My first semester was unremarkable. Not exactly unpleasant, but definitely not the experience I had in mind. The Penn community is huge; I needed to be a part of a group that was narrowed down, tailored to fit my goals and values. I had high hopes for rush and sorority life. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself swarmed by the bright pink hats of Alpha Chi Omega on Bid Night. My bid from AXO promised a more vibrant second semester, during which I could meet the girls that could make Penn feel more like home instead of a temporary arrangement.
I found during rush that the sorority girls at Penn are smart and not defined by their Greek affiliations. As Meghan Gaffney, Associate Director of OFSL, put it during our introduction to rush, “if you think being in a sorority means going out every weekend, please leave.” And she was right. As a freshman in AXO, I was astounded by the sheer amount of talent and diversity in the upper classes.
Meghan told us to “trust the process.” I was promised that, if I put my faith in Greek leaders, I would find myself in a vibrant social community.
My experience, as it turns out,wasn’t exactly as expected. I watched other sorority girls go out every weekend. I watched fraternity boys trudge through their brutal pledging processes. All of which, while irritating, didn’t bother me as much as the period during which I was forbidden to communicate with the very girls I had been so thrilled to meet.
During the stationary period, I heard my share of rumors surrounding AXO’s investigation. The speculation was inevitable and understandable. It’s hard to decipher what happened without the facts. So here they are: OFSL began its investigation after receiving a phone call from a concerned mother regarding AXO’s New Member Education. I was personally assured, as were the vast majority of freshmen interviewed, that the investigation would be resolved within two weeks. It began January 29th and formally ended March 3rd, although sanctions were not presented until March 18th, a total of seven weeks without definitive results. In the end, OFSL found definitive proof of alcohol possession and consumption.
22 sanctions were imposed on the chapter in exchange for probationary recognition from the school. They included, but were certainly not limited to, OFSL demanding that Chapter officers be removed, a Chapter retreat be organized and Group First Step (a drug and alcohol program) be fully participated in. In Spring 2017, the Chapter would be re–evaluated. In other words, we could fulfill every sanction perfectly, and still be at risk for suspension beyond Spring 2018—the year I graduate.
On the surface, social probation for two years—one of the more widely disputed sanctions—sounds pretty manageable. However, this forbids Big Man on Campus (BMOC), an annual AXO philanthropy event, in its current form. I remember standing in the crowd at Roxxy, laughing with a girl who would later become my AXO sister and feeling so welcome, comfortable and happy. I was proud to be part of the crowd that raised $20,000 for Women Against Abuse, and I was proud to later join a sorority that takes their philanthropy so seriously. BMOC, while certainly a social event, is direct evidence that sorority life is more than parties. Widely known on campus as a celebration of Penn students and charity, BMOC is a rare mix of social and philanthropy that would not be nearly as effective if completely restructured—something demanded by OFSL.
There’s also the issue of principle. I didn’t want to be a part of an organization whose direct authority did not respect me. I didn't want to pay dues that would go towards officials bombarding me with literature and PowerPoints on how to be a better sorority member. For OFSL and AXO Nationals to mold me into something I’m not defeats the very point of why I initially joined AXO—to embrace who I am with people like me.
OFSL robbed Alpha Chi Omega’s 2015 Pledge Class and our sorority’s full experience. The only opportunity I had to truly get to know my pledge class was during New Member Education. Over 50 girls were chosen as a class, to be cohesive and form their own unique AXO community. We are now strangers. The way OFSL handled the investigation was sexist, incompetent, childish and an embarrassment to what should be the sterling standards of the University of Pennsylvania.
OFSL questioned our integrity. We were respectful. We were considerate. Every single freshman came in promptly to interview. We told the truth.
And we were called liars. We were told that our words and character meant nothing against OFSL’s doctrine of truth, its singular mind, which appeared to already be decided against us. As OFSL said so eloquently in all 22 of their original sanctions, we were “less than forthcoming during the investigation.” It appears we weren’t the only ones.
I joined AXO to find a place to fit in. I’m proud to say, I’ve found my people. I know with certainty the women I’ve met since receiving a bid are women I aspire to be like. I do not plan on being initiated into AXO. I look forward to being unaffiliated with any organized Greek Chapter, and hope to find a home in another organization—one equipped with the values that I cherished in AXO but without constant interference.
Read the open letter from the former members of Alpha Chi Omega explaining their decision to move off campus.Also see more coverage on Alpha Chi Omega's decision from the Daily Pennsylvanian and Under the Button.