Three sororities push to dismantle their chapters, facing resistance from Campus Life, national organizations
Continuing in the fight for the abolition of Greek Life, three sororities on campus have now made efforts to officially disband their chapters, to mixed results from their national organizations and little response from Washington University.
On Oct. 4, Pi Beta Phi became the first chapter to officially disband following the start of this summer’s movement to abolish Greek Life. Delta Gamma tried to follow a similar process, but was denied by their national organization. Kappa Delta filed a petition to their national council to surrender their charter two months ago and is still waiting for an official response.
Chi Omega, the first sorority on campus to try to surrender their charter this year, was turned down by their national organization. The group has not announced any abolition or reform efforts since then and continues to have active membership.
The conversations around disbanding Pi Phi began over the summer, after the systemic racism and exclusion within the Greek system gained campus-wide and national attention. After a Zoom meeting allowing members to openly discuss their experiences within the chapter, a survey distributed to the entire chapter revealed that 60% of members were in favor of disaffiliation from the national organization. Their leadership quickly concluded that disaffiliation and continuing to exist as a group did not count as genuine abolition, and was illegal under Pi Phi’s constitution regardless.
After former president junior Susan Wie and former Vice President of Risk Management junior Cassie Vaden held a series of Zoom calls with their headquarters, both with the two of them and with the entire chapter, Pi Phi’s national correspondents told them that they would not be allowed to vote to relinquish their charter and urged them to consider reform instead. The two reviewed their constitution and concluded that their national organization’s decision was unconstitutional. When they pointed this out, the chapter was given the opportunity to vote.
Now that Pi Phi has officially disbanded, the two plan on continuing to engage in abolition efforts across campus by continuing to have conversations with Campus Life, participating in protests and helping other chapter leadership.
“I definitely don’t think that disbanding is the end of all inequity on campus, especially [because] we’re one chapter. And it would be naive to think so,” Wie said.
Reflecting on the process of disbanding, Wie emphasized the difficulty of communicating the need for abolition with nationals, as well as the University administration.
“Any time that we would make the point of ‘Okay, sure you want to try reform, but this is a system that has historically not wanted so many of the people that exist in the chapter today. So why would they feel comfortable staying there?’ There was never any productive conversation,” Wie said. “I would say that the conversations we’ve had were really frustrating and emotionally draining, and I don’t think they understood what our responsibilities exactly even were at some points.”
Representatives from Pi Beta Phi’s national headquarters did not respond to requests for comment.
By the beginning of August, around 75% of the remaining members of Delta Gamma were in favor of relinquishing their charter, according to former president senior Emily Aunins.
Undergoing a similar process to Pi Phi, the sorority consulted with their national organization several times to request a vote to relinquish their charter.
After a Zoom meeting with their national organization on August 24, the next day, they received an email from Council Trustee Amy Ayres denying their request to relinquish despite a majority vote.
In the email, Ayres wrote that the Delta Gamma Fraternity Council would not implement the standard 60-day deliberation process that typically elicits input from alumni and other members of the national council, and suggested that members reconsider before deactivating.
“With the recent social justice and equity conversations happening in our world, we understand why many of you believe the most effective way to address systemic racism is to relinquish the charter as part of a larger movement to abolish the predominantly white fraternity/sorority culture and what it represents,” Ayres wrote. “However, we believe that the most impactful change can be made by an empowered group of members calling for reform within a system they see as flawed and we are committed to working with the members of Alpha Epsilon to create that change and continue to build upon the efforts currently underway by Delta Gamma.”
Representatives from Delta Gamma’s national organization did not respond to requests for comment.
When sophomore Adrianna Patacsil accepted the role as Delta Gamma president earlier this fall, she made it clear that she would not pay dues and she would focus on striving for abolition. After receiving the email, Patacsil has requested to see the organization’s constitution, as it is not a public document, to review it and determine in the coming weeks if the national counsel’s decision to allow an official vote is unconstitutional. At that point, the group will consider possible next steps.
“We knew we didn’t have the power, the entire time, which was really frustrating,” Aunins said of the decision from their national council.
Kappa Delta’s petition to relinquish their charter was submitted in August, after the chapter already voted to dismantle with 82.5% of members in support. The organization then underwent a membership review process, in which their national organization interviewed each member to determine if there are enough remaining members willing to stay in the chapter and reform rather than abolish. Alumni members of Kappa Delta are expected to vote soon as well. Contingent on a majority vote from alumni, their national council will conduct a final vote.
Kappa Delta president junior Laurel Levinsohn wrote in a statement to Student Life that the delayed communication with their national headquarters was one of the biggest roadblocks in their efforts, and characterized working with them as “long and difficult.”
A major obstacle for the chapters was the fact that Campus Life has taken an unwavering stance towards reform since the summer. Leadership of both chapters expressed that Campus Life did not provide much counsel for navigating these conversations with their national organizations.
