BAMARush: The cult-like sorority system exposed by Rachel Fleit’s doc is powerful, and dangerous to young women

Jul 26, 2023

As someone who has extensively covered a powerful cult over the past year, my cult-radar immediately went up when watching Rachel Fleit’s brilliant new HBO MAX documentary, BAMA Rush.

The film exposes the long-standing tradition of American girls who are vying to be part of the Alabama State University sorority class, and all the bells, whistles, and eating disorders that go along with it. Watching the film, especially as a father, made me instantly shed the cynicism I would normally have watching this type of content, and instead I watched the entire movie feeling empathy for these young women.

Obviously, I don’t know what it is like to be a female growing up North America, and the expectations we level upon young girls. Moreover, I am certain I was once part of the problem. I remember being the asshole in high school who rated woman based on their looks, or locked them in as a hunter would a trophy animal. I’m not proud of that. Hell, I’m not even sure if I am, or will ever be, a person who can confidently say he treats women with the type of respect indicative of a grown, well-adjusted man.

But this film seems to portray an idea that resembles the standards I placed on women in high school, and it is frighteningly important.

Halfway through the film, director Rachel Fleit puts her money where her mouth is an reveals that she can relate to the anxieties of these girls, revealing her life-long affliction with alopecia and how she spent much of her life not being herself. She wore wigs until college, afraid that she would not be accepted by her peers. This truth becomes the anchor in which Fleit tells the story, making her real life adjacent to the lives of the girls she followed as they frantically tried their best to be what others wanted them to be.

In the backdrop, an ominous presence of something called The Machine lurked, a secretive group made up of representatives from each sorority who allegedly controlled nearly every aspect of campus life, including student politics, seats at sporting events, and even the Dean’s office. The Machine caught wind of Fleit’s film crew poking around the campus and immediately had its supporters blitz social media with warnings to anyone who cooperated with producers that they would be removed from sorority consideration, and even expelled from campus.

Meanwhile, the film spotlights a handful of girls who are going through the gauntlet of trying to be accepted by these sororities. I am deliberately leaving their names from this piece as to not add more trauma onto them, but suffice to say they are mostly heart-breaking stories of deteriorating mental health, including anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and a craving for acceptance.

My daughter is still just 7 years old, and while I am now even more acutely aware of my role in her life, especially as she navigates the inevitable onslaught of young men who try to lessen her or disrespect her, by the end of the film I was even more cognizant of my son, who is just 9 years old. How do I help him break the chain of chauvinism I no doubt added a link to when I was still young? How do I make sure the influence of his peers don’t outweigh my own influence at home? And most of all, despite it being authentic, how do I sell it?

In 2023, young people have a massive amount of needless stress leveled upon them by adults. Social media, drugs, alcohol, frightening political realities – all of these have a starting point that are held exclusively by adults. Kids don’t create the tech, or manufacture opiates, or make political decisions. And while these traditions at universities are enabled by adults, kids are the ones who wield the swords that cut to the heart of what a broken kid looks like. The bullies, the popular crowd, the peer pressure – all of these awful rites of passages have kids on the front lines. We put them there though, and for that we need to be held accountable.

BAMA Rush might be an indictment of how kids can make their peers feel worthless, and how the remedy they seek is just as bad as the disease, but as adults we need to remember who put the sword in their hands to begin with.

James Di Fiore

Blackballed isn't just a podcast name, it's a lifestyle for James DiFiore. James has garnered a massive following in the digital space for going against the grain. He says things no one else will.

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