Cal Poly Chi Omega’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee knew things needed to change. This summer, they created a number of initiatives to make the sorority more welcoming, including a new recruitment process. National leadership, however, disagreed and denied the initiatives.
This denial from Chi Omega National led to discord within the chapter over how DEI work is managed in the sorority, placing pressure on Chi Omega’s Executive Board.
As a result, the majority of the chapter’s executive board resigned from their positions.
In protest of this situation, many Chi Omega members dropped from the sorority in the days before and after the executive board’s resignation. The chapter is currently left with about 80 active members.
Former Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Chair of Chi Omega Alanna Hurd was one of the members who dropped from the sorority.
“What you see falling apart right now is an organization controlled and led by women who, given many opportunities to turn things around, firmly decided that they do not value the existence of me, women of color, women who are survivors of sexual assault or women with any sort of marginalized identity,” Hurd wrote in a letter posted to Instagram.
“What you see falling apart right now is an organization controlled and led by women who, given many opportunities to turn things around, firmly declined that they do not value the existence of me, women of color, women who are survivors of sexual assault or women with any sort of marginalized identity.”
For Hurd, discontent with the organization began when she first stepped up to the position of DEI Chair back in 2018.
After Cal Poly fraternity Lambda Chi members wore blackface in April 2018, Cal Poly Panhellenic asked each sorority to create a leadership position for diversity, equity and inclusion in their chapter.
Hurd accepted this position at Chi Omega, but said she found the majority of what she proposed turned down.
“Our leaders didn’t feel like they could mandate the women in our chapter to talk about racism this much, or to talk about different DEI topics because they didn’t want to make any women uncomfortable,” Hurd said in an interview.
Though previous executive boards of the sorority rejected diversity and inclusion work, Chi Omega members saw a significant increase in chapter support for DEI initiatives in the summer leading up to Fall 2020.
“We thought that, at last, we had the momentum to make lasting change happen,” Hurd wrote in her letter.
In the summer of 2020, Chi Omega members and DEI leaders worked to implement a new recruitment process, since many members had voiced their concerns with the current way it was run.
The new process would remove pre-screened scores and bid preference for students who had a family member in the sorority previously.
“Because sororities are historically white organizations, the legacy policy is inherently racist,” former Chi Omega Director of Sisterhood Lauren Milligan said.
Overall, the new recruitment process proposed was designed to be “more fair and value-based,” Hurd said.
Other initiatives included altering the membership policy so that it no longer prohibited transgender womxn, creating closed small group discussions for sexual assault survivors as well as creating scholarships for members of lower economic status and changing dues to ensure they are “assessed,” which means that members are charged for individual events such as formal, instead of charging a lump sum up front.
“I think for a lot of people Greek Life is just so exclusive because of the monetary aspect,” former Chi Omega member Mia Russo said. “The dues that we pay are honestly ridiculous, especially now during a pandemic.”
Chi Omega members were asked to pay $200 worth of dues for the quarter, despite sorority life being entirely virtual. $100 of this sum would go straight to Chi Omega National.
Other sorority members agreed, including former member of Chi Omega’s DEI Committee Michelle Lee.
“Nobody wants to pay like $400 a quarter to have a social life,” she said.
Lee joined Chi Omega her freshman year