When Samantha Pop ’11 approached the University about starting a traditional sorority chapter in the fall of 2007, she was turned down.
“They told me they didn‘t want to expand Greek life on campus,” said Pop, who was initially inspired by her twin sister’s experience rushing a sorority at the University of Michigan.
Although Wesleyan has four ethnic sororities on campus, there are currently no traditional sororities. The last one, Kappa Alpha Theta (which actually calls itself a women’s fraternity), dissolved in 2006, the year before Pop came to campus.
“I think people generally just lost interest [in Kappa Alpha Theta],” Pop said.
Dean Michael Whaley cites several reasons for the University’s refusal to approve Pop’s request, despite its continued support of the current Greek organizations on campus.
“We have not been supportive of expanding the number of Greek organizations – fraternities or sororities – at Wesleyan because of the exclusive nature of their membership and because of the resources required such as residence and staffing,” Whaley told the Argus via e-mail.
According to the University Archives, there have been several traditional sororities at the University over the years, though none have had official housing. Women were first admitted to the University during “The Great Experiment” in co-education of the early 1870s. The first sorority was Sigma Pho in 1875, which lasted a year. Sigma Pi was founded in 1880, and then developed into Kappa Alpha Theta, which lasted from 1883 to 1887.
Although the University is currently seen as a non-Greek campus, nearly 80 percent of women (and 90 percent of men) were members of Greek organizations in the late 1880s.
“As you know, Wesleyan has a small number of Greek organizations today, a fraction of the Greek organizations that existed when the institution was all-male and fraternities were the primary living option for students,” Whaley said.
The sorority Delta Delta Delta was founded in 1895, and lasted until women were kicked out at the end of “The Great Experiment” in 1913. Following the re-admittance of women in 1970, students in the 1980s attempted to establish a Tri Delta chapter in hopes of creating an alternative student group for women. Although the women designated a house at 250 Court Street for their sorority, the idea ultimately fizzled out.
In 1988, several female students attempted to bring Kappa Alpha Theta back to campus. Other female students reacted negatively, claiming that a sorority would have detrimental effects on women’s rights. Despite feminist opposition, Kappa Alpha Theta officially became a sorority at Wesleyan in spring of 1989. In 2002, Kappa Alpha Theta applied to receive housing on campus, but Residential Life denied the group’s request because of temporary restrictions regarding program housing. Contrary to widespread rumors, there is no Connecticut state law that disallows sororities from having houses on the grounds that a certain number of women living together constitute a brothel.
“Over the years, several students and organizations have approached Wesleyan about possible colonization on our campus,” Whaley said. “The first issue—and generally the ‘deal-breaker’—we confront is meeting the group’s desire for residential space.”
The lack of interest in Kappa Alpha Theta, as well as its inability to receive housing, eventually led to the closure of the chapter in 2006.
Two years after her attempt to start up a sorority, Pop still believes that her organization would have played an important role for current Wesleyan students.
“I think it could have provided a good thing on campus,” Pop said.
This is the first in a two-part series on sororities at Wesleyan. The next article will explore the University’s four ethnic sororities.