Life & Style

“Pookie” is looking absolutely problematic

“Pookie” is looking absolutely problematic

The viral TikTok influencer’s cancellation exhibits college behavior and Greek life’s lasting impact. 

Cole Ross

Controversy has cemented its place in social media with the rise of TikTok and its hot takes, but as cancel culture makes its way beyond the screen, influencers set the precedent for how everyday people can be confronted by their past decisions.  

For chronically online people, the word “Pookie” has recently snuck its way into their daily vocabulary. The TikTok trend emerged from influencer Campbell “Pookie” Puckett and her partner Jett’s popular outfit-of-the-day videos. This led to the development of a massive fanbase, with Puckett boasting over 600k followers on TikTok alone. 

“Pookie looks absolutely fire tonight,” Jett says in a video from Jan. 28. The video, with over 10.1 million views, is one of the couple’s most popular. 

The lighthearted trend has been copied by several celebrities including Rob Lowe, Zach Bryan and Sylvester Stallone.

What originated as an entertaining trend shifted as photos from Puckett’s days at the University of Mississippi went viral. The resurfaced photos show Puckett attending an Antebellum-themed sorority function. Social media users criticized her for “cosplaying as a slave owner.”

Puckett’s controversy bears similarity to that of Rachel Kirkconnell, winner of the 25th season of The Bachelor. Kirkconnell had comparable photos emerge in 2021, leading the Bachelor franchise to part with long-time host Chris Harrison, amidst backlash from his response. The conversation was heightened as her now partner, Matt James, was the franchise’s first Black Bachelor. 

At the time Kirkconnell released a statement on her personal social media, alongside commenting on the situation on The Bachelor’s “After the Final Rose” segment. 

“Racial progress and unity are impossible without accountability, and I deserve to be held accountable for my actions,” Kirkconnell posted on Instagram. “I will never grow unless I recognize what I have done is wrong.”

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However, fans of the Bachelor franchise recalled her controversy and despite her efforts to apologize, the lasting effect was lackluster. SU senior and longtime Bachelor fan Emma Knauf critiques the franchise’s handling of the situation, which beyond having conversations during their finale, did not release any additional information.

“There is more you can do. There’s ways to give back to those communities and not only educate yourself, but get involved in discussions and forums,” Knauf said. “I think it would be better to be transparent, open and trying to change.”

With the rise of social media discussion about Greek life through hashtags like #Bamarush on TikTok, some students struggle with preconceived notions about Greek life whilst trying to find their place on campus. Brie Iaia, a member of Delta Gamma at SU, expressed concerns about Greek life before joining her freshman year. 

“I didn’t want to join at first, based on social media I thought it would be something I wouldn’t be interested in,” Iaia said. “Sorority life has proven to be not what I expected in a good way.”                                                                                                  

Puckett and Kirkconnell’s controversies display the implications of inappropriate behavior being photographed and posted online. However, there is also a negative association between Greek life and drinking, drugs and hazing. Despite positive experiences like Iaia’s, current members express an ongoing fear of backlash due to these associations. 

“Sometimes being a part of a bigger community can kind of shine a negative light on you as an individual even if it doesn’t apply to you, just because you’re associated with that group,” Iaia said. “Everything can follow you I guess, so I’ve always been pretty aware of what I post online and making sure it’s appropriate and represents me well.”  

Fellow SU student Josh Ortega believes college-age students should be mature enough to make better choices than Puckett and Kirkconnell did. 

“At 20 years old, I’m pretty aware that going to an event like [the one Puckett attended] is pretty f—– up,” Ortega says.

Recent SU grad, Megan Adams, acknowledges that Greek life has a problematic past, despite having been a member of it in her college years. “Greek life as an institution is a problem … it started with racist principles,” Adams said. 

Many Greek letter sororities were founded by white women, excluding members of color from joining for generations. The University of Alabama, one of the nation’s largest Greek life schools, did not desegregate until 2013. The decision came 50 years after the university admitted its first Black students, according to The Guardian.

In recent years, SU has struggled with issues of race and diversity both within and outside of Greek life. #NotAgainSU was a movement that began in 2019 in response to incidents of discrimination on campus. One specific demand from #NotAgainSU protesters called for equity within Greek life, with an emphasis on multicultural experiences. 

The NewsHouse reported on the demands in 2020, with Panhellenic and inter-fraternity organizations now being educated on multicultural Greek life during the 2024 recruitment process. 

SU’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs declined to comment on this story. Their diversity statement reads: “The fraternity and sorority community at Syracuse University continues to expand in response to the evolving needs of the student body.”

“Pookie” serves as a reminder to college students and graduates that social media has placed a microscope on their decisions, making them more visible to the public eye. An opportunity arises for campus organizations to move forward with inclusive choices that will reflect positively on Greek life and its members in the future.