A letter from AOII: An official response to our recent chapter division

Alpha Omicron Pi (AOII) was founded in 1897 with the core values of integrity, tolerance, generosity, personal dignity and love. Since its establishment in 1908, AOII Delta has a history of staying true to these values, even when faced with opposition from the larger community. From 1969 to 1987, the sisters in Delta stopped recruiting to protest Tufts Panhellenic policies that barred minorities from joining Greek life. This history, along with our efforts to adhere to the values established by our founders, is what drew many current and former sisters to AOII at Tufts. These values continue to drive our chapter’s goals and decisions.

It is from this legacy that Delta chapter of AOII exists at Tufts today. Recently, the Tufts Daily and Tufts Observer made the larger Tufts community aware of a significant change in Delta’s membership in the past several weeks and the events that preceded it. We are grateful to these publications for giving a platform to the important discussions our chapter has been having this semester. The purpose of this response is to be transparent with the Tufts community about what happened in our chapter and to clear up any confusion that may be lingering after the release of these articles.

On the final night of fall recruitment, Sept. 16, Delta unanimously voted to extend a bid to Samantha*, a transgender woman who had participated in recruitment. The Assistant Director of College Experience (ADCE), a member of AOII International, was present at Delta during the voting period, and she wasn’t immediately sure if the bid could be extended to Samantha due to purely legal concerns. Because there was no official policy in place addressing the membership of transgender women, the ADCE and AOII International were uncertain whether extending a bid to Samantha would violate the Title IX exemption it had from National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), the umbrella organization of sororities.

Title IX states that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

AOII and all other panhellenic sororities are legally exempt from Title IX and are permitted to exist as all-female-identifying organizations. This exemption is granted by NPC rather than AOII International itself.

AOII International was concerned that its membership in NPC would be in jeopardy and that it could face legal consequences if one of its chapters was in violation of the conditions of the Title IX exemption by admitting a transgender woman. Katherine Tapper, the current chapter advisor, explained that AOII International didn’t want to stop the woman in question from getting a bid — it wanted Delta chapter to wait to extend the bid until it had updated information from NPC.

In the hours that followed, members of the sorority received incorrect information that the international organization threatened to revoke Delta’s charter if they extended a bid to Samantha. The quote that was misinterpreted as a threat to revoke Delta’s charter was, “We want to see AOII continue here [at Tufts].” Within two days, the representative clarified that the quote was in response to hearing members of Delta talk about disaffiliation. She meant that AOII International supports Tufts and wants Delta to remain on campus because they value Delta as a chapter. Ultimately, NPC and AOII International got back to Delta after consulting lawyers that Samantha could become an initiated sister of AOII without risk of violating Title IX, and they apologized for their hesitation.

The Assistant Executive Director of AOII International, Kaya Miller, visited Delta after hearing that the chapter was discussing disaffiliation — these conversations had been occurring even before the incident with Samantha. Kaya told Delta sisters that if they chose to self-suspend (leave AOII) within two days, AOII International would expedite the self-suspension process. Typically, the process of self-suspension requires many meetings with AOII officers and is exhausting, long and stressful. Kaya’s offer for sisters to self-suspend in the following two days also relieved those who left of paying dues in the next billing cycle, even though the deadline for leaving without having to pay the next semester’s dues had already passed.

Ultimately, a core group of women decided to remain sisters of AOII, and another group decided to leave for various reasons that did not solely have to do with the recruitment of transgender members. The current chapter president Amanda Wisti said, “This was a personal decision made individually, where each woman took time to think over her decision before finalizing it. There was no right or wrong answer — it was what was right for each person, how they felt they could make a difference.”

As Samantha said in the excellent Nov. 4 Tufts Observer feature: “The current and former women of Delta chapter were never anything but kind and loving to me … [Those who stayed] are people who are using their positionality to change things for the better.”

Samantha is correct that the decision of some sisters to remain in AOII Delta chapter is not a public denial or invalidation of the harm that has come to some sisters as a result of their interactions with AOII International. Nor is it a concession that this is “just the way Greek life is.” We are acutely aware that all Greek organizations struggle with whiteness, privilege, classism, heteronormativity and transphobia, among other issues. Delta recognizes that gender identity and gender are one and the same. We also recognize that a person’s sex is inseparable from their gender and is the same as their gender identity due to the fact that, if sex is defined as the type of body one occupies, a trans woman’s body is female. Members who have remained in AOII Delta would like to emphasize that we unanimously express disappointment in both AOII International’s hesitation to immediately welcome a transgender member and in its present policies that do not yet reflect modern gender theory. Not one member of Delta chapter at Tufts would have remained a part of AOII had AOII International not ultimately agreed to extend Samantha a bid.

Our commitment to improving AOII at both a local and international level is not just empty words. We are working on a presentation on microaggressions for the international organization to give to all Educational Leadership Consultants before they visit local chapters. We would like to clarify that we have not decided to abolish the Social Action Committee (SAC), which we established in 2015, as some sources have reported. We are very proud of this committee, and we believe it shows the type of initiative and action that we value in our chapter. We are currently operating under a smaller leadership structure, so the SAC’s responsibilities have been temporarily delegated to the Vice President of Standards. We hope to re-elect someone to this position in the next month.

Delta is excited to be submitting amendments this week to the Constitution Interpretation and Revision Committee (CIRC), International’s judicial board, which decides which overall AOII bylaw changes will be voted on this summer. Two of the amendments Delta is sending would guarantee acceptance of transgender students and their protection during the recruitment process as well as change the word “colony” to “starter” in formal AOII documents about new chapters.

We continue to see the immense possibility for good in AOII despite its current issues. Every year, Delta raises hundreds of dollars for the Arthritis Foundation through its philanthropy efforts. We are proud of the amazing support system AOII has been for its sisters in the past through academic, mental and physical challenges at Tufts.

Sophomore Kathryn Jason said, “AOII is a space that is valuable to me. It is a space where I finally learned to love myself and finally found women who loved me without reserve. I want it to be a space where other women feel the same way.”

Samantha is close friends with both current and former sisters and she still spends a lot of time at the AOII house, where she is always welcome. We are proud to be the first Tufts Greek organization to knowingly extend a bid to a transgender individual.

AOII is proud to be an important support system for sisters near and far, and throughout their lifespans. Each semester, AOII sends individual care packages to sisters abroad with notes from everyone in the chapter and small tokens to remind them they are loved and missed. When one sister almost had to quit school due to extreme jaw pain that kept her from sleeping, AOII sisters organized a care basket to deliver to her and took turns checking up on her. Following the self-suspension of half our chapter, we have been constantly supported by our alumni, who have been coming regularly to our chapter and offering to assist us in our efforts to improve AOII International. This is only a tiny glimpse at the support and love AOII Delta sisters share with one another every day.

The group of women that existed in the beginning of the semester may no longer call each other sisters, but we remember that we once did. Our Greek affiliation may not be the same, but the affection, memories and respect that we hold for one another has remained. We are striving, as we always have, to “exceed the expectation” — as an AOII chapter and as members of the Tufts community.

*name changed


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