorite course from the previous semester was (my campus had Spring Rush).

    • Katherine

      I have to say that I went through Rush when I first attended college and I pledged a sorority and spent four amazing years with best friends, philanthropy events, and earning a 3.8 GPA. Rush prepares young women for many things, you have to know how to meet someone and make an impression on them in 15 seconds. I am now in law school and feel completely confident that during On Campus Interviewing (which is basically Rush in a suit) I will know how to walk into that room read those interviewers and speak to them eloquently and effectively. I wish I had a conversation skills workshop to prepare me for Rush because then I could have avoided mistakes I now know not to make!

    • Kateri

      Clearly Justme and Ipsedixit missed my point. The fact that you think I’m suggesting you go into a job interview with fire in your eyes to loudly proclaim your political opinions is laughable. Try to keep up… Its a no brainer that there are things you don’t talk about upon first meeting someone. That aside, von Sperling’s dismissive attitude about the intellectual side of young women is insulting.

      Consider beauty pageants: There is an interview portion. A reasonable question is “What do you consider the most important current event happening in our country?” If you’re a twit like a girl I went to high school with who spent more time picking out her dresses than learning to form a coherent thought, then you end up with her answer of “Umm… Hillary Clinton is doing well in the presidency.” Suddenly, no one cares if she has a pretty smile and can carry herself extremely well.

      And here’s the kicker- I know too many women my age who don’t have a clue about politics, religion, economics, history, the list goes on… AND DON’T CARE. Sure, that sorority girl can dress professionally and make small talk about the ski trip she took with her parents. Maybe she lands that nice, shiny corporate job due to her social graces. And then comes a casual dinner with her boss… or she’s standing at the water cooler and the guys start talking about Operation Fast and Furious and all she can think is “You mean the Vin Diesel movie?” Yeah. Let’s see how far those social graces get her when she opens her mouth and reveals herself to be an idiot. The point being, too many women focus on the shallow and don’t consider the benefits of being well-rounded.

      • Ipsedixit

        “Why concern yourself with debating or articulating your thoughts to STRANGERS about religious liberty, the 2012 election, Obamacare, or — yes, economics — when you can stand around crafting sound bytes about spring break in Barcelona?”

        The key word above is *strangers*. Strangers are someone you are meeting for the first time or are not very familiar with. Basic etiquette says that you don’t bring up divisive topics such as politics, religion, etc, especially when you do not know the person well. Does that mean someone is not well versed in those topics? No, just that they choose not to talk about them at that particular moment. Did I talk about those topics with my friends, including sorority sisters, when in college? Yep, but at the proper time and place. Shallow people reveal themselves eventually, but this sorority girl stigma is tired and untrue. Social graces and brains are not mutually exclusive.

        There are people of every age that don’t have a clue or care about certain topics. It just doesn’t interest them and that’s totally fine. If you’re personally hanging around with people who aren’t interested in the same topics you are., find a group that is. There are plenty of people out there that share your views and others that would love to debate you.

      • Justme

        There are plenty of stereotypes about every group and organization under the sun – some are true for some people, some are false for some people. There were some girls in my sorority that were exactly the type of girl that you described. There were others that formed and held strong opinions during the four years of college and chose to express them. Some got married quickly after college and never “used” those degrees they earned while others are high powered attorneys and others are teaching the youth of America.

        The bottom line remains this: social grace in a way, is an art form to be learned. You can have all the knowledge, opinions and research on any given topic but if you can’t enter a conversation gracefully, engage with the other participants and know when to shut your mouth…..all that knowledge and all those opinions are going to be for naught.

        And another thing – your argument and how negative, nasty, judgmental and condescending you come across isn’t helping your point of view. You just sound bitter.

      • Justme

        And another thing. You’re twenty. Most conceivably you are in college. Life in the real world is vastly different than high school and college. But yet, unfortunately……very much the same. Those “twits” that you speak of who don’t seem to have any sort of intellectual prowress? They just might be the ones sneaking up past you on that corporate ladder because they know how to look cute and socialize. Is it right? Nope. Does it happen? Yep. You’re young and idealistic. You believe in a better world and you’re going to be one of those young women that changes things up, right? And who knows – you just might. But the reality of adulthood hardly matches up with the ideology of a liberal college student.

        But you know, good luck with all that.

      • Another Steph

        Justme and ipsedixit said it all, but I’d just like to add that it might be a good idea to take some sort of debating class. Name calling and accusing your opponent of ‘missing the point’ when they disagree with you is not going to win you any points – in fact, it’s going to put you in a very bad light in front of those shiny corporate bosses, while the silly twits who giggle about Hillary Clinton and Vin Diesel movies steal your promotions.