How #bamarush became TikTok famous


(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

October 02 2021 06:00 pm

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Greek life at University of Alabama has taken over the popular social media app TikTok as sororities and fraternities recruited new members this weekend.

#bamarush has been trending on the app’s “For You” page since the recruiting process began August 9. The videos typically follow the format of the already-popular #OOTD videos. “Outfit of the day” videos show viewers a TikToker’s outfit and list where they got pieces from the outfits.

Videos trending with #bamarush feature members and recruits going over the outfits they wear for events during what’s known as “rush week” in Greek life: a week during the beginning of school in which sororities and fraternities recruit new members. Rush week often includes mixers, socials, information sessions and other events and ends in “Bid Day”, where hopeful recruits find out if they’ll be the newest member of a sorority or fraternity.

But how did #bamarush even gain traction on the app?

Dr. Jessica Maddox is an assistant professor of Digital Media Technology in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media at UA who recently tweeted about the trend.

Maddox researches the intersections of digital media, culture, technology and society.

She explains in her thread that the prominence of Greek life culture in the South, fascination with the South from other parts of the country as well as algorithms play a part in the trend’s explosion.

In one tweet, Maddox points out TikTok algorithms have been found to favor certain body types and looks, citing an article from Business Insider that exposed an internal company memo from TikTok that allegedly directed Content Moderators, staff who monitor what’s being circulated on the app, to avoid promoting “abnormal body types” including “chubby” types.

The researcher also speculates that part of the 60 percent of undergraduate students that come to Alabama from out of state do so to perform what they think “Southerness” is, pointing out that some hallmarks of Southern identity-like large trucks-visibly have markers from nothern states like license plates.

According to The University of Alabama, of 38,103 enrolled undergraduate, professional and graduate students, 56.5 percent of them were from out of state as of 2019, and 39.7 percent of students come from Alabama. Only 3.8 percent of enrolled students in 2019 were from abroad.

Maddox even made a TikTok herself- giving those fascinated with the trend a look into the darker side of Greek life at Alabama.

“If you’re invested in #bamarush TikTok, there’s something you should probably know,” Maddox says in the video.

She explains that Alabama sororities were not integrated until 2013. Until then, black students were denied bids into white traditionally white sororities.

It wasn’t until a black student who graduated salutatorian of their high school was denied a bid into a traditionally-white sorority and an existing member spoke out about the denial, which sparked protests, that UA issued a statement saying any discrimination in Greek life would not be tolerated.

Maddox tweeted the following thread Saturday and gave CBS 42 permission to publish it in an unthreaded form.

I’m a social media researcher at the University of Alabama. Here are some thoughts on #rushtok – all mine, none of these thoughts represent my employer.

1. Some context. UA has the largest Greek life system in the country, with over 30% of undergrads in a frat or sorority.

2. TikTok: The app has a history of its internal policies and algorithms favoring certain body types and certain looks, and pushing those to the #fypage. Read more below. But the look of those in #rushtok checks all the boxes on “the look” TikTok likes:

3.Southern fascination. Greek life in the South is HUGE. Akin to point 1, there’s so many of them. Their houses are literal mansions. All the events. The look.

By pushing #rushtok content to the #fypage, TikTok showed people all over the country something they knew nothing about

4. I call this specifically southern fascination and not Greek life fascination because all of the memes and the discourse *about* #rushtok have adopted fake southern accents, poking fun at names, etc.

5. So here’s a context kicker for that one. 60% of UA undergraduates come from out of state, meaning most of the girls you’re seeing on #rushtok are probably not from Alabama or even the south.

What number am I on? It doesn’t matter.

A lot of students come down here from all over the nation and “perform” what they think Southerness is. Do you know how many lifted pick up trucks I see in this town with New Jersey or Oregon plates?

So, my thoughts on #rushtok are that the phenomenon exists at an ideal intersection of the type of content the TikTok algorithm has been programmed to love, UA Greek culture, and the fascination with the South as strange from other parts of the country.

And lastly, and this is pure speculation on my end, but I would bet there was some kind of internal memo within UA Greek life sororities, official or not, maybe just word of mouth in texts, to try to takeover TikTok during rush.

Ok, I lied, one more thing:

Alabama sororities weren’t integrated until 2013.

Yes, you read that right.

Just adding that for some more context.

If you’re invested in #bamarushtok, tomorrow is bid day, where the girls meet in front of the football stadium, open their bids, and mad dash run to their sorority houses.

The TikTok algorithm was made for sorority rush season.

Originally tweeted by Dr. Jess Maddox (@drjessmaddox) on August 14, 2021.

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