The Kappa Alpha Theta Legacy 

Epsilon Zeta Charter Members 

The Invisible Oxford project is committed to documenting the lives of individuals that contribute to the culture and community of Oxford, Mississippi. In the spring of 2019, my southern studies course began a research project investigating Greek life on the Ole Miss campus. Although Greek life is hyper-present on the campus, the innerworkings of the system can be invisible to outsiders. According to the Fraternity and Sorority Community Academic Report, in the fall of 2018 there were 6,863 total Greek members out of 17,021 enrolled undergraduates. In the fall of 2018, one particular sorority on the Ole Miss campus, Kappa Alpha Theta, lost their charter.[1] We learned from the Oxford Eagle that the Grand Council of Kappa Alpha Theta notified members of the Ole Miss chapter, Epsilon Zeta, that the chapter would be closing at the end of the fall 2018 semester. Kappa Alpha Theta President, Mary Burgett Wushinske, mentioned low recruitment numbers for the chapter as the reason. Students in my class were surprised, particularly considering Kappa Alpha Theta’s successful philanthropic efforts. However, conversations with students revealed the hierarchy or tier system that exists at Ole Miss where different sororities and fraternities have different reputations that impact the success of their recruitment efforts.  As a class, we decided we wanted to document and preserve the legacy of Kappa Alpha Theta on campus. Who were the women that joined Kappa Alpha Theta? Why did they loose their charter? What impacts an organization’s status? And, what is the culture of Greek life at the Ole Miss campus?  We sought to answer these questions by conducting interviews, doing archival research, and participant observation on the Ole Miss campus. 

 

[1]Fraternity and Sorority Community Academic Report, Accessed March 28th, 2019,  http://greeks.olemiss.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/42/2019/02/UM-Fraternity-Sorority-Academic-Report-Fall-2018-2.pdf

Bradley Tune Interview Transcript

Elizabeth Hurdle Interview Transcript 

Paige Romoser Interview Transcript

Ardith Morgan Interview Transcript

Research Team: Claire Francis, Mary Pearson, and Rachel Winstead 

Kappa Alpha Theta was founded on January 27, 1870 on the campus of Indiana Asbury College. The college began accepting women in 1867, but the women admitted were not welcomed by all students. The women experienced harassment by the male students and were met with many disapproving comments from family and friends for choosing to attend the college. Bettie Locke, the founder of Kappa Alpha Theta, was one of the few women that chose to enroll at Indiana Asbury College in 1867. She was asked to wear the letters of a fraternity on the campus, but turned down the opportunity after learning that she would not actually become a member of the fraternity because she was a woman and would only be seen as a “supporter of the group”. Bettie Locke wanted to establish an organization that would offer women friendship and support during their time on the college campus, which led her to enlist the help of other women that included: Alice Allen, Hannah Fitch, and Bettie Tipton. The women held their first meeting for the fraternity on the founding date of January 27, 1870 and it would soon become the first Greek letter fraternity for women to be established. Kappa Alpha Theta now has 147 chapters at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and more than 200 alumnae groups and chapters. Kappa Alpha Theta prides itself on having more than 250,000 initiated members in their chapters all over the United States and Canada. The organization is a not-for-profit corporation and their national headquarters is located in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Epsilon Zeta Chapter became the organization’s first chapter in the state of Mississippi during the Fall of 1978. The Epsilon Zeta Chapter had 33 initiates and was installed on February 24, 1979. Initially, construction of the new house was scheduled to begin in the fall of 1979 with occupancy projected for the fall of 1980. The new Thetas lived in Brown Hall in the meantime. The installation weekend included a banquet, charter presentation and reception at the Oxford Country Club.[1] The organization’s mission is “to secure and manage resources for the educational, leadership, and philanthropic programs of the Fraternity and for the scholastic, professional, and service pursuits of its members to help them reach their fullest potential and make a difference in the world.” The vision is “to give every Theta every opportunity to make a difference.” A member of Kappa Alpha Theta, Bradley Tune, expressed that to her “Theta is about taking people who are good and making them even better.” The organization’s symbol is a kite-shaped badge, their colors are black and gold, and their flower is the black and gold pansy.

