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From Hazing to Real Sisterhood – One Chapter’s Journey Forward

Emily Picture_web2By Emily Leung
(Delta Mu – University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Transition is defined as movement, passage or change from one position, stage, concept, etc., to another; change. This story of transition is my chapter’s.

As a member of Delta Mu chapter of Alpha Chi Omega at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I was in the last new member class that experienced hazing. I “pledged” during spring 2010 and in all honesty, it felt like the longest semester ever; keep in mind, it was my second semester as a freshman.

When my recruitment buddy and I went to the information session we were really interested in only a few chapters. Alpha Chi really stuck out for us. We discussed how the ladies were fun to talk to and down to earth. Those thoughts continued during the few days of recruitment. I still vividly remember our excitement waiting for our bids! Little did we know, the chapter we thought we were joining was something of a mirage – it wasn’t at all what we were led to believe.

As the pledge process began – and that’s what it was, a “pledge” process – I had no idea what I was in for. Our first “bad” event was something I never thought could be real. I asked myself, “What did I get myself into?” Throughout the semester, this thought periodically would go through my mind. I resented the members who were the leaders of this whole system. How could people who called themselves sisters treat each other this way? They justified their actions by telling us things were worse in the past, and for some unknown reason their justification was also the reason why I never left.  In my head, I thought, “Well, if it was worse before, then I must have it lucky.” After all, the hazing I experienced wasn’t physically traumatizing. It was more excessive and unnecessary. While I love every single member I have met through my specific chapter, I seriously could not wrap my head around the hazing. Why? It wasn’t just me. This thought went through multiple members’ minds – I know this is true because I’ve discussed it with them. So if more than one member was upset by this, why did we do nothing? This question will never be answered.

There is this notion out there in the world, and particularly in communities like ours, that hazing our newest members somehow strengthens our bond – that it makes better sisters and stronger chapters. But, if that’s true, then why were we a disaster? Because our chapter was a disaster…in every sense of the word. We were on probation from Headquarters, our morale was low, our membership numbers were declining, our finances were a mess, and we fought with each other constantly. Common sense would tell you why – how could we start someone’s membership by degrading them, and then expect them to be invested in our chapter? But obviously, common sense doesn’t play a big role in hazing.

I’d love to say we came to this realization on our own, but we didn’t. We got caught – plain and simple. And it was the best thing that could have happened. From the moment Marsha Grady, the national president, stood in our chapter room and told us we had to fix it or lose our charter, there was a shift. Trust me, it wasn’t easy. There were members who decided the “new” Delta Mu wasn’t what they signed up for, and I was sad to see them go. Our membership numbers got so low we had less than one half of campus total. There were moments when it seemed the obstacles were too high and the benefits too low, and it simply would have been easier to give up.

Trust me when I say the first year of transition was hard, particularly in terms of recruitment. We were discouraged and the morale was low. But we soon realized the excess baggage and negative attitude was gone when we made the pro-active choice to move forward. Once we had that realization – that shift that happened during Marsha’s visit really kicked in. At the end of recruitment, we had doubled our chapter size and we could see the effect of the changes being made.

Today, in this moment, I am so happy I didn’t leave. For the chapter I am in now has learned and grown so far from what it was before – it has been completely re-vamped.  We are off probation and near campus total. Our finances are positive. But most importantly: our sisterhood is truly strong, and it’s real. In the past, we were told that hazing was a sign of respect of the older members. But now, when we look at our chapter, we have more respect for each other than when I joined. None of our members have been terrified of what will happen next and no one has been intentionally disrespected. All of those things we looked to get through hazing – respect, dedication, friendship – happened when we stopped degrading each other and started treating each other the way we tell the outside world we do.  It took a lot of commitment, help and patience from a lot of people – my sisters, our alumnae, our advisors, and the Headquarters staff. Along the way, we stumbled and we fell, but our sisters – both those in Delta Mu and not – were there to help us stay on the right path.

