It really is incredible how far women have come in just the last century. Every day, we do things like vote, drive, own property, prepare for a professional career and even go to college, that just a few decades ago would have been impossible. In 1870, when college student Bettie Locke tried to join an organization dedicated to scholarship and personal excellence, she was told that she’d be more than welcome to join as a mascot for the men. She defied the system and formed a revolutionary new type of organization to support other women, founded on the idea that women had inherent value and should be judged solely on four criteria: scholarship, personal excellence, leadership and service. That organization was Kappa Alpha Theta.
As a member for the past four years of this same organization, I’ve definitely encountered my fair share of judgement and opposition. Many people questioned why I, as a pre-law student, would want to devote thousands of hours to what they viewed as a social club.
My sorority was viewed as the worst one by many on this campus, but I couldn’t care less because the standards by which they measured me were completely arbitrary, in my eyes. I didn’t care if people thought we were awkward or fat or ugly or out-of-place because, for me, there are far worse things one can be in this life than unattractive. I cared about the ritual that women had carefully passed on to each new generation for over one hundred years. I cared about the Bible verses we read every Monday at chapter that reminded us what truly mattered. I cared about the women in my life who might have been rejected by the Greek system but were loved by me because they demonstrated what it was like to pour yourself into something bigger than yourself, to do impossible things and to be true to yourself without caring in the least what the world thought.
When I learned that Kappa Alpha Theta was removing the charter of the house that had been so transformative to me, not because we had bad grades or had hazed or mistreated members, not because we had been irresponsible, not because we had abandoned Kappa Alpha Theta’s mission but because, largely due to our reputation, we were struggling to attract enough new members through formal recruitment alone, it hurt.
It hurt worse than every time in the past four years that a boy had called Thetas fat, worse than when freshmen called my friends horribly offensive slurs during recruitment rounds purely because of their house, worse than the older woman at the store who made snide remarks when she learned my sorority affiliation, worse than every single small, petty remark or sympathetic glance people had given me since the fall morning my freshman year when I pledged Theta.
It hurt me because before, it didn’t matter what short-sighted people thought of me because I had an international organization behind me, affirming that as long as I pursued scholarship, leadership, service and personal excellence with all my might, at the end of the day, there would be people who would be proud of me and support me.
Just as Bettie Locke refused to be a mascot and chose her own path despite what the world thought, I was happy being my best self, no matter what other people thought. When Kappa Alpha Theta took away Epsilon Zeta’s charter, they communicated to me that it doesn’t matter how kind, intelligent, hard-working, or down-to-earth women are; at the end of the day, if they aren’t as “good” as their neighbor, they don’t deserve a home, even if the standards by which they are measured are completely vapid. When we decide who gets to stay on campus based on how popular they are, when we call a sorority “good” because they are full of beautiful girls rather than leading women, when we permit fraternities to sexualize sororities and declare some top-tier and others bottom-tier based on their preferences, when sorority members tear down their Panhellenic sisters in their climb to the top of the tier system, we have defeated the purpose of sororities.
Bettie Locke founded Theta because she wanted women to be leaders who led and built up women — not followers or mascots. When we conform to the world’s expectations, we turn women into little more than mascots, silly stereotypes of sorority girls; we become a joke, something with no relevance in the 21st century.
Women have come so far in the past century. It brings up the question of where we shall be in another century. If we remain dedicated to Bettie Locke’s vision of empowering women and valuing the things that truly matter, I have faith that, in a hundred years, we will live in a society with even more female doctors, lawyers, teachers, mothers, neighbors and people who make the world a better place. However, if we continue to judge women in the same way we judge sororities, not only will we not progress, but I truly believe that we will actually regress, undoing all the steps we’ve made in this century.
There will always be insecure men who oppose strong women. However, it is a true tragedy when women drag down other women. We need all the support we can get. To the freshmen judging sororities during recruitment, to the sorority members who allow the tier system to exist unchallenged, to the Kappa Alpha Theta Grand Council who took away 250 women’s home and source of empowerment because they weren’t most people’s first choice: please self-reflect. Consider the unspoken message that your actions carry to the women of today and tomorrow.
Bradley Tune is senior management major from Chester, New Jersey. She was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta.