Keeping Our Ritual Alive: Fraternity Membership Requires an Open Mind and a Generous Heart

Category: Fraternity

Amy Hayner Kates

Today is the start of Ritual Celebration Week, a time for Thetas to consider not only how our ritual services reflect our Fraternity values and vision but also how they offer guidance to further develop our Theta membership.

Many of us who have served as president of Kappa Alpha Theta can talk of challenging moments. Norma Jorgensen, who was our leader from 1968 to 1972, experienced more than a few challenging moments; in fact, she guided Theta through a challenging era. At the same time we were preparing to celebrate Theta's centennial, Norma was fighting for the Fraternity's very survival.

Because sororities had been in existence for more than 100 years, one might think we would have been an integral part of the fabric of higher education by the 1970s. Remember, though, that this was a tumultuous time. Colleges and universities were the site of protests, and sororities were seen as part of the "establishment." Chapters were closing, and many—both inside and outside our membership—questioned if we could keep going.

I knew Norma in her later years and deeply respected her stature in Theta history. She was known to be a good listener who saw all sides fairly. She traveled all over the US and Canada, listening to our collegians and alumnae, trying to save as many chapters as she could. From these experiences, she developed the idea that everyone should enter Theta fully aware of the expectations of membership. Accordingly, she wrote the Loyalty Service in 1970; it was the first piece of ritual to be written since the early 1900s. It became and remains part of the preparation for initiation.

Our ritual is a reflection of the time in which it is written; yet amazingly it also stands the test of time. While our members no longer must persevere through harsh winters without heat, running water, or electricity, the independence we learned from our earliest leaders bolsters our leading women today. When entering classrooms, we don't experience jeers like Bettie did, but we still rely on our sisters for love and support during difficult times. The protests on today's campuses may not have the same themes as they did in the 1970s, but I have faith in my sisters to represent and understand the forces of change.

Serving as Fraternity ritualist, I am charged with keeping our ritual alive. Every time I participate in an Initiation Service, I talk to our newest members about the impact Theta will have on their lives. I'm bolstered by the continuing relevance of words that were written so long ago. Thinking back on that centennial year, I marvel at how much things have changed, and yet that which we cherish remains the same.