Our guest blogger is Ellen Urbani, author of "When I Was Elena." We are discussing her book at tonight's Reading Women book club.
The summer of 2015 marked nearly 25 years since I'd last gathered en masse with my Theta sisters. We'd been members of Delta Omicron at the University of Alabama in the late '80s, back when hair was bigger and pearls were de rigueur, before tornadoes wiped out the east side of campus, before New Orleans sank beneath hurricane waters, and before babies and husbands and careers monopolized our days. It would never again be like it had once been.
Until it was. Until it was ... better.
In the late summer of 2015, I embarked on a national book tour with my latest book, Landfall, a work of contemporary historical fiction set Alabama and Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I took my 10-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son with me on a trek that started at the eastern seaboard and wended its way toward Texas, hoping to introduce them to the South I always loved but have long-since left; the South I adore for its hospitality and graciousness and warmth of spirit. I wanted them to meet the ghost of the girl I had once been.
Instead, they met my family.
In state after state, in bookstore after bookstore, my sisters turned out to welcome me home. Not just my immediate sisters, mind you: meaning not just Delta Omicrons, though they turned out in droves, showing up with friends and family at every single stop on my 20-city national tour. (Heck: one fellow sister who couldn't make it sent her mother in her stead; another sent her husband and his work colleagues; yet another crossed three state lines to hug me in person.) But sisters I never knew I had showed up too, spurred by a handwritten note I'd sent to Theta alumnae groups in cities throughout the South - cities where I didn't know a soul and had nightmares about taking the stage before a roomful of empty chairs. Alumnae groups in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas - as well as parts of Alabama I'd never called home - turned out to fill those seats, cheer me on, and make sure that at not one single place in all of my travels did I ever feel either lonely or unsupported.
It was a gift of sisterhood unlike anything I had ever witnessed, and the truest demonstration of the motto "Theta for a lifetime" that one could conceive.
I have always thought that joining Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity was one of the smartest choices I made in college. You all have now convinced me that it is one of the smartest choices I have made in my life. Thank you, everyone. Your love makes my heart swell anew, a quarter-century later.
A social norm is an unspoken rule or code of acceptable conduct for a group, which helps determine who is "in" the group and who is an outsider, but they are far less complicated than that might sound. Social norms can be anything from wearing a certain article of clothing (a Chicago Cubs T-shirt) to doing a certain behavior (going to a concert with friends).
I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back. The article, Under the Influence: How the Group Changes What We Think, discussed "how individuals' behavior is shaped by what people around them consider appropriate, correct or desirable." It also talked about how these social norms are established and how they evolve—whether or not group leaders change or perpetuate them or if they change organically over time.
In my experience with Kappa Alpha Theta, I have been so proud to see our social norms include things like acing tests, going on service trips, and helping sisters in need (and maybe wearing Theta T-shirts), and that's no accident. It's because a tradition that started with the vision, ideals, and expectations with which Bettie Locke founded this organization.
I've been reminded of that tradition a number of times over the past few months, whether it was our Delta Omicron Chapter members helping the Tuscaloosa community after the devastating tornadoes this spring, hearing from CASA's Program Director of the Year on how impressed she is with the philanthropic Thetas in her community, or seeing the incredible list of chapters on our Number One in Scholarship list.
Our tradition of excellence may have started with our founders, but it has sustained for more than 140 years because of Theta leaders perpetuating the standards of excellence and because we select members who show the same potential for greatness. While society's social norms (fashion, slang, technology) may have changed and influenced our organization a bit, our code of conduct has stayed resolute. Theta has produced smart, service-driven, polished women, and any behavior inconsistent with that seems, well, abnormal.
How about you? What amazing social norms have you experienced with your college or alumnae chapter or other Thetas in your life?
Betsy Sierk Corridan, Beta Omicron/Iowa, is executive director of Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity.
Although the campus was spared from major damage and the Theta facility did not sustain damage, many areas surrounding campus fared much worse. Students quickly learned of professors, staff, and fellow students who lost their homes and others who lost their lives. We are so thankful that all of the Delta Omicron Theta women are safe.
As a result of the wide-spread damage, the spring semester did not resume following the storms. Rather than leave the city, however, the Greek students came together to serve their neighbors in need. The UA Greek Relief effort supplied more than 50,000 hot meals to people in the community and has raised more than $50,000 to date.
The Delta Omicron collegians also coordinated a school supply drive that resulted in an overwhelming response. In addition to the efforts coordinated by the chapter, individual college and alumnae members also organized events in their hometowns to raise money and collect supplies for the relief efforts happening across the state.
As a former UA employee and UA Greek alumna, I am grateful for the selfless service demonstrated by the Greek students, reflecting their commitment to the principles of service and love that guide our organizations.
In Northeast Alabama, we lost power early in the day and were dependent on our weather radios for information, so I was thankful to receive a call from a sister of the North Alabama Alumnae Chapter who did have power telling us more tornadoes were approaching. Shortly after, a tornado with similar strength to that of the one in Tuscaloosa touched down in a small town close to where my family lives.
The simple act of a phone call to a sister also reminded me of the significance of small gestures done with great love. The Delta Omicron chapter president Chelsey Woodford recently said, "I am so honored to be part of such a wonderful organization that always puts others first." I could not agree more.
For more information about the UA Greek Relief Fund please visit the website http://uagreekrelief.com/.
Holly Morris Luther, Delta Omicron/Alabama, is an administrative district director for Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity.