The Implicit Messages of the University of Alabama Alpha Phi Recruitment Video

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Cassidy Ellis

A Southern grad student-activist who likes her tea sweet, her coffee strong, and her feminism intersectional.

At least once a year there is a scandal or a story that makes national headlines involving the Greek system at my school, The University of Alabama. Just since my first year here in 2011, there’s been incidents like Greek corruption in our Student Government Association (SGA) that led to our then-SGA president stepping down, Greek corruption of City Council elections that left many campus and community members with questions, desegregation of the Greek system in 2013, racist social media posts by members of the Greek system, and former Greek members in charge of furnishing new sorority houses have been charged with fraud and money laundering. This year is no different with the viral Alpha Phi recruitment video, which has been covered by several media outlets including USA Today, FOX Sports, Bustle, and Madame Noire. The video was even been labeled by a column in a state-wide news source, al.com, as being “worse for women than Donald Trump.

In all honestly, the Alpha Phi recruitment video wasn’t that bad on The the surface…if you don’t think about the things this article considers. The first half of the video is mostly shots of the Alpha Phi house and women lounging inside and waving from outside. The women are then shown frolicking across the Quad, the campus green, park-like area. Later they are shown in the Bryant Denny Stadium playfully throwing the football with star player, Kenyan Drake. After that they move to the Black Warrior River, some blowing glitter from their hands, others playfully hitting each other with inflatables in the shape of Tootsie Rolls, and others holding hands and jumping into the water. And finally, the video closes with the women back at the house waving at the camera and looking fabulous, knowing that now you want to be an Alpha Phi too!

Still shot from the video
Still shot from the video

In defense of the video, people have argued that it’s just girls having fun. They can’t help that they’re thin, blonde, and beautiful, supporters say. Those in defense of the video have said that it’s a display of sisterhood, which is fostered by sororities. And I agree, somewhat. The girls in the video are clearly having fun, and of course they shouldn’t be judged for their body type or presentation. Additionally, I’m sure sororities are a great way for people to create friendships and foster sisterhood. I’m here for girl power and women loving women.

However, I think it’s important to interrogate the implicit messaging within the video and the ramifications of that messaging on not only our campus here in Tuscaloosa, but society at-large. Further, I think it’s important to interrogate the media’s responses to this video and consider the biases that are depicted within them.

This recruitment video has been critiqued as being anti-feminist and a manifestation of the racism and segregation still occurring within the Greek system. I’ve also seen arguments that the video is emblematic of the Greek system’s lack of diversity. I don’t want to critique whether or not the women in the video are feminists, because I don’t necessarily believe the way we physically present ourselves is indicative of our feminism. I also don’t want to assume the women in the video are unconcerned with diversity and inclusion (though I do think their participation in an organization with such deep-seated racism, misogyny, and homophobia makes them complicit in the perpetuation of such oppression unless they are actively working to change it). And despite what many articles and commentators have argued, I do not believe the women are shallow, one-dimensional, or unintelligent. To make those judgments would be inherently anti-feminist and wouldn’t be constructive.

Alpha-Phi-Recruitment-Video

However, I’ve seen people on social media and on my personal Facebook timeline argue that we shouldn’t critique the video or the women involved, because the critique itself would be anti-feminist. I disagree with that. Critique is necessary to grow our personal feminism and the movement at-large. So, my thoughts here aren’t an attempt to shame women associated with the Alpha Phi video or Greek system at The University of Alabama (or throughout the country for that matter). It is, however, a critique of the implicit rhetoric of the video and the media’s responses.

I first found the Alpha Phi recruitment video through a friend who posted a FOX Sports article entitled “Hot Alabama Sorority Enlists Kenyan Drake to Star in Recruitment Video” on Facebook. This FOX Sports article illustrates the majority of the media’s reactions to the video: “Hot girls having fun doing hot girl things.”  This article, and many others like it, infantilized and objectified the women in the video. My first response to both the article and the video was, “Woah, this is problematic.”

I was uneasy at how the video displayed the ways in which opulence is associated with Greek culture at UA (and maybe at other large universities as well) through the shots of the very expensive decor and furnishings within the sorority house, the display of the old association of whiteness with purity through the virginal white dresses the (white) women wore throughout the video, the display of hypersexualized tropes of black masculinity through the objectification of a Black football player, and the depiction of sexualized sisterhood through the homoerotic ways in which the women interacted. Furthermore, the video made it clear that White folks’ (specifically women’s) interaction with Black male bodies is only appropriate and acceptable on the football field, or in the context of athletics. The video was intellectually fascinating, yet troubling and in many ways disturbing.

The Alpha Phi recruitment video was extremely problematic, and illustrated the fact that while The University of Alabama has had discussion after discussion about how diverse the school and the Greek system are, we still have an extremely long way to go. The video also illustrated, however, the way in which sorority women are especially prone to objectification. The media participates in and perpetuates this objectification as depicted by the above FOX Sports article, and also by an al.com article, about sorority pledgeship at The University of Alabama. Entitled “University of Alabama Bid Day: 2,261 women pledge Panhellenic sororities,” the article discusses the process of pledging at UA and the issues we’ve seen in the few years since “desegregation” a few years ago. At the beginning of the article there is a video of the newly pledged sorority women running to their new houses (a tradition of sorority recruitment that is inherently objectifying anyway as the onlookers are often fraternity men). That sounds nice, a video showing the excitement of women who just found out what house they will call home for the next four years. It sounds nice, but the video of the run is in slow motion.

I have questions for al.com and article author, Melissa Brown. What is the purpose of this video being in slow motion? How does editing the footage in this way enhance the video or the depiction of the celebrations on Sorority Row? What messaging is implicit in editing the video in this way? That’s right up there with girls jumping on trampolines,” a commentator states. That’s the message: that women’s bodies are to be consumed, gawked at, watched, and sexualized. The al.com video of sorority pledges running to their houses in slow motion objectifies the women it depicts in a very similar way to the Alpha Phi recruitment video. They both put women’s bodies on display specifically for public consumption.

Again, it’s important to consider the ways in which the media has responded to the Alpha Phi recruitment video. It’s also important to recognize the ways in which the media’s responses would differ if this were a group of women of color, or Black women specifically. The fact that the majority of the media’s response to the video has been positive (“Girls just wanna have fun.”), is representative of the media’s bias.

First of all, would a video similar to Alpha Phi’s featuring predominantly Black women have even gone viral? I imagine that if that did happen, there would be many more people denouncing the video as being “racist” if it didn’t include White women. I imagine that the comment section on articles written about it would be filled with less “positive” sexism as seen above from the al.com article. I imagine there would be dehumanization, name calling, and perpetuation of tropes like the Jezebel. One reason I make this conjecture is because after recently seeing “Straight Outta Compton” (a film that not only perpetuates objectification of women’s bodies, but also misogynior) and posting on Facebook about it, I received comments along the lines of “I walked out after I saw how many hoodrats were in there [the theater].” 

The women in the Alpha Phi video might have been just having fun. But it’s important to think about how images of “fun” we produce, especially as White women, might reinforce negative biases, racism, and objectification. Further, we must be cognizant of what ideas are implicitly perpetuated by our actions and our words. The Alpha Phi video in conjunction with the media’s responses to it depict just how far we have to go towards inclusivity and representations of women and people of color in the media.