Nearly half of the members of the Delta chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi (AOII) left the sorority on Oct. 14, according to Kristin Reeves, the former president of the chapter.
Reeves, a junior, said she stepped down as president on Oct. 5, following continued correspondence with the AOII international organization regarding extending a bid to a transgender woman.
According to Reeves, on Oct. 12, the Leaders Council (LC) of AOII Delta elected senior Amanda Wisti to serve as interim president until an election can be held in December for the next full-year term.
During recruitment period this fall, a representative from AOII’s international headquarters visited Tufts to supervise recruitment and learned that a transgender woman was participating, according to Reeves. Reeves added that on Sept. 16, the representative asked the national organization if AOII Delta could extend a bid to a transgender woman.
“They said that they didn’t want us to extend her a bid, basically,” Reeves said. “They were like, ‘well, we’re not saying you never could, we’re just saying right now you can’t.’ I was really mad about this, as was the rest of the chapter, so we unanimously decided to give her a bid anyway.”
Courtney West, assistant director of public relations for AOII International Fraternity, pointed out that the student in question was extended a bid by the Delta chapter.
According to Katherine Tapper (LA ’12), the current chapter advisor for AOII Delta, members of the Delta chapter participated in a conference call early in the afternoon of Sept. 17 that included Reeves, Tapper and AOII’s delegate to the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), an umbrella organization overseeing 26 national and international sororities.
According to Reeves, by Oct. 14, following a meeting on Oct. 12 with a representative from AOII international headquarters, 40 to 45 women had dropped out of the sorority. AOII Delta chapter‘s website states that there were 81 women in the sorority before Oct. 14.
Reeves explained that the AOII’s NPC delegate informed her during the conference call that the extension of a bid to a transgender woman could put the organization at risk of being in violation of federal law.
“A representative of the National Panhellenic Conference told me that in doing that, that was a risk to their Title IX status as a single-sex organization, and so by extending a bid to a transgender woman, that could potentially bring on the possibility of lawsuits, and I was like, ‘Okay, well, I’m calling bulls— on that,'” Reeves said, referring to the AOII delegate to the NPC that was on the call.
According to the NPC Unanimous Agreement, NPC member groups have the right to exist as women-only private social organizations, as stipulated by Title IX.
Tapper said that AOII Delta ultimately decided to maintain “within our own official governing documents” that someone who identifies as female is indeed female.
While the international headquarters of AOII did eventually assure the Delta chapter that it would not be in violation of the organization’s policy by extending the bid and that they had reconsidered their initial opposition, members of the Delta chapter had already begun to reevaluate if their values aligned with those of the international organization, Reeves said.
“But then what happened was because of all these conversations about — are they really not gonna allow us to accept a transgender woman—then this like kind of veiled threat of would we get our charter pulled? What’s going on there? It kind of started a conversation about ‘do our values align with AOII international,” Reeves said.
According to the NPC Manual of Information, all college panhellenic associations and their individual members must follow the guidelines laid out in the organization’s Unanimous Agreement, which stipulates that all member groups must be women-only.
“There [were] a lot of questions about what … a female [is], and I think that’s a conversation that we’re having nationally as a country as well,” Tapper said.
Reeves, who stepped down as president Oct. 5, said she left because she refused to take part in a system she believed had racist, classist, transphobic and homophobic underpinnings.
“I left because I’m not participating in a system like that,” she said. “I refuse to take part in it, and by staying, for me, it would be allowing it to happen.”
According to West, this is a mischaracterization of the sorority’s beliefs.
“Alpha Omicron Pi believes that all individuals are unique, with inherent worth and dignity, and should be treated with respect,” she told the Daily in an email.
Reeves went on to say that her decision between staying or leaving was a decision between silence and protest.
“If [an organization] doesn’t support you in the ways that it should … it’s not worth being in it,” Reeves said. “I have a ton of great memories and good times that I got out of AOII, and those won’t disappear, but good times aren’t worth ruining lives.”
Wisti noted that sorority members had discussed leaving AOII well before this particular issue came to light.
“People had already tossed around the word[s] disaffiliation and self-suspension,” she said. “It wasn’t specifically in regards to this one instance that they decided to leave.”
Senior Tai Williams wrote a self-suspension letter to AOII headquarters documenting her decision to leave.
“I can no longer be a part of an organization that rejects — or even hesitates to welcome — inclusivity and diversity,” she wrote. “In my opinion, it is absolutely despicable that Alpha Omicron Pi would even consider the possibility of excluding an individual based on gender identity.”
Williams also commented on the permanency of the friendships she has made as a member of the chapter.
“The friendships I have formed within the chapter, and the sense of community I felt, were and are indispensable and cherished … However, these positive experiences do not discount the culmination of incredibly negative and violent (mentally harmful) instances that Alpha Omicron Pi, as a national organization, has perpetuated. Thus, I am no longer a part of this organization,” Williams wrote in her statement.
Wisti and Tapper both stressed that no sense of antagonism exists between members of the sorority who left and those who remain.
“There’s no animosity, there’s no hate,” Tapper said. “It’s very sad that [others] left, but … the friendships still remain. Even though the bond of AOII is not there anymore, there’s still a friendship bond.”
Reeves said there were discussions among some women who left of creating an unaffiliated, local sorority. Sisters who have been initiated into a NPC sorority are ineligible to join new sororities. She said that creating a local sorority, similar to the recently-established local fraternities Pi Rho and Pi Delta, would enable the sisters to make decisions independently from the larger organizations.
“The benefit of local organizations is that you’re only reporting to yourselves, you’re responsible for your own actions, which means that you need to hold yourself accountable,” Reeves said. “But it also means that if something happens, you have the ability to change it and improve it.”
West added that despite the large exodus of members, AOII international remains supportive of the Delta chapter.
“There are still many women in Delta chapter who are dedicated AOII members. The chapter will continue to recruit members who embrace diversity, are passionate about social action, and are dedicated to maintaining their high standards of excellence,” she told the Daily in an email.
Tapper said that the remaining members of the Delta chapter plan on working from within the organization to influence its policies.
“We know that it’s a conversation that is ongoing … I think that the chapter here is very proactive to make sure that all of Greek life is as inclusive as possible in breaking down stereotypes and not just on the Tufts campus, but also being a part of a national organization,” she said.
CORRECTION AND CLARIFICATIONS: An earlier version of this article stated that a representative from the National Panhellenic Conference participated in a conference call with Former AOII President Kristin Reeves, Tapper and other women from AOII’s international headquarters. The woman referred to as the NPC representative was actually AOII’s NPC delegate. The Daily regrets this error.
An additional comment was also added from Courtney West, assistant director of public relations, to provide further clarification on the international organization’s continued support of the Delta chapter.