“That was really frustrating, when we had 100, 120 women telling us ‘This is what we want,’ and to an administration that says that ‘We will listen to our students,’ but then saying, ‘Oh, that’s off the table,’ was really frustrating for Cassie and I,” Wie said. “And then I had a lot of calls with other presidents [in] WPA, who also expressed the same frustrations with the school of ‘We are not going to help you navigate relinquishing the charter, because that is not in the school’s interest at this moment.’ And then the conversation would switch towards reform.”
In a statement to Student Life, Campus Life Director Leslie Heusted wrote that deactivations and discussions of the future of chapter charters are simply part of the ongoing process and conversations that have taken place since July.
“We continue to respect and support the individual choices that are made by our students and expected that there would be some actions regarding overall membership and chapter activity as an outcome of this form of activism,” Heusted wrote.
“Campus Life [should be] the one to communicate with our nationals and, to be frank, do their job and advocate on our behalf, but they chose not to do that,” former WPA President and member of Delta Gamma junior Emily Regan said. “Therefore, all the onus is on us students to communicate with these adults, whose job it is to keep our organization existing. The fact that Campus Life is completely unsupportive was a huge obstacle.”
Regan said she considers the fact that all active fraternities and sororities plan to recruit students next semester as planned to be disrespectful to the student activism over the summer. It is fully supported by Campus Life.
Similarly, Vaden said that even within the topic of reform, Campus Life’s counsel was often too broad to be helpful.
“When the conversation would switch towards reform, it usually would be like, ‘We want to discuss with you how to reform.’ It wasn’t like, ‘These are things that you can reform by doing this, this and this,’ and as two 20-year-old women, we didn’t and don’t feel like we’re in a position to make broad sweeping reforms in these institutions that have been inherently harmful and damaging for 100 [years].”
Heusted claimed that Campus Life has been and is continuing to support members of Greek Life advocating for abolition.
“Campus Life staff have been in consistent communication with the inter/national offices of all chapters who make up the Sorority and Fraternity Life Community at Washington University throughout the summer, including Pi Beta Phi…” Heusted wrote. “Our priority is to continuously be available to support our students as they have tackled difficult conversations in respect to the future of their individual organizations.”
Levinsohn wrote that many of her conversations with Beth Doores, the associate director for Campus Life, and other Campus Life staff were uncomfortable due to the clash in positions on abolition. She wrote that she wants to see the University do better at acknowledging the position of the majority of the student body.
“They are determined to go down the path of reform, and from what I’ve seen they are simply getting the abolitionists out of the picture so they can move forward,” Levinsohn wrote. “It seems to me that the strong push for abolition from the student body has hardly been considered, even after the results of the SU survey.”
Heusted also wrote that Campus Life’s Co-curricular Advisory Board, formed after this summer’s calls for abolition, expects to present a report to Campus Life by Dec. 4 on how to make all student activities on campus more equitable, not just Greek Life. The current goal is to implement their plan during the spring semester.
“So much activism happened this summer, and there was such a strong push to make meaningful change on our campus,” Regan said. “The fact that they thought that it could be funneled into an advisory task force is just ridiculous. To be frank, it’s an insult to all the student activism that occurred this summer.”
Regan attended the board’s first meeting this month and said that its conception is part of a larger pattern of how the University addresses issues raised by student activists.
“It just goes to show again that the easiest way for Campus Life or an organization in general to stifle a movement is just a bureaucratic task force that just allows them to funnel any ideas, any activism, into their format to really quell any student dissent at all,” Regan said.
Patacsil suggested that other sororities considering abolition should band together to put pressure on Campus Life to take their demands more seriously in order to reach more widespread progress.
Sophomore Sarah Buchanan, a former member of Delta Gamma, expressed her disappointment with the lack of impact that the mass deactivations have had on Campus Life and the overall movement.
“I felt at the time that mass deactivation would be a way to kind of get the attention of Campus Life,” Buchanan said. “But now, in retrospect, it’s creating this vacuum where the people that are remaining are not going to push for abolition and now people wanting abolition have gone so it kind of seems like in a way, Campus Life has won because they don’t have to necessarily listen to us anymore because we’re no longer members. We’re no longer giving them money.”
She emphasized the importance of people who have deactivated from their organizations to continue to push for the abolition of their chapters and Greek Life in general.
Despite the roadblocks, Patacsil maintained her dedication to Greek abolition over reform, but frustration over the lack of action from the University so far.
“Reform is not an option. It’s never going to be sustainable. And there’s never going to be enough people who want to actually do that,” Patacsil said. “Campus Life has no intention of actually doing much more for reform. At this point, I just want to see this to the end and if that doesn’t happen in the next semester or two, I really don’t know if we ever will see an end to Greek Life on this campus.”