A point of pride for me—and, I suspect, for many other Thetas—is the role that our founders played in proving that female students could not only survive but also thrive in higher education. Although Bettie, Alice, Hannah, and Bettie studied with distinction and graduated with honors, their early college years were not easy. At best, they were ignored and excluded by male students, professors, and administrators; at worst, they met with more active disapproval.
In response to their hostile environment, Theta's founders sought to create a welcoming, supportive, empowering community for themselves and the women who would follow them into college. And so—on January 27, 1870—Kappa Alpha Theta was born. As Bettie Locke once said, "[w]e realized somehow that we weren't going to college just for ourselves, but for all the girls who would follow after us, if we could just win out." I know these leading women would be proud to know that women now outperform men in obtaining degrees from American colleges and universities by a factor of nearly 50 percent.
In the century and a half since our founders first walked into the chapel at Indiana Asbury to the protests of stomping feet, we and our sister fraternities and sororities have proven our worth time and time again. On college campuses that can be impersonal and stressful, we provide powerful spaces of support. We offer women opportunities to experience leadership, friendship, mentorship, and community service. (On average, each Theta alumna and collegian devoted 92 hours of service last year.) Our alumnae have excelled in all fields of endeavor, from athletics to aerospace, from law to literature, from music to medicine. In many cases, their endeavors were supported by the $600,000-plus we award in scholarships each year.
That is why I—and, I suspect, many other Thetas—were stunned by breaking news from Harvard University last weekend. The university administration's decision to sanction members of single-gender organizations is touted as a response to the recommendations of a report on sexual assault prevention. Instead, as outlined in a response co-authored by the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), the plan to penalize young women for their involvement in a sorority actually denies them access to member-driven education and support systems shown to be effective in battling sexual assault, as well as alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and the everyday challenges of college life.
Nearly 150 years after Theta's founding, it is disheartening to learn that some in higher education still do not regard female students as intelligent, independent adults with the ability to make their own decisions. It is even more discouraging to learn that the first female president of Harvard seems to have forgotten the women of Harvard. And it is distressing that, adding insult to injury, this assault was launched on the day final exams began, when students are perhaps their most vulnerable. One wonders where or if Harvard will draw the line in dictating the extracurricular activities of its students.
Along with our colleagues in NPC, the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations (NALFO), and the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors (AFA), we will continue to urge Harvard to reconsider this policy and we will support the members of our Zeta Xi Chapter as they advocate for their freedom to choose their associations.
If you would like to share your personal experience of finding sisterhood and support within Theta—whether as a collegian or an alumna—please send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will seek permission before publishing or posting online.
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