“Sorority”…women championing women; women coming together weaving invisible nets of support; celebrating accomplishments; women facing challenges; women seeking well-being and wellness; women sharing their stories, their leadership, their courage, advocating for each other. For well over 150 years, women have gathered together in a shared sorority membership experience. Sigma Kappa is one of 26 inter/national women’s sororities comprising the National Panhellenic Conference providing a life-long, multi-generational membership experience.
Serving as Sigma Kappa’s NPC Delegate for over two decades, and most recently Chairman of the NPC from 2015 to 2017, I have been challenged daily to defend and advocate for the sorority membership experience. I have spent countless hours reflecting on the health and persistency of the sorority experience in a place and time when parents, administrators, friends and critics are expecting explanation; is there value in the single-gender membership experience for women?
As sorority women celebrate NPC International Badge Day today, March 5, I offer a short list of critical questions worth asking and exploring how we, as sorority women can offer informed responses to these questions:
- Why has the institution of sorority persisted for over a century and a half?
- What about joining a sorority continues to draw women?
- Can the single-gender membership experience survive?
Why has the institution of sorority persisted for over a century and a half?
I offer to you the words in my opening paragraph as why the institution of sorority persists. From our earliest beginnings as women’s only organizations formed to support alienated and marginalized women students on campuses, to current day initiatives of NPC, women continue to gather together collectively and collaboratively to preserve the institution of sorority, and to safeguard the membership experience.
In a rapid-paced society expecting explanation and validation why sororities add value to a university community and a woman’s life, each woman sharing her distinctive story makes a difference. Your stories help form a rich tapestry of stories unique to each sorority woman. The importance of stories shared directly impacts the broader discussion especially when faced with negativity easily fueled by a variety of media sources, and the court of public opinion.
What about joining a sorority continues to draw women?
Partnering with Gallup and the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), NPC participated in the Gallup-Purdue Index study to research the relationship between membership in sororities and fraternities and to examine the long-term success of graduates as they pursue a good job and a better life.
Five elements of well-being were measured: purpose wellbeing, social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, community wellbeing and physical wellbeing. It was found that fraternity and sorority members are more likely than all other college graduates to be thriving in each of the five elements of well-being. These research results provided validation for what we have known to be true for decades: sorority membership adds value to the college experience and beyond.
Volunteer service is at the heart of the sorority membership experience. In 2016-17 collectively, the 26 inter/national NPC women’s sororities reported over 2.8 million hours of member volunteer service in support of nonprofit organizations. The opportunities are countless for women, the contributions made immeasurable in terms of economic impact and resources.
Can the single-gender membership experience survive?
Panhellenic communities are challenged to visit old practices and reshape how the process of recruitment benefits all who are involved. Reflecting upon personal values, key values of an organization, and wrapping those around the benefits of sorority membership, should shape conversations occurring during recruitment. These types of conversations afford a young woman seeking a sorority membership the opportunity to assess her own personal values, and determine if they are congruent with the organization she is considering joining.
Ensuring personal safety, safe spaces, and wellness for our members is critical for our very existence as sorority communities. Parents and higher education leaders expect and rightfully demand unhealthy, life-threatening behaviors cease to exist. Embracing and implementing cultural and behavioral change on our campuses is paramount.
Through a laser-focused legislative agenda, NPC women are working tirelessly to protect and preserve the right to exist as single-gender membership organizations in our nation’s capital. As well, NPC and the 26 member organizations, including Sigma Kappa, actively work to keep a robust public relations/communications strategy at the forefront to address public perception and positive messaging.
These types of questions and others will continue to be asked and frame public dialogue. I challenge our members to become a part of discussions on college campuses and in your community. Become engaged and empowered to confidently affirm; sorority membership adds value to a woman’s life. Celebrate each other, celebrate the experience, celebrate Sorority!
This post was contributed by Donna King, Epsilon Rho Chapter, NPC Chairman 2015-2017.