Claiming face and self-presenting are very commonplace in fraternity life at colleges around the country and are no better exemplified than in the process of a rush. Being a sophomore here at Bucknell and experiencing a rush for myself, I can officially say that I, along with many others, have claimed face. Going into the rush, one does not fully know what to expect from the different houses, but they do know what they want out of it, and more importantly, they know the type of person they want to come across as. Before attending a rush event one must get dressed in clothes that are in coordination with the personality that one wishes to express. Some dress preppy, showing off one set of values that may give a fraternity some first impressions. Others decide they do not care so much about what they wear and automatically appeal to a different set of people.
Our clothes say a lot about who we are and what we care about. Rush is a perfect opportunity to take advantage of this. Getting dressed in this setting is very much like putting on our costumes before we take the “stage” at some fraternity house. For many of us, this is what is first noticed about us. Before we even speak, we are being examined. As I start to talk to different brothers at different houses, I notice how much my personality can be transformed to fit the setting of which I want to be a part. At one house I may casually converse about favorite music or sports teams, while at another, I may want to be funny or intelligent. Smiling and laughing are often closely involved with all of these conversations. Brothers want to think that you are having a good time and that you like them, but at the same time, no one wants to see a complete suck-up that will laugh at everything. The work of the rushee is cut out and is a very fine line. Sometimes the things you have to say may not be exactly what you are thinking or feeling but you have to go along with it anyways in order to keep your “story” consistent.
Another thing that I came across in my rush experience was noticing when a brother fell out of “character.” Each house has a reputation and an identity to uphold and sometimes it slips. It would be nice to call him out, but not only would I be “that” kid who made an ass out of a brother, but I would also be remembered in a time that the same brother might try to discredit a story of my own. During rush, it is important not to have anyone against you. And presenting yourself in a way that everyone likes is the best way to accomplish this. Fraternities look for other men who meet their standards and fit in as a part of the group. This group setting is perfect for one to make people believe who they are. Everyone is a stranger and each must decide for themselves how they want to come across. This idea is very much a part of what we have studied as the self-presentation theory. Through verbal and non-verbal behavior, we all try to claim a particular role or “face.” Rush is a perfect example of many people doing this all at once. Everyone must perform for the brothers.
In my experience, I tried to claim the face of a funny guy who is up for anything and always looking for a good time. Some of the “lines” that I noticed myself engaging in were, as I mentioned above, laughing a lot at what other people had to say. It was important for me to come off as positive. This is a good example of ingratiation. I acted as though the brother was funny in order to come off as more likable, a key to a successful rush. Although in my particular case rush was not an idealized performance, many kids whom I witnessed certainly put themselves to great lengths to get others to believe who they were. In my situation, I engaged in face work. I would deliberately stop myself from saying certain things to brothers that might have come across as me trying to expose one of them. I did this for a purely social-psychological reason.
Although I didn’t know this at the time, I wanted reciprocity. I was intending to keep myself safe in case I messed up later in the process, hoping no one would expose my possible loss of face. According to Baumeister and Hutton, I was trying to please the audience. To be accepted during rush you must please the kids who are watching you. Once you are initiated in a fraternity and you have spent a lot of time with the kids you are with, situated identities and role internalization occur. People begin to expect you to play a certain role and most fraternity brothers do, as they all live together in close quarters. Inrush, however, you really do not see much of this because most people do not know each other, and rush is over a short period of time. It really is an event all to its own, and all to the self-presentation theory.