GERLACH: Let’s fix a cappella rush

I often find myself at the end of a semester wondering where the time went. While I think this is somewhat inevitable at Yale, for the third winter in a row I am especially aware that I once again gave an entire month of my fall to the annual a cappella recruitment process, affectionately referred to as “rush.”

Every September, the members of Yale’s 13 underclassman a cappella groups and hundreds of hopeful freshmen undergo this marathon process — one that fits so neatly into the pattern of bloated selection processes on this campus. For those unfamiliar with the details, allow me to explain briefly: it includes two nights where every group performs, two weekends of auditions, two-and-a-half weeks of rush meals and singing desserts — in all, a month of unnecessary drama — conveniently located at the beginning of the year, when no one is busy.

Does this sound like a good idea?

We run the same gauntlet each year, leaving freshmen disoriented in their first semester of college. Upperclassmen end up just as lost, hence me writing this in November. I have yet to meet a person, singer or otherwise, who enjoys rush or thinks it can’t be improved. But we conveniently allow ourselves to forget each year, and suddenly it’s September and we’re right back in it. I think we can do better. I call on the current a cappella community to work with the Singing Group Council — who thus far has done a tremendous job managing one of the most out-of-control Yale traditions — to look seriously at making some changes that will improve the process next year and into the future.

As it stands now, we have to decide what the purpose of rush is. Are we simply recruiting new singers? If so, then there definitely isn’t an excuse for dragging it out as long as we do. If we were really just trying to audition singers, why couldn’t it happen in two days?

The answer to that question lies in the nature of our a cappella groups. In addition to being a long-standing Yale tradition, they’re obviously more to most than just musical ensembles, serving also as a source of friendship and support. We are rightly concerned, then, with making sure that we mesh socially with the people that we tap. If that were the sole reason, then perhaps we could justify a lengthy process.

But that’s not what we tell freshmen. We tell them that the beauty of rush is getting to know new people, meeting upperclassmen and making those first freshmen friends. It’s this fibbing that makes rush so harmful.

As someone who has been on the other side of the table for two years now, I can say that it would be difficult to design a more misleading set of circumstances for “meeting new people.” Rush is a competitive time, where gossip is rampant and our behavior can be calculated and fake. We behave this way under the false pretense not just that it’s worth it, but that it’s necessary for the continuation of our various groups.

We fail to consider that freshmen, during what is already an extremely difficult and stressful time, are caught in the crossfire. We play favorites with the few best singers, distorting their senses of reality. At the same time, we lead on the many freshmen who are less experienced when we should be giving them ample space to rebound and pursue other paths and opportunities at Yale.

It would be a lot easier if we could just get everyone to play nice. But I think that it’s far more practical to curtail the process. In short, it shouldn’t be such a big deal.

For example, putting multiple singing dessert performances on the same night and holding group-wide rush meals would immediately make the process less time-consuming. Allowing groups to cut rushees after the first weekend of auditions would help ease the burden on freshmen for whom a cappella is not the best fit. And limiting the number of callbacks a rushee can attend (like Yale’s improv comedy recruitment process) would go a long way to helping them to make decisions earlier, rather than in the stressful hours before Tap Night. By my estimates, that would condense rush to a week and a half.

A lasting solution will require decisions made in another, longer discussion — one that should include all members of the a cappella community. But as it currently exists, I worry the process does more harm than good. If we can agree that it’s not working, I believe we have a duty to fix it.

John Gerlach is a junior in Trumbull College and a member of The Baker’s Dozen. This column reflects his views and not those of his a capella group. Contact him at john.gerlach@yale.edu .

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