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Theta and KD chapters at Brown remain affiliated to national chapters after holding votes

Members discuss institutional racism in their sororities, dissatisfaction with national chapters

As internal calls to disband Greek life organizations have spread across the country, amidst a reckoning of their historical, systematic exclusion of people of color, two sororities at Brown have held votes to disaffiliate from their national chapters since the start of the fall semester.

The votes have left both Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Delta intact, with fewer members, but still nationally affiliated.

Members of both sororities, regardless of their decision to stay in their chapters or terminate their membership, spoke to The Herald about the difficulties of reform within the confines of their national chapters.

Kappa Alpha Theta

Seventy-seven members of Theta participated in the sorority’s Oct. 5 vote to disaffiliate from its national chapter, with 91 percent or 70 students total voting to disaffiliate and seven students voting to stay.   

Because of Theta’s national chapter’s rules, “any members who voted to disaffiliate are forced to terminate their membership in Theta and lose access to its alumni network and scholarships,” Abby Yuan ’21, who was president of Brown’s Theta chapter at the time of the vote, told The Herald. 

\Usha Bhalla / Herald

The seven women who choose to stay will still be a part of the Theta chapter at Brown where they can continue to recruit members and rebuild the group. Because some members who were not present at the official vote still have yet to make a final decision, the number of affiliated women may increase. 

Yuan reached out to the members not present at the Zoom meeting where the vote took place, to ask for their opinions. All 24 who responded indicated that they wanted to disaffiliate and terminate their memberships.

Yuan said that Theta members had discussed the possibility of disaffiliation for many years. 

“This year, we decided to vote especially given the social climate of 2020 and how Greek organizations have been very exclusive (of) women of color and people from non-affluent backgrounds,” she said. “There has been a lot of disconnect with the national organization of Theta, since we have wanted to be more inclusive and diverse and they weren’t very receptive to our ideas and efforts,” she said.

Yuan said she decided to vote to disaffiliate herself because of her concerns of financial accessibility and slow implementation of diversity initiatives within the organization. “I have tried working on this to create scholarships for dues, but received a lot of resistance,” Yuan said. “I eventually had to just try going through Brown, rather than them.”

As Brown’s Theta chapter has maintained a Diversity and Inclusion committee for a few years, Yuan also said it has advocated for the implementation of a similar committee at the national level. But it was only “after all that has happened this summer with social unrest,” that the national chapter formed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee.

“It didn’t feel good that it took them so long to get on board with something so important,” she said.

The national chapter of Theta did not respond to requests for comment.

Emma Blake ’22 of Theta also voted to disaffiliate. “For me, it just came down to whether or not we could make more change internally or if it made more sense for the values of the members in our chapter to be translated somewhere else,” she said.

Yuan is uncertain about the sorority’s future. “Brown passed a new rule in 2018 that no new local chapters can be created, so we are trying to talk to the University and figure out what our next steps are,” Yuan said. “There are still seven members of Theta, though, so the chapter won’t be dissolved. It’s just a matter of what the rest of us want to do to maintain our community.” 

Kappa Delta

In late September, 54.6 percent of the Kappa Delta members voted to either dissolve their Brown chapter or disaffiliate from their national chapter, while 45.4 percent voted to stay and reform. 

Because the combined number of votes to either disaffiliate or dissolve did not reach a three-quarters majority, per rules established by the KD national chapter, they will remain an affiliated chapter on campus.
\Usha Bhalla / Herald

Given the results of KD’s vote, chapter members told The Herald that they are focusing future efforts on reform.

“Part of why we decided to hold this vote was also because of the national movement to get rid of Greek life,” said Lauren Reischer ’21, Brown’s KD chapter president. “It’s not a secret that Greek life has historically not been an inclusive institution.” 

Reischer explained that the sororities’ due systems, rituals and recruitment processes all contribute to inequity.  

She said recent progress to improve diversity, inclusion, equity and accessibility “doesn’t undo the fact that many Greek life institutions are historically racist.”

Reischer recalled an incident over the summer, where members of KD wanted to hold a fundraiser to support organizations that promote anti-racism and support Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

“However, the national KD chapter had so many rules about how we can and cannot fundraise, collect funds and donate them that made it incredibly hard for us to raise money and support those organizations,” Reischer said. The experience left members “really confused and disappointed” with the national chapter, she said.

In an email to The Herald, Hedi Roy, Kappa Delta’s director of communications, wrote that the organization remains committed to diversity and inclusion in response to the concerns voiced by Brown chapter members. 

“In recent weeks, we have taken intentional steps to strengthen our relationship with the chapter, address their concerns and support the chapter in its efforts toward reform,” Roy wrote. “We have always been supportive of the chapter’s diversity and inclusion initiatives and will continue to be, as it is a mission-critical priority of the national organization.”

