Providing Support for Local Sororities: One Member’s Experience and Perspective
Melissa Turk, Kent State University
I became a member of a local sorority because of the opportunity to play powder puff football. What I did not realize, at that point, was the developmental journey that was ahead. I come from a relatively young (20-year-old) local sorority with a small membership. I did not become immediately attached to the sisterhood; I was mostly confused about how this organization was different from any other organization on campus. It was not until I attended the Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute (UIFI) that I completely understood the real troubles for my sorority. I left UIFI thinking I was not part of a sorority; that my sorority had Greek letters, but there was no true Ritual behind it. After hearing about the rituals, values, creeds, and meaning behind some of the inter/national fraternities and sororities, I knew that my chapter was nowhere close to being what a sorority was supposed to be. It was not because we had irresponsible founders or bad members, but because they did not understand the possibilities of sorority membership. If you had never been part of an inter/national sorority how would you know how things were “supposed” to run or the meaning behind the organization?
It was not until that point, at UIFI, that someone from our local sorority got a glimpse of what it really means to be a member of a fraternity or sorority. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to come back to my chapter and start initiating the change we needed and to teach my sisters the true meaning of sorority. Our struggles as a chapter have started to subside over the years, and now that I am two years away from the collegiate experience, our organization is able to be competitive with the other sororities on our campus. Our chapter was lucky enough to have a very supportive fraternity/sorority advisor to help us through our struggles. The major obstacles we faced as a local chapter, which often affect other local chapters are recruitment, supporting accountability, and networking.
Supporting Sorority Recruitment
In my experience as an undergraduate from a local sorority, formal recruitment was always a struggle. On bid day, my chapter would wait at the end of the street, watching all the other chapters meet their new sisters (the average new member class was 14). We would patiently wait as crowds passed by, only to find that we had recruited one or sometimes zero new members. Our hearts would sink and we would continually wonder what we did wrong. Why, year-after-year, were our formal recruitment numbers so small? Whether it was fact or fiction, we always questioned if being a local sorority was not as appealing to potential new members (PNMs), so when the choice came down to a inter/national sorority or us, the inter/national sorority usually won. This was a hard reality for our members. We understood the benefits of being a local sorority, and we were proud of our identity, but how could we express that to potential members?
Now having more outside experience within fraternity/sorority life as a graduate student, I have more perspective into why our formal recruitment was such a struggle. Many inter/national sororities provide ready-made recruitment workshops for chapters before recruitment. They also host recruitment seminars, webinars, and/or conference opportunities to help chapters prepare for formal recruitment. Additionally, inter/national chapters sometimes have a representative from the organization help during the formal recruitment process. As a local sorority, we do not have these options. Fraternity/sorority advisors play a significant role in helping local chapters develop recruitment training for members, in order to help them prepare for recruitment and be competitive with chapters of inter/national organizations.
Another aspect that affects local sorority chapters is that most potential members do not often understand the difference between an inter/national and local sorority. Recruitment information sessions should outline the differences so that potential members get accurate information, rather than opinions or perceptions of what it means to be a local or inter/national sorority. Another struggle for local sororities is navigating the Panhellenic recruitment rules. Inter/national chapters are often very familiar with Panhellenic recruitment rules and may have advisors that understand the process, while local chapters who participate in Panhellenic recruitment do not have that experience and need more guidance throughout the recruitment process to navigate rules and expectations.
As a local organization, when we encountered problems that involved member behavior or issues we had never faced in our history, we were at a loss. There were no inter/national policies or standards we were required to follow, nor was there a staff person to report to when we had issues. All our chapter had as a resource was a chapter advisor who was also from a local sorority; we had no higher authority to make final decisions or help when the chapter could not handle the issue. This inability to effectively resolve conflict often led to a large group of members terminating their membership from our chapter. Fraternity/sorority advisors can help the local organization leaders understand university standards, and they can help organizations develop their own accountability process when situations involving member accountability.
One of the biggest downfalls to being a local sorority is the networking aspect of fraternity/sorority life. Unlike the inter/national chapters, local sororities do not have members from schools all over the United States; they only have sisters who went to their specific institution. The benefits of networking do not apply at the level they do for inter/national chapters. As fraternity/sorority advisors, it is important to help connect local chapters to other local sororities and fraternities to learn from, work with, and network among. Local chapters can brainstorm ideas, share experiences, and use each other as a national or regional network.
Fraternity/sorority advisors or councils might also develop conferences or retreats just for local chapters, where members can learn from other local chapters from around the region or nation. There also may arise a need for a separate governing board or council for these groups on your campus; this way groups can have scholarship opportunities and resources specifically for local chapters and organizations. This may also relieve some of the responsibilities of the fraternity/sorority advisor so he/she is able to focus more attention to the fraternity/sorority community as a whole.
The most helpful tool a fraternity/sorority advisor can give to a local chapter is education. Local chapters should understand how an inter/national chapter operates so they can build a chapter that is able to succeed alongside other sororities on campus. In the end, a fraternity/sorority life office should work as a support system for local chapters, and serve as a place where members can go for information and support.