Living a Legacy

Natasha Allen

It’s a balmy Thursday evening, approximately 6 p.m., and the second floor of the Downing University Center is buzzing. Among the clumps of women dressed to impress in mostly matching or color-coordinating outfits, Jessi Donaldson waits patiently to take on night two of the first round of Western sorority Rush parties.

For many of the rushees, Rush and other aspects of Greek life are things they started planning just prior to their arrival at Western. But for Donaldson, a freshman from Paducah, it has been an event anticipated for much of her life.

“I was like 9,” she said laughing. “I always wanted to be like my sister. So when she went through it and loved it, that’s when I really decided.”

Donaldson’s mother, Vicki, and her sister, Kim Anderson, are both Murray State University graduates and alumnae for the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority.

Because her sister is 11 years older than her, Donaldson can remember wearing AOPi shirts and sleeping in bedspreads peppered with panda bears – one of the sorority’s mascots – since the age of 8 or 9.

She is known this week as a “legacy,” the term given to rushees whose relatives, most usually a sister, mother or grandmother, were members of the same sorority.

Though it is a popular belief that legacies have an automatic bid into their family’s sorority, according to Charlie Pride, director of student activities, legacies do not necessarily receive special consideration, although their status does get them some extra attention.

“We make sure their background is known,” he said. “But (being a legacy) is not a guarantee.”

Most of the 25 disaffiliated Rush counselors who were on hand this week to help rushees decide which sorority best suits them, know legacies like Donaldson usually follow in the tradition of their families.

Around 6:15 p.m. Thursday, Donaldson’s Rush counselor, Alice Caldwell, tells her group of women to get ready for their first party of the evening. As they pin themselves with handmade ladybug name tags, other Rush groups make their way outside. Just beyond, AOPi chants echo from behind its house, followed by screams and more chanting. Donaldson’s group passes the Farmhouse fraternity, many of its members taking full advantage of the fact this year is Western’s largest Rush in over a decade.

According to Jennifer Brumley, recruitment chair, the number of girls rushing this year is the largest the university has seen since 1992.

Donaldson’s group is greeted at their Alpha Gamma Delta sorority destination with an animated song before being taken inside.

About half an hour later, they’re back out and headed to the Sigma Kappa sorority house a couple of doors down. They are given back the plastic bags filled with their various personal items that they had handed over earlier, and in the few minutes they have to spare before entering the house, the women survey bug bites, straighten their skirts, reapply makeup, pop mints, bandage blisters and sip water. Name cards are handed out and used for fanning away mosquitoes and humidity, as cars pass by with honks and hollering in the group’s direction.

Roughly 30 minutes later the women have a short break before their next party. Like Wednesday night, the last party of the evening starts at 10:45 p.m.

For all of this year’s rushees, their first week on the Hill was busy. After getting to campus Sunday, Donaldson has attended events every night except one. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday alone, she visited 12 of the parties held at Western sorority houses.

By Friday morning she had narrowed the field down to three or four she really liked, a couple of which she described as feeling “like home.”

“Of course AOPi is one of them,” she said before adding Kappa Delta and Alpha Delta Pi sororities which were also in the running.

Thursday night, Donaldson received a care package from her mother containing a panda-shaped cookie. She insists however, even though it’s clear her mom and sister would be thrilled if she chose to carry on the AOPi family legacy, she hasn’t felt pressure from them to follow in their footsteps.

“My sister and my mom have been really great about saying, ‘Well, you know we loved AOPi, but you go where you feel the best.'” she said. “They wouldn’t pressure me to do AOPi just because they did.”

Since members and alumni can send in references to help the sororities decide who to invite in, Donaldson said several of the houses have had members approach her to say they’ve already heard so much about her.

And although she admits to having some initial doubt, she said it was easy to get a feel for which group she would best fit in just by a short visit to each sorority’s house.

“I was kind of surprised. I didn’t know how that would really work either, but you walk in and you can just tell where you would feel more comfortable and how you fit in with the women,” she said. “Some are really laid back and easy to talk to and some are just all about asking about exactly what you did and are not as personable as others.”

Just after noon on Sunday, 276 women received bids for WKU sororities. Donaldson was delivered an invitation to AOPi which she accepted. It wasn’t long before her mother and sister heard the news.

“They were really excited,” she said.