Reischer also noted that many members were disillusioned with the national chapter after they released a since-deleted statement on their Twitter in support of KD alum Amy Coney Barrett. President Trump recently nominated Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“While we do not take a stand on political appointments, we recognize Judge Coney Barrett’s significant accomplishment,” the national KD chapter wrote in the tweet. “We acknowledge our members have a variety of views and a right to their own beliefs.”

In a Sept. 29 tweet, the KD national chapter acknowledged the potential harm caused by their public support for Coney Barett, writing that “our approach was disappointing and hurtful to many.”

“We did not intend to enter a political debate, take a stand on the Supreme Court nomination, cause division among our sisters or alienate any of our members,” they wrote in the tweet. “We now understand that was the impact.”

Reischer said that she and other KD members thought the Tweet supporting Barrett, who has expressed desires to overturn Roe. v. Wade, was “absolutely crazy because KD should be an organization that empowers women.”

Despite these internal issues, Reischer said she is optimistic about the future of a reformed KD.

“If we stay, keeping KD does not mean going back to the old KD where we are not active or taking a stance,” Reischer said. 

Within the Brown chapter, KD leadership is in the process of changing initiation rituals to become non-denominational and created a new council position on their executive board related to diversity, equity and inclusion, mandating that the entire chapter be involved in the new committee. 

Going forward, KD will also work with the Panhellenic Council at Brown, which oversees all of the University’s sororities, “to reform how recruitment is conducted here,” Reischer said.  

The Panhellenic Council “created a Diversity and Inclusion Committee, that is in the process of being organized, to address the systemic issues surrounding the Panhellenic community and formal recruitment,” its president Elena Panzitta ’22 wrote in an email to The Herald.

Still, other members of KD are unsure if reforming from within is enough. 

Izzie Henderson ’21, co-chair of KD’s Diversity and Inclusion committee, said she voted to disaffiliate the chapter “because I could not see myself reconciling a historically repressive and non-inclusive organization.”

“I couldn't see a way that we could continue to remain affiliated with this national organization when we don't have power to change how we operate,” she said, adding that she “felt like the only people who really cared about this vote were people who are affected by it, so women of color and non-heterosexual women.”

Henderson said that after the initial vote, Brown’s KD chapter held another vote to determine if members thought the initial one was fair, where around one third of members indicated they would have voted differently if they had more information before making their choice.

Haley Joyce ’23, who voted to stay, said that in retrospect, she wishes that she had access to more information to contextualize her vote before making a final decision, though she added that she had been outspoken before the voting process about wanting to remain in KD as a woman of color. 

“After we had the vote I realized there was a lot of information (members not on the council) didn’t know,” Joyce said. “They didn’t hide any information, but I think they were not as clear as they could have been in establishing what they have done so far to go about reforming the chapter.”

For example, she said she didn’t know that upperclassmen within Brown’s chapter had been in conversations with the national chapter to instigate change without success.

“I don’t regret my vote to stay,” Joyce added, “but now knowing what I know after I don’t feel as confident in my vote.” 

The future of sororities at Brown

While leadership within Brown’s KD and Theta chapters expressed frustration with their national affiliates, the presidents of the two other active sorority chapters on campus — Delta Gamma and Alpha Chi Omega — shared positive experiences with their national chapters in emails to The Herald. 

“We believe, based on recent actions and conversations, that our national organization is actively trying to take concrete steps towards being a more inclusive organization and addressing structural inequalities,” wrote DG President Fabiola Meyer Garza ’21 in an email to The Herald. “That being said, it is still clear that there are policies in place that don’t align with our values as a chapter and as Brown students.”

Meyer Garza added that DG members are engaging in internal conversations as a chapter, inspired by movements on campus and across the country to address inequity in Greek life. “We are not, however, at the point of making any official statements to the rest of the Brown community on disaffiliation,” she wrote. 

AXO President Sarah Fife ’21 wrote in an email to The Herald that their chapter maintains a positive relationship with their national organization, which she believes has enacted substantive change toward equality and inclusion across all chapters. 

“We cannot know what relationship other Brown sororities have with their national organizations, and can only speak to our own relationship with our national organization – a relationship that has been positive, supportive and collaborative,” Fife wrote. “Our executive board therefore feels that we have more agency to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in Greek Life while affiliated.”

While Greek life remains active at Brown, the Panhellenic Council “is open to being a support system for all of the chapters, active members and potential new members, and we welcome conversations about how to improve our own community,” Panzitta wrote.

Although all four sororities are still intact, Henderson said she’s noticed Greek Life’s waning popularity at Brown. 

“I don't see Greek life at Brown surviving for much longer,” she said. “The general interest is dying down. I loved being a part of a group of similar people, but I think there are better ways to do it than being affiliated with these national organizations.”

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