Members of the Alpha Omicron Pi Delta chapter at Tufts University in Massachusetts were considering pledges in September, just like any other year, when they reached “Samantha.”
Samantha is a pseudonym being used to identify the transgender woman who was looking to take a place at the sorority. And the current members wanted her, according to the Tufts Daily, but when a representative asked the international headquarters for the sorority if they could have a transgender member, the organization wavered.
“They said that they didn’t want us to extend her a bid, basically,” said Kristin Reeves, the former president of the chapter. “They were like, ‘well, we’re not saying you never could, we’re just saying right now you can’t.’ I was really mad about this, as was the rest of the chapter, so we unanimously decided to give her a bid anyway.”
A statement by chapter officials said in a statement that a delay was necessary 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 statement read.
Title IX prohibits excluding people from organizations based on sex, and sororities have to obtain exemptions to this rule in order to be female only. After consulting with lawyers to determine if admitting the transgender woman would leave them vulnerable to future lawsuits, chapter officials told members of the sorority that Samantha could become a member. They also said they “apologized for their hesitation.”
But the damage was done, according to Reeves, who also alleged that the international headquarters originally threatened to pull their chapter if they admitted Samantha. Following a meeting at the Delta chapter with a sorority representative, half of the members decided to drop out, which amounts to between 40 and 45 women, according to Tufts Daily.
“What happened was because of all these conversations about — are they really not gonna allow us to accept a transgender woman — then this like kind of veiled threat of would we get our charter pulled?” Reeves said. “What’s going on there? It kind of started a conversation about ‘do our values align with AOII international.’”
Reeves was one of the members to leave, stepping down as president. Another woman who decided to leave, Senior Tai Williams, wrote a self-suspension letter to AOII headquarters documenting her decision.
“I can no longer be a part of an organization that rejects — or even hesitates to welcome — inclusivity and diversity,” she wrote. “In my opinion, it is absolutely despicable that Alpha Omicron Pi would even consider the possibility of excluding an individual based on gender identity.”
As for Samantha, she also decided to leave the sorority. In an op-ed to the Tufts Daily, she wrote about her reasons for leaving.
“1. I did not feel comfortable financially supporting an institution that had displayed oppressive policies and behaviors in the past and present,” she wrote. “2. Many of my friends, the same people for whom I had joined Delta in the first place, were leaving. I wanted to be with them. 3. I did not feel that I, personally, could contribute significantly to creating lasting change inside the structure of AOII International. I decided instead to opt for more locally-based activism and advocacy, where I felt that I could have a larger impact.”
But she said she held no blame for the women who chose to stay in the Delta chapter.
“To the best of my knowledge, not one sister who chose to stay did so feeling that AOII International was without fault. Not one felt that there was no room for improvement in the organization,” Samantha wrote. “Not one made anything less than an earnest personal commitment to endeavor to affect change from within, in the interest of making AOII a safer, more inclusive space for people of all identities.”