Bruin Belles create sought-after community, foster leadership through philanthropy
The Bruin Belles, founded in the 1940s, is a service organization for women at UCLA. It is also an exclusive organization, accepting fewer than a third of all applicants. (Tanmay Shankar/Assistant Photo editor)
By Sara Hubbard
Oct. 15, 2019 12:44 a.m.
Debby Erazo, a third-year public affairs student, received her second rejection in two years from the Bruin Belles Service Association last year. But she wasn’t surprised, she said.
“It is very exclusive, but that comes with the territory of only having a very limited amount of slots,” Erazo said.
The Belles have worked to provide a philanthropically minded community for women at UCLA since its inception in the 1940s. However, most of those who apply to the organization are not admitted on their first try – and some never will be.
The Belles is based on five pillars – fundraising, organizing social events, campus culture, philanthropy and women’s leadership.
They put on events in the Los Angeles community, such as a Valentine’s Day dance with veterans and a talent show for students involved in Beyond the Bell, an after-school program with the Los Angeles Unified School District, said AJ Maloney, the Belles’ public relations director and a third-year history student.
Madison Bockus, a member of Bruin Belles and second-year psychobiology student, said her favorite Belles event is the Women’s Leadership Conference, which the organization hosts every winter quarter. Through this event, the organization aims to empower and motivate attendees to pursue leadership positions in the workforce by inviting speakers to talk about their experiences being women in positions of power, and to promote professional and personal growth. Past speakers have included former UCLA gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field.
Prospective members will commonly apply at least twice before being accepted, Maloney said. She herself wasn’t accepted to the organization until her second time applying.
Because it is unclear among some as to why the acceptance rate is so low, there are rumors that the club focuses on superficial aspects of candidates, said Erazo.
“There’s this stereotype that they are very exclusive and that they like to nitpick at things that maybe aren’t that relevant,” Erazo said. “I do hear that a lot, that they do seek a specific model. But I don’t know what that (model) looks like.”
Erazo said she doesn’t believe such rumors to be true. From her experience, she said she found the Belles to be extremely welcoming and inclusive.
“I know (former Belles President Elizabeth Tran) didn’t tolerate any kind of … judging people off of superficial things,” Erazo said. “And I think that you can tell that by their application, too. … They really do try to get to know everyone they are interviewing.”
Maloney said the perceived exclusivity is almost entirely due to the Belles’ desire to keep its group small, so as to better allow for a sense of community. She said the organization usually receives a few hundred applications every year, and they keep their total membership around 90 people. The number of applicants they accept each year is dependent upon how many seniors graduated the previous year.
Maloney said they would love to accept more applicants, but the organization prioritizes the importance of keeping its membership low enough to maintain a close-knit community.
“We are a group that is focused on community and if we accept hundreds of girls each year, there’s not really a way to facilitate bonds with everyone in the group,” Maloney added.
Maloney said the group looks for women with a strong desire to serve their communities and a commitment to professionalism. The ideal Bruin Belle demonstrates leadership as well, Maloney added, and has specific ideas for how she can contribute to the organization.
She said extensive previous experience with community service is not necessarily required, but that the Belles look more for someone who is eager to be an active member in the group.
There are a few stages to the Bruin Belles recruitment process. Applicants complete a written application, after which they may be asked to come in for an interview, Erazo said.
The interview is conducted by a panel of alumnae and current members who aim to figure out why applicants want to join Bruin Belles and what they would bring to the group.
Maloney said the panel looks for applicants to be as detailed as possible when describing what they would contribute to the organization.
“Be specific, that’s what we’re looking for,” Maloney said. “Why, specifically, are you interested in Bruin Belles?”
The Belles’ competitive nature may deter some people from applying to the organization. However, Erazo said even just going through the application process was valuable to her.
“I would say that if you don’t get in, which is the case for a lot (of people) … try again,” Erazo said. “Although it is intimidating, if you are looking for a club that values both service and sisterhood, it is a great club to apply to. … I think it’s worth it, which is why I applied two times.”
Bockus said she has found her time in the organization to be inspiring and overwhelmingly positive.
“Seeing all the amazing things that other women in the organization have done has really inspired me to do more and get involved in lots of other things,” Bockus said. “I’ve made a lot of really close friends and relationships that I’ll probably carry with me for a really long time.”