Members, parents and friends came and went from the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority house on Friday during the afternoon hours of the brisk fall day, some with tear-stained faces and others with smiles and laughter.
The Daily Mississippian met with Director of Fraternal Leadership and Learning Arthur Doctor, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc, UM Kappa Alpha Theta chapter adviser Erin Smith and UM Chief Executive Officer of Kappa Alpha Theta Katherine Parks for an exclusive interview in front of the house.
“I think we’re just trying to figure out the best way to move forward, staying connected, staying positive because I think that’s the number one thing,” Parks said. “It’s really easy to get bogged down by the rumors, the media, seeing what people are saying. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t some scandal.”
Parks said the announcement has been tough on everyone in Kappa Alpha Theta.
“What I’ve witnessed today is women dealing with a loss,” LaBanc said. “There’s grief, there’s a gamut of emotion, which I think is typical and normal, and I think the hardest thing for them is they didn’t do anything wrong.”
LaBanc said Theta is in good standing from a university perspective and the closure was decided solely by the national organization.
“That’s why we’re here today, was to try to get a sense of what might be those best steps, how can we support them individually as students on our campus, but also as a collective organization,” LaBanc said.
LaBanc said it’s important to recognize the emotions chapter members are going through right now. She added that there are lots of rumors circulating that are harmful to members of Kappa Alpha Theta and hopes other groups will be respectful and lift those members up.
“They’ve been great contributors not only to the Greek community but also to the greater university,” LaBanc said. “We really try to re-enforce that message that these are wonderful student leaders and women that have done great things on our campus and would continue to do great things under the name of Kappa Alpha Theta.”
A press release from UM Communications said the national Kappa Alpha Theta organization decided to close the Epsilon Zeta chapter at the end of the fall semester after 39 years on campus because of “low membership and discouraging recruitment efforts.”
Doctor said university officials were first notified on Oct. 24 that closure was an option. Chapter members attended a mandatory meeting with Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity President Mandy Burgett Wushinske and Fraternity Vice-President Cate Bibb on Oct. 28.
“We were not notified that this was the decision that they were going to be moving forward with until (Thursday),” Doctor said.
It is a distressing time for all members, including alumnae, Smith said.
“We’re all very, very sad and heartbroken and we do ask that people be respectful of this event that’s happening with us and just be there to support us,” Smith said.
Parks said for now, Theta members are looking forward to social and philanthropic events through the end of the semester, particularly the 17th annual Theta Encore on Nov. 7 which will raise money for Court Appointed Special Advocates, a national group in which volunteers advocate for children in court cases.
“I think everyone is just kind of excited to have these final moments as an organization together,” Parks said. “I think we’re still trying to figure out what exactly it means for the next three weeks, but I think everyone is excited to fulfill the last events of the semester and saying it’s the last time.”
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