In celebration of its fifth anniversary, Rho Epsilon Pi (Rho Ep) will be sponsoring a Wesleyan Women’s Conference in collaboration with many other women’s groups and feminist groups at the University over the April 29 to May 1 weekend.
According to the Rho Ep President Lili Kadets ’17, the conference will consist of a variety of events held in a range of locations at both the University and in Middletown. The event is scheduled to open with a screening of the film “Trapped,” followed by different social networking events and workshops led by student groups.
“We are hoping to host workshops in which people attending the workshops can go to, listen to different topics, learn about different topics, and engage in discussion on different topics,” Kadets said. “We want to focus on the ways that women play a role in our society whether that be health-wise or professionally.”
The event is unique in its conception, in that both current members of Rho Ep and alumni of the sorority are planning it. Rho Ep Founder Melody Oliphant ’13 has been working closely with Kadets and other members to plan this event. Oliphant described the event as an opportunity to help the campus better understand Rho Ep Pi and its mission.
“Something I often heard from my classmates, even my friends, while I was a student was that they ‘came to Wesleyan to get away from fraternities and sororities,’” Oliphant said. “My female friends especially seemed wont to denigrate the ‘type of girl’ who would want to join a sorority, which for most conjures connotations of cattiness, exclusivity, and a monolithic membership. And while folks seemed to agree with our message and our vision for positive impact on campus once we explained it to them, they simply couldn’t understand why we would want to associate with a term like ‘sorority.’”
Oliphant added a simple reason as to why they do not mind the term.
“To me, these preconceived notions of sorority women reflected little more than an insidiously sexist perspective of how a group of women gathering together might look or act,” Oliphant said. “To [us], the answer was always simple on why we chose to call ourselves a sorority: ‘We are a sorority.’”
During the past five years, Oliphant and Rho Ep as a sorority have faced a certain amount of scrutiny and questioning from the community regarding if the sorority should exist in the way that it does.
“I’ve witnessed an unusual comfort for Wesleyan folks to question why we exist and what purpose our organization serves that isn’t replicated for other affinity groups,” Oliphant said. “For years, I operated on the stubborn belief that some students’ unfair preconceived conceptions of who we were as women and who we were as an organization were not on us to rectify. Our focus in the early years of the organization was internally minded. We wanted the organization to work for the women who chose to take part in it. [But] with five years of success in our internal efforts as an organization, we see this event as a sort of turning point in our institution’s trajectory where we can begin to devote more of our time and effort to face outward to the campus and bring the same level of committed passion to a broader audience.”
The main focus throughout the event is going to be placed on giving women a space to be heard, according to Rho Ep Alumnae Chair Hannah Skopicki ’18.
“As a member of Rho Epsilon Pi, I can talk about how the sorority really strives to make women’s voices feel heard, and I think that’s what this weekend is all about,” Skopicki said. “It’s about a space on campus for women to network and to meet each other in a professional and social setting that really puts the power in the hands of women and makes sure that the voices of our campus’s women are heard.”
Kadets reiterated Skopicki’s thoughts, stating that our society often teaches women that they do not have a voice or a space to speak.
“If this conference can literally provide women a space to discuss issues that they don’t usually have a chance to discuss, that would make me happy because I think that that really goes along with Rho Epsilon Pi’s values,” Kadets said. “I’m hoping to just see a diverse group of people coming together, both students and alumni, who have different perspectives, who want to discuss, who want to talk, who want to engage, who want to debate certain current issues. I think the only way that we can get across positive perspectives is if we collaborate and meet up.”
In addition to being an event that is open to all, Skopicki described the conference as accessible.
“We’re really trying to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion through the sorority and also through campus,” Skopicki said. “I think that if you are passionate about women’s issues, not only as students but also in the world, I think that this event is for you. It’s also supposed to be accessible, so why not come?”