Founders’ Day Message from the President
It is said that history repeats itself and there is great truth in that statement. We are living through a global pandemic, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the 1918 Pandemic Influenza. We are also experiencing a renewed movement to address social injustice within our society and our campus communities. Our collective right to exist as women’s organizations and support each other has been under attack these past few years at Harvard. You may be familiar with the phrase, “It’s history in the making.” And while we are always making history, this year seems different. We are watching event after event unfold and as the world continues to change, the one thing that remains the same is the need for sorority, the need for women to have a safe space to come together and learn and grow.
The Fraternity/Sorority community and other private clubs have battled with Harvard for the past four years to protect students’ rights to freedom of association. Their policy prohibiting members of single-sex groups from holding leadership positions in other student organizations, being a captain of an athletic team, and receiving a university recommendation for graduate fellowships or scholarships was dropped on Monday, June 29, 2020. This was not only a big win for those organizations at Harvard, but a monumental victory for all of us. On July 23, 2020, Camille N’Diaye-Muller, a Delta Gamma former Harvard chapter president shared her thoughts in the blog: #HearHerHarvard: Reflections from a former Zeta Phi chapter president. You can read it here. Camille shares her experience of activism against the Harvard policy and then, ultimately, the difficult decision of voting to close the chapter she loved so dearly. In her sorority experience, Camille found inclusion and belonging, stating “on a campus rooted in competition, acceptance like that was unique.” We know that collegiate women, now more than ever, need the supportive environments that sororities provide to members. It goes beyond the leadership and personal development skills that women gain. Sororities provide women a safe space to grow and learn and build their self-confidence. As Camille shared “until we live in a world where the norms of culture and society do not implicitly or overtly perpetuate the continued disadvantage of and violence against womxn, all-womxn spaces and organizations are a necessity.”*
It bears repeating – we are a necessity. Alpha Sigma Alpha is a necessity. That being said, we also know that Alpha Sigma Alpha can and must be more inclusive of the world in which we live. National council has been taking important steps for several years and in 2018 we engaged consultants to conduct an audit that would guide us in our work. The results of our diversity, equity and inclusion audit show that our Sorority has more work to do to ensure all members are treated with dignity and respect and feel comfortable expressing every dimension of their authentic selves. We are committed to this work.
In August, national council adopted the following diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) statement:
Alpha Sigma Alpha views diversity as the full range of identities, perspectives and experiences our members bring to the organization. The interplay between these differences and similarities creates the richness of our membership. We are committed to cultivating an inclusive environment where all members feel a sense of belonging. This is only achieved if members feel comfortable expressing every dimension of their authentic selves and trust they will be respected.
In order for this statement to become woven into the fabric of our organization, it will take each one of us to embrace this definition and work together to make it a reality. The world is evolving and so must Alpha Sigma Alpha if we are to remain relevant and continue to exist.
Today’s students are not much different from past generations. They have a passion and enthusiasm for social justice issues. Today they are focused on racial equity, much like those before them focused on climate change, voting rights, civil rights, poverty, LGBTQIA+ rights* and women’s rights, to name a few. Now is the time to harness that passion to engage in civil discourse, work together to reform deeply-rooted systemic barriers within our organization and ensure an environment that is welcoming and inclusive for all members. Our collegiate members have the opportunity to effect change through membership selection and cultivating a chapter culture that aligns with our DEI statement. Alpha Sigma Alpha collegiate and alumnae chapters can be leaders on their campuses and in their communities with regards to diversity, equity and inclusion. I encourage each member to step forward and embrace that responsibility, the responsibility we committed to during the Phoenix Degree,“…you are to pledge to Alpha Sigma Alpha your best efforts toward helping the Sorority realize it’s high ideals along every line of endeavor.”
The world is changing before us and now is not the time to sit back and witness history. Now is the time to participate in history. Louise, Calva, Mary, Juliette and Virginia were a part of history. They wanted to experience sorority together and so they chose to blaze a new trail. In today’s society, we must also continue to blaze a new trail, one in which each member uses their voice for equality and inclusivity. Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, classism, ableism, sizeism or any other prejudice has no place in Alpha Sigma Alpha. As we continue to uncover and learn about our unconscious or hidden biases and consciously work to change our behavior, we must do so with an open heart and an open mind. This is messy work. We know we will struggle. We won’t always get it right the first time, but we will learn and grow and continue to do better. Our Agape love is what will lead us forward. Lead us to build a better, more inclusive organization, together.
Happy Founders’ Day!
In Alpha Sigma Alpha,
Kelly McGinnis Beck, EK
*the word “womxn” is defined by dictionary.com as “a woman (used, especially in intersectional feminism, as an alternative spelling to avoid the suggestion of sexism perceived in the sequences m-a-n and m-e-n, and to be inclusive of trans and nonbinary women). The use of the word here is a direct quote from the author’s blogpost.
LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/questioning, Intersex, Asexual, + (denotes everything on the gender and sexuality spectrum that letters and words can’t yet describe)