The Weight We’ve Carried
Until recently, I was the last sitting President of Alpha Psi Chapter. After a 71-year tradition at UCLA, during the beginning of my 2nd term of office, Alpha Psi went away. I speak from my own perspective but I know I am not alone, this is a burden I have carried in my heart, for over 13years.
The first time I walked into the Alpha Chi Omega house on Hilgard Avenue, there hung a composite of over 100 beautiful faces. Many of those women were in the room and it was incredible to think I might get to join such a wonderful group. I had instantly bonded with many of them. They were smart, funny, and beautiful – inside and out. When I was offered my bid, I could hardly sleep that night from sheer excitement. That Spring, more than half of those women graduated and the following Spring close to half of those left graduated. What had been more than 100 women were now about 30. House capacity at the time was about 120 members, and now we were the smallest group on campus. That same composite of 100+ women stayed in our foyer, so we could appear larger but our fate had been sealed.
For anyone who doesn’t understand how expensive it is to live in Los Angeles, or how hard it is to be a sorority but have no money to do anything but pay the bills and constantly recruit, I can tell you it is miserable! Even with as much as we enjoyed the company of our sisters, we were no longer having fun. We were floating bills to buy ourselves time and were no longer doing anything social. My college boyfriend was a member of the most “popular” fraternity on campus, and while many of my sisters were dates at their events, the fraternity wouldn’t even co-host social events with us because it would have been uncool for their image. The mid-90s were the time of Affirmative Action laws in California and as a result of an influx of minority groups on campus, groups that were considered “elitist” suffered. Although we all knew them to be false, unfortunately, Greek Life fit such stereotypes. Recruitment numbers were atrocious and to be the smallest chapter on campus, we were believed to have something wrong and avoided like the plague. We also stuck to our guns and recruited to our Membership Standards. By the Greek community, we were considered “too picky”, as if we had no choice but to take anyone who was left over. We did often question whether or not these were the “right” decisions but always most important was maintaining the quality of Alpha Chi Omega. Our very last new member class was 2 women, who we released prior to initiation to give them the opportunity to join another sorority and live their dreams of sisterhood. This is the reality we lived with those last 18 months.
We took the abuse and listened to a lot of ranting and raving, people putting us down for “how dare you close the chapter” or “why don’t you try harder”. On many occasions it outright shocked me that anyone who knew us would even think we were giving up. We were the hardest working sorority on campus and probably one of the hardest working, most proud, want-to-succeed groups of Alpha Psis in the chapter’s history. But, even as collegians, we knew what we had to do. If we had any hope of still liking each other in the end, we were going to have to do something drastic. The craziest thing is that we loved each other too much to let our circumstances come between us. With the help of advice from several key members of the National Council, from some very supportive alumnae and from a quick tearful call to my own parents, I walked into our chapter room and lead a vote to write a sad chapter in the history books of Alpha Psi.
The composite that hangs in the foyer of the house today still is not that of the final group of ladies, the photos of my sisters and me. Even through re-colonization, it wasn’t the RIGHT image to put forward. I have always understood, and respected, the reasoning behind this decision. But, that small composite and the few women who grace it are still the very reason I hold Alpha Chi Omega so dear. The 30-something women on my composite are as close as any sisters can be. We have been through many of the happy and sad times in our lives, together! From that fateful evening we became a “family”.
I can’t express how happy I was to be an Alpha Psi the day I heard the news our chapter was being re-colonized. But, in all honesty, I have never been more honored to be an Alpha Chi Omega, than the evening I sat in our chapter room, with all of my sisters and with tears in our eyes and pain in our hearts, we voted unanimously to close our chapter. It was at that very moment that I realized we had sealed our bond of sisterhood. Even before it became our by-line, we were real, strong, women.