 

[1] “Epsilon Theta Chartered at Mississippi,” Kappa Alpha Theta, accessed March 4, 2019, https://heritage.kappaalphatheta.org/documents/synchronized/chapter_history/1216_EpsilonZeta/1216_EpsilonZeta_installation.pdf

The philanthropic endeavors of Kappa Alpha Theta include their own Kappa Alpha Theta Foundation, whose mission is to endow each Kappa Alpha Theta with the ability to make a difference, as well as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), an organization which seeks to aid children in the foster care system. Theta categorizes their philanthropic efforts into three areas: service, fundraising, and advocacy. Through their philanthropy, Theta hopes to give their members the opportunity to participate in hands-on volunteer work, host fundraising events benefitting CASA, and educate their members on the importance of advocacy for neglected and abused children. In 2018, the Epsilon Zeta chapter raised $87,376 for CASA at their annual Theta Encore dance competition. The Epsilon Zeta chapter at Ole Miss earned more money for their philanthropy than any other Kappa Alpha Theta chapter in the nation. Additionally, Theta Encore challenged students to participate in a blood drive competition that resulted in enough blood to save nearly 2,000 lives[2]. At the Theta Encore event, each sorority competed to win with elaborate dance routines, which were usually practiced for weeks leading up to the event. This event never failed to have the campus buzzing with conversation and was easily one of the most popular Greek events on campus as it routinely sold out the Ford Center each year.

 

[2] Kappa Alpha Theta at Ole Miss. Facebook, November 26, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/KappaAlphaThetaAtOleMiss/photos/rpp.321839171230851/1981568615257890/?type=3&theater Accessed April 4, 2019. 

In the Greek communities at Ole Miss, there exists a notion of a “tier system” in which houses are ranked according to their social status.  This tier system is spread and perpetuated through rumors and blanket statements made about women and men who are a part of Greek houses.  In this imagined tier system, some houses are talked about as being less desirable than others. Websites such as Greek Rank provide open forums for people to discuss their views of the tier system in sororities and fraternities. The site even has a ranking of the houses based on the opinions of the people who participate. Students who choose to go through recruitment cannot go through the process without hearing remarks about this system. These unfounded opinions tend to sway people to certain houses and away from others. The Greek governing bodies try to counteract these rumors, but they are difficult to eradicate when they have been ingrained into the Ole Miss culture for so long. Many students face pressure from their parents and grandparents to pledge a certain sorority or fraternity.

The tier system at Ole Miss is more prevalent now than it was in the earlier years of Kappa Alpha Theta’s existence on the Ole Miss campus. A previous active member and now alum of Kappa Alpha Theta, Ardith Morgan, said, “A lot of the tier system concerning the houses stems from the ‘old guard’ on the Ole Miss campus. Parents tell their girls that you do not want to be in that group or in that group. The girls are coming on the Ole Miss campus with a preconceived notion about Theta and many other sororities before they even go through rush.” Many of the women going through recruitment could end up coming to Ole Miss judging the sororities based on materialistic things and not on the sisterhood, philanthropic efforts, and the “home” feeling that a sorority is supposed to be giving these women during this time of their lives. Paige Romoser, who pledged in 2014 and became a Theta alum in 2018, reiterated these ideas stating that, “We’d have girls come in to recruitment and they wouldn’t talk to us – like, they would just stare at us. They wouldn’t even make an effort to talk to us, and they made it clear that they didn’t really want to be there.” She went on to explain the challenges this posed for the members of Theta: “That was one of the hardest things, was, you know, when you get girls like that it makes it so hard for us to want to keep going. And it’s sad that we got those more often than not, especially on Greek Day, with all those girls. We will try to talk to you, and it’s a 30-minute conversation you’re having – it’s not that hard to just pretend to be nice. But that was the hardest thing, was that girls start to feel discouraged after people would act like that to them, or they would tell you, ‘mmm, your house just isn’t as good as this house,’ or something – like they’re pretty upfront with you about how they feel, and it definitely was super hard for us in that aspect.”