Again it goes back to transition: movement, passage or change from one position, state, concept, etc., to another; change. This is exactly what we needed to embrace to be better. And we, as a chapter and sisterhood, continue to be committed to this movement, this change. Because we know it can work – we are proof. We are a full blown sisterhood and we intend to make actions to further this bond and love for a lifetime. And we hope you’ll do the same.

36 Comments

  1. Samantha |

    Emily, as a Delta Mu sister I’m sad that you feel this way. My experience (including being ‘hazed’) joining Alpha Chi Omega Delta Mu was incredible, and it allowed me to form an amazing bond with my sisters (I’m getting married in ten days and five are my bridesmaids). It also taught me a valuable lesson about earning friendship and respecting my peers.

    Furthermore, my ‘hazing’ (and I’m sure yours did too) included being showered with ice cream and gifts, which, while stressful, was incredibly fun and an experience I would want my daughters to have someday. The experience taught me how to manage my time, and in my second semester of freshman year (pledge semester) I pulled off one of my highest GPAs (3.8).

    I respect your right to enjoy your sorority experience without hazing, but please don’t imply that my college experience was somehow ‘less than’ because of the hazing.

    Finally, I ask that you consider how the ‘new’ Delta Mu has fared since the changes? How is 38 Nutting Avenue, the house I spent four years working so hard to keep. The last time I was by the house it had different letters out front, which was a reminder to me that the respect for the letters I worked so hard to instill in younger generations was lost without experiential reminders of respect.

  2. Stephanie |

    I am so proud to call you my sister in the bond and by blood! <3 So happy to see all the women in your chapter move forward from hazing!

  3. Jacki |

    Emily- This was so beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your experiences. So proud to be an advisor at Delta Mu!!

  4. Christi |

    Emily–from another proud advisor, THANK YOU for sharing this. I am so proud of how hard the women in the chapter have worked to change the culture of your chapter. And I am thrilled that as a result of your changes, you are having the AXO experience that every sister should have. May you all continue to seek the heights and show the world the real strong women that you are!

  5. Abby |

    So proud to hear from a other real strong woman. What we have at Alpha Chi Omega is special, and it means to much to see and hear these stories and know that an even strong organization is growing. Great job on the article, you rock Emily! I’m so happy to be a Delta Mu Advisor!

  6. Maria D. |

    Emily,
    As a sister who was there with you through all of these changes and experiences both the hazing and non hazing periods of our membership, I am so very proud to see the chapter Delta Mu has become. As an advisor I now have the privilege to remain close and continue to watch as you grow and inspire as together. Continue to stick by what is right and what we have worked so hard to accomplish.
    LYITB <3

  7. Karina |

    When I think about other enduring lifelong bonds – like marriage and family – the strongest ones are built on a foundation of trust, respect, and love. So too is the lifelong bond of sisterhood. While each of us have our own unique fond memories and cherished experiences, I know we can agree that our membership should never take the shape of making someone feel less than or lower than – for any reason. Seeking the heights together, to me, means always striving to do better. And when we know better, we do better. Proud of your contribution, Emily!

  8. Bonnie Biggs |

    I am a child of the 80’s, and as such, I have many, many stories about various types and degrees of hazing. “Hazing” does not and has never included ice cream treats & gifts. While those lovely things did and do exist all over the place, please try not to lump them in with “hazing” — which by definition is degrading and/or demeaning treatment.

    The fact that this line is blurred on ome campuses, is exactly the point of NHPW!

    I too want my child to have the positive benefits of new membership, including dessert runs, door decor, picture frame gifts and sweet notes from new friends (when her time comes, in whatever group she joins) — but she can do without being made to feel that she has to “prove herself” by doing things that are humiliating. She can also do without being told she must turn around and inflict the same cruelty upon others.

    And the same is true for our boys!

  9. Maria |

    As a sister who was there with you through all of these changes and experienced both the hazing and non hazing periods of our membership, I am so very proud to see the chapter Delta Mu has become. As an advisor I now have the privilege to remain close and continue to watch as you grow and inspire together. Continue to stick by what is right and what we have worked so hard to accomplish.

