by Carole Jurenko Jones, Alpha Delta (U of Alabama), NPC Delegate & NPC Vice Chairman
Over the years, we have talked quite a bit about working together for the greater Greek good and a shared commitment toward the betterment of the sorority experience. That shared commitment extends beyond the walls of our chapter houses and campuses. Ultimately, that commitment extends beyond our badges. We find strength as sorority women when we focus on common values and principles that guide our thoughts and actions.
Today’s world is a world that leaves us uncertain. It is a world we have never experienced before and leaves us questioning our values, making us wonder whether we can make a difference through our beliefs and actions. Given this complex environment, how do we continue to demonstrate the benefits of sorority membership to today’s women?
Just as our founders banded together in 1896, the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) was formed when Kappa Kappa Gamma invited Alpha Phi, Delta Gamma, Delta Delta Delta, Gamma Phi Beta, Kappa Alpha Theta and Pi Beta Phi to gather in Boston in 1891. The delegates of these fraternities set a blueprint for our organizations today and set the first official agreements pertaining to membership. These women had a belief in the power of women’s friendship and came to understand that the one thing they could not afford was to be at odds with each other.
Even before these seven sororities joined forces, they were forces to be reckoned with. The first women’s fraternities had been defying expectations for decades, just by being what they were: fraternities for women. Fraternities for women is what we were called before the term “sorority” was coined! These women advanced their organizations in the face of restrictive social customs, unequal status under the law and assumption by some that they were less able than men. They had contended with the same challenges as their male counterparts in college, including, at various times and places, hostile college administrations and the threat of being outlawed by state legislatures.
Not everyone understands our experience, nor believes there is a benefit to collegiate Greek life. There are universities that have gone as far as banning sororities and fraternities from campus, or at the very least, imposing restrictions. For example, in May 2016, the Harvard University administration announced it would sanction members of unrecognized single gender social organizations including Greek organizations. Beginning with the class of 2021, members will be banned from holding athletic team captain positions and leadership positions in all recognized student groups.
Additionally, Harvard says it will not endorse sorority women or any members of a single-gender student group who apply for prestigious national fellowships and awards like the Fulbright or Rhodes. While Harvard developed this policy as a response to serious concerns about sexual assault on campus, this policy means that Harvard women will soon be forbidden from associating with groups that were founded specifically to provide them with communities of support. Do not get me wrong, we all need to aggressively battle campus sexual violence, but the path to a safer campus does not include punishing students for joining sororities or other single-gender groups.
Harvard’s policy announcement comes at a time when sorority membership is growing and sorority women have garnered national attention for being active leaders and advocates on campus. Since 2010, total undergraduate membership among the 26 NPC organizations has increased by 40%.
At Harvard, NPC’s members and their supporters have been sharing the message. They started to rally under the social media banner of #HearHerHarvard. They posted stories of friendship and support, and many other reasons they value their sorority membership. Together, they are voicing their support for the sorority and fraternity experience in conjunction with the NPC social media campaign #IWearABadge, the Delta Gamma campaign #IAmASororityWoman, or any number of other campaigns that our members and supporters have developed. This is just one example of Panhellenic women working together beyond their badges.
In April 2017, the university shifted its policy to allow women’s social organizations to continue to operate for three to five more years, but not men’s organizations. This is an important acknowledgement that single-gender organizations do, in fact, provide meaningful experiences to their members. While we can be cautiously optimistic about this shift in posture regarding women’s organizations, it is clear that significant questions remain for men’s organizations and their members, who remain subject to this policy.
We all need to fight to protect and advance the sorority experience and to continue providing spaces and organizations that empower, support and welcome women, while offering leadership experiences and relationships that prepare and sustain us as we lead lives of purpose.
Over the last two years, you have been hearing that 2017 is an important year for AOII and for all of you. It is a year to stand for service through the development of character. A year of mutual respect and helpfulness. It is a year AOII has been waiting for since 1969.
What does this mean for AOII?
Leadership of NPC, the umbrella organization for the 26 inter/national women’s groups, is determined biennially through an executive committee. The NPC Chairman and Vice Chairman serve through a rotation process based on the order in which an organization joined NPC, and the Panhellenics, Advocacy and Finance chairmen through an appointment process. A typical rotation cycle into the role of NPC chairman takes 52 years. In October 2017, AOII assumes the position of chairman, giving AOII the opportunity to share our resources and contribute in meaningful ways for the greater welfare of the Panhellenic community.
What does this mean for me?
It is an honor and privilege that AOII chose me for this extraordinary opportunity. Having served as NPC Delegate for the past 14 years, I have experienced firsthand the evolution of women’s sororities. The skill sets gained through service will provide the grounding necessary to lead NPC. It will take collaborative leadership. I could not do this without my support system of AOII and Panhellenic sisters. My service in AOII has prepared me to lead and I look forward to continuing the work of past leaders as we advocate for the greater good in the Greek movement.
What does this mean for you?
What I most want for you to gain from this historical time for AOII is a sense of pride, a new or renewed commitment to participation in the larger fraternal community, empowerment to bring a voice and leadership to your college or alumnae Panhellenic, and a greater appreciation for the relevance and impact of the sorority experience. As 2013-15 NPC Chairman Jean Mrasek stated, “This is the perfect time to reach out and build bridges within your Panhellenic communities. As sorority women, we value friendships that extend beyond the badge.” We have a story to tell about how the sorority experience has impacted our lives. Do not be afraid to share your story and what it means to be an AOII and Panhellenic woman.
AOII sisters, I charge you to think of ways you can build bridges and nurture friendships in your campus communities. Host a coffee or roundtable luncheon to brainstorm ideas. Extend an invitation to your Greek brothers and sisters to attend a program or featured speaker. Promote a positive image of Greeks through acts of kindness in surrounding neighborhoods and strive for positive public relations. Lead the way for collaboration and work together on ways to advocate for the fraternity and sorority experience. I encourage you to view this as an opportunity to promote the benefits of the sorority experience and raise the bar for excellence. We are on this journey together–all of you and all those AOII and Panhellenic sisters who have mentored us along the way. This is AOII’s time to shine and I need your help to be that shining example of living our values, nurturing friendships and relationships, and believing in the power of friendship beyond the badge.