Recruitment on the Ole Miss campus is an overwhelming time for many women. The majority of women going through recruitment are freshman who have just arrived on campus. About 42% of students participate in Greek life at Ole Miss.[3] Recruitment or “rush” is a week long event with different themes for each day of the week to introduce something unique about each sorority. The rounds include Greek Day, Philanthropy Round, Sisterhood Round, and Preference Round. The rounds consist of visits to each house, videos explaining the sorority’s philanthropy and sisterhood, and conversations with different members of each sorority. Rush week can be very stressful, but also exciting. A member of the Greek community, Bradley Tune, expressed the rush experience by stating, “The recruitment experience was very stressful. Being cut by sororities hurts your self confidence.” Ardith also recalled that some of the houses were very superficial and they asked her questions about what her father did, if her pearls were real, and where she bought her clothes. There are also days that are emotional and exciting such as finding the house that you love and “falling in love with the people you meet,” which is how Bradley Tune described her experience when she began to rush Kappa Alpha Theta. Once these days have been finished, the week comes to an end with Bid Day. The women that went through recruitment gather to receive their bid in the Grove. They will then run to the house that will become their home away from home for the next four years. 

Having a home away from home on campus can make your college experience one to remember for a member of the Greek community. It can be a place to have meals, go for support, to study, or just to be around your sisters. That is why having a sorority house is so important to the members on campus. Bradley, for instance, lived in the Theta house every year. She studied at the house and ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner there. “Everything about  my life was centered around Theta or the people in Theta,” according to Bradley.  But, it wasn’t until they lost their charter that she realized how significant Theta is to her life. “It really did define my college experience.” Ardith explained that during her time as an Kappa Alpha Theta on the Ole Miss campus that the house was amazing. She loved having her sisters around her all the time. She even jokingly added that “they had the best cheese grits on the Ole Miss Campus!”.

 

On November 11, 2018, Betsy Sierk Corridan, the chief executive officer of Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity, released a public statement to announce the closing of the Epsilon Zeta chapter at the University of Mississippi at the end of the fall 2018 semester. According to the statement, “Present membership in Epsilon Zeta is significantly below Panhellenic total, and results from this fall’s primary recruitment were discouraging, despite 17 visits over the last two years from Theta volunteer officers, staff, and educational leadership consultants to assist with recruitment, chapter operations, and finance issues.”[4] The chief executive officer claimed, “it is apparent that diminishing chapter size will make it impossible for Epsilon Zeta to carry on chapter operations.”[5] An article written for The Daily Mississippian from a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, Bradley Tune, expressed her hurt by saying, “When I learned that Kappa Alpha Theta was removing the charter of the house that had been so transformative to me, not because we had bad grades or had hazed or mistreated members, not because we had been irresponsible, not because we had abandoned Kappa Alpha Theta’s mission but because, largely due to our reputation, we were struggling to attract enough new members through formal recruitment alone, it hurt.” After the members learned that they were losing their chapter they were given the option to stay in the house for the remainder of the year or to move out. Some of the girls chose to remain in the house to finish out their remaining time as a Kappa Alpha Theta, and recently a new alumni group was formed in Oxford, Mississippi. Ardith explained during her interview that she felt that not having an alumni chapter in Oxford could have led to their demise and to the loss of their charter. The newly founded alumni chapter will be established to help alumni and the members of Kappa Alpha Theta that are still on the Ole Miss campus that are having to deal with the loss of their charter, the loss of their house, and the loss of their sisterhood connections on campus.

 

The loss of Kappa Alpha Theta’s charter on the Ole Miss campus has caused the members of the Greek community to remember the loss of another sorority’s charter on the campus, Zeta Tau Alpha. Many members of the greek community believe that the tier system causes a never ending cycle of one house always having to be at the “bottom” or considered to be considerably worse than the other houses on campus. Bradley stated in her, “I am scared that people are going to forget what happened here and in fifteen years it is just going to happen again. It is going to happen again because of the same stupid tier system. So, unless we as the Ole Miss Greek Community make serious changes; it is just going to happen over and over again.”

 

[3]“The Viewbook,” The University of Mississippi Admissions Office, Accessed April 4, 2019.  https://olemiss.edu/info/admissions/admissions-guides/index-viewbook.html

[4] “Epsilon Zeta/Mississippi Chapter News,” accessed April 4, 2019, https://www.kappaalphatheta.org/blog/fraternity/epsilon-zeta-mississippi-chapter-news

[5] Ibid. 

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