  10. Alice |

    Emily, your question of “how could we start someone’s membership by degrading them, and then expect them to be invested in our chapter?” is spot-on. As Alpha Chi Omegas, we do not have to earn our friendships or our sisters, and consent is never an excuse or a defense to hazing. Thank you for staying in Delta Mu and sharing your story. You are a RSW.

  11. Heather Wilson |

    So proud of you for your courage, Emily. It’s not easy being a change agent, but I hope you will wear the title with pride.

  12. Lauren |

    Emily,

    Thank you so much for writing this! It’s a beautiful post and is the perfect reminder for all sorority women to really look at our choices and ask ourselves why we’re making them. Tradition and respect aren’t the answers; we absolutely must be rooted in sisterhood and love for one another.

    I’m so excited for both you and Delta Mu and can’t wait to hear more about your chapter’s story in the future. You all are clearly working together to seek the heights, and I’m proud to call you my sisters!

    Loyally,
    Lauren

  13. Mandy |

    “How could people who called themselves sisters treat each other this way?”-Exactly. You know the thing that stands out overall about the anti hazing drive is that we are a sisterhood that works so hard to instill life skills and make our environments better, but yet people still think it is okay to haze?! How can we raise awareness about domestic violence but then on the flip side condone the exact activities that are considered the root of hazing? You are a real strong women for sticking by your chapter and the values that Alpha Chi Omega holds dear. This article is a great example of the lows of hazing and the benefits a sisterhood can experience by making both little and big changes for the good. I am proud to call you my sister.

  14. Jennifer |

    “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

    Emily and her sisters decided that our chapter, our sisterhood was more important than fear – of change, of what others might think, of being different, of what happens when we start challenging ourselves and those around us to be better. Because of that courage and so much more, I am proud to be their advisor, but more importantly, I am honored to be their sister.

  15. Rachel G |

    Emily, this story is incredible and inspiring! It definitely embodies, “Togetehr Let Us Seek The Heights.” Keep up the great work!

  16. Rebecca |

    Emily, thank you for this wonderful article. What a great reminder of the importance of respect and the definition of true sisterhood. I look forward to seeing what this chapter accomplishes in the near future!

  17. Darby |

    Emily – Your courage and understanding of true sisterhood shine through this entire article! As sisters, we don’t need to degrade or harm each other to “win” love and loyalty. We offer our hearts and our friendship freely from day 1. And as a result, we are each stronger women. The power of women helping and teaching women is extraordinary when done correctly. Thank you for standing up for what is right and true. I am proud to call you my sister.

  18. Mary Beth Lake |

    I am so proud to call Delta Mu ladies, sisters of mine. What courage and strength! Well done! Loyally, Mary Beth Lake, Co-Recruitment Advisor at Epsilon Phi (Georgia Tech) and member of Alpha Gamma Alpha Atlanta Alumnae Chapter

  19. Jenn |

    Emily-What a fantastic article! I hope this article inspires more women to have the courage to stand up for what is right and not run from challenges and transitions. Thank you for sharing your story. While we may belong to different sororities, you are truly a young woman who embodies our Panhellenic spirit. I think you are a true example of what your sorority calls a Real.Strong. Woman.

  20. Lee Anne |

    Thanks for sharing your chapter’s experience, Emily. I was immediately reminded of a quote by John Maxwell, who writes about leadership:

    “I’ve told my staff before that status quo is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.’ Leaders see what is, but more important, they have the vision for what could be. They are never content with things as they are. To be leading, by definition, is to be in front, breaking new ground, conquering new worlds, moving away from the status quo.”

    There will always be critics along the way—those who just don’t get it. And that’s why leadership takes such courage. Thanks for having both the vision to see something better and the courage to rise above those critics.

  21. Hilary Dyer Brannon |

    Emily – what an amazing story of how Real.Strong.Women can work together to truly “Seek the Heights” through their bonds in Alpha Chi Omega. I am inspired by your commitment to your chapter and your sisterhood at Delta Mu – and our sisterhood nationwide! Thank you for sharing the story of your chapter and for standing up for what friendship and sisterhood should really look like.

  22. Ann D. |

    Emily, what an incredible article of courage and strength in the face of bewildering circumstances and incongruent actions on behalf of those “who called themselves sisters”. Your transparency in discussing the transition Delta Mu faced in examining the fundamental and foundational beliefs of sisterhood and choosing to redefine the healthy sisterhood experience to align with Alpha Chi Omega’s values is powerful, not only in the example that Delta Mu can become but in the valuable discussions this post is creating.

    As I write this response, I am in the Chicago airport waiting on several of my Alpha Chi Omega sisters to arrive. We have been privileged to attend each other’s weddings all across the US, to celebrate the birth of children and to be there with each other through tough times. Sisterhood, if it is anything at all, is predicated on respect, trust and, at least as defined by Alpha Chi Omega, is made up of real, strong, women just like you.

  23. Karen J Buffer Rinehart |

    Honest to Hera where do I begin??
    1. My dear, sweet, brave, mature, beautiful sister in the bond Emily: In my career/positions in life I have met and hung out with celebrities, Emmy winners (besides the one I’m married to!), Hollywood Elites, USA Gold Medal World Record Olympians, Cardinals, Blessed Pope John Paul II, Legendary Athletes, Grammy Winners, Idols on all levels…and yet—today? Right now? Reading your well articulated, brave and so desperately needed narrative of some of the most humiliating, painful and bottom line unnecessary and grossly unacceptable days of your life and our sorority? You, my sister, are the golden statue on my fireplace mantel. You are the autographed CD, backstage pass, special key-only accessible elevators in Vegas, NYC, Paris and Hollywood, limo guy holding the sign outside of Baggage Claim at LAX, open door to the Green Room before late night tv shows, Hot Pass to the pits and garages at any NASCAR race, private tour at the winery in Sonoma, etc. All of that PALES in comparison to being so proud to have you as my Sister in the Bond of Alpha Chi Omega. I pray to God no other young woman is subjected to humiliation, undue criticism and belittling (oh hi it’s called HAZING)-ESPECIALLY in a setting that should, from moment One, be warm, welcoming, supportive, loving and safe from any stereotypical high school mean girl .
    2. My dear sister in the bond Samantha:
    While I disagree with your Fairytale of Pledge Life (full of mental abuse, disrespect, deadly Freshman 15 Calories and other forms of hazing) I owe you, Hera help me, respect because you are my sister. Even though you denied so many of our sisters –and have done so here in this blog post—such respect.
    You talk of earning friendship. Um………WHAT?? Did you have to EARN your fiancé’s friendship? Did you have to EARN his love? Will you, for the rest of your days, have to strive and fight and suffer to EARN his love and fidelity? (Use a dictionary if you need to) I mean, aren’t we supposed to marry our Best Friend? So by your definition of “friendship”, you must have had to have earned your future husband’s friendship.
    Did it cost money? Did you put him on stage in front of his peers and verbally degrade him? Are you forced to fix his favorite meatloaf every Tuesday for the next 61 years? Forsake your alma mater? What was the cost of “earning” his friendship and Life Long Commitment???
    Ummm wait—what was that? The term, Life Long Commitment sounds familiar???
    Oh right! That’s the GIFT we are given when we accept a bid from Alpha Chi Omega.
    No. Strings. Attached.
    No hazing.
    No demoralizing words or behavior.
    No belittling.
    No Price.
    No strings attached.
    No being embarrassed or called out in front of our peers or in public.
    No excuses.
    Sisters DO NOT treat sisters with anything but the respect One has the right to deserve from another. Sound familiar? It should.
    You know that thing called the Bond? That pledge you recited time and again after formal chapter and other times? The one that included the phrase about Giving each sister the respect we have the RIGHT to expect from another?
    Please tell me where embarrassing, belittling, cutting down, setting apart, harassing, criticizing, beating down a SISTER falls under the guise of Respect?

    So yay! Congratulations on your impending nuptials where you’ll have all your (like minded let’s bully the pledges wooo hoooo!) sisters coming for your wedding. How sweet. Are they going to “prepare” you for marriage? Are they going to make sure you are worthy? That you’ve “EARNED” the friendship of your spouse?

    And by “prepare” I mean HAZE you—oh I’m sorry, I mean, as you say, give you another opportunity to “ [be] taught a valuable lesson about earning friendship and respecting my peers.”

    Which makes me think: Based on your view of what it takes to earn friendship and Sisterhood—you better invite me and all the sisters on this page to your wedding just to prove you’ve earned the right of friendship and sisterhood. You know—just like in your collegiate days.

    So, like, squeal! what’s the dress code?

  24. Nicole Carr |

    It’s easy to talk about our accomplishments- it’s much harder to admit our faults. I think it was very brave of you to write so honestly about Delta Mu’s experience. Change is never easy but it sounds like you are all Real Strong Women who are committed to seeking the heights. I’m so proud of your chapter and your commitment to change a culture of hazing into one of true sisterhood. LITB

  25. Stephanie K |

    Thank you for bravery and courage to write this about your chapters recent change. It takes Real Strong Women to make a change when needed and to stick with what is right when others might disagree. Together we can seek the heights without hazing!

  26. Liza Pugliese Hallsten |

    Emily, this is such a great article!! I am so impressed with your ability to turn an experience that could have soured your opinion of AXO into a positive experience for yourself and others. Hazing isn’t being showered with gifts or goodies – that’s the good stuff. Hazing is the demeaning, degrading crap that ‘sisters’ to hurt each other, and I don’t think that it fosters an environment of respect. Treating one another well creates an environment of respect, which is a point that you very eloquently made in your article. I sincerely hope to see you as an advisor for our Fraternity one day soon!!

  27. B. |

    Emily, what an amazing article, and one that I applaud your for writing. I also applaud the ladies of Delta Mu for making the positive steps in the right direction. I am sure it was not always an easy road to “change the conversation”, and a road that some alumnae, did not always promote.. But it is the right road.. and a road that will leave the individual, chapter, and organization in a better place!!!

  28. Emma |

    Hey Emily! Thank your for sharing your wonderful story. It has helped me to realize again what sisterhood truly is. I hope your chapter continues to grow in its numerous accomplishments!

  29. Shana S. |

    Emily as an alumni of this chapter I couldn’t be more proud of you for writing this piece! Hazing, which may sometimes seem “harmless” or “good fun”, at it’s roots is about reminding someone that they don’t yet “belong” to the group. That’s not what our sisterhood is about. Sisterhood is about lifting each other up, not tearing each other down. Delta Mu paid the price for participating in hazing activities, but it’s women like you who have helped rebuild the chapter and today it’s a better sisterhood because of women like you!

  30. Leslie |

    What a brave blog post. You are obviously a Real.Strong.Woman. Thank you for sharing the story of your chapter and your experience.

  31. Rebecca H |

    Emily,
    Thank you for this, I truly enjoyed reading your article. Your thoughts on “treating each other the way we tell the outside world we do” really resonated with me. As a part of any campus organization, we often find ourselves having to defend the actions or even the very foundation on which the organization was created. I don’t believe that we are the “Real Strong Women” that we should be as Alpha Chi Omegas if we do not truly represent our own standards. I realize that going through such a large transitioning process must have been a challenge, however I hope you realize just how worth it that will be to future generations to come through your chapter. Thank you for all of the work you have done to keep our sisterhood meaningful and strong.

    LITB,
    Rebecca

  32. Alycia |

    Emily — Thank you for your courage and for exemplifying what it means to be a Real. Strong. Woman.! Your article and efforts are brave, inspiring, and moving. You have a lot to be proud of!

  33. Brynn |

    What an amazing post and a perfect example of a Real. Strong. Women. Emily, you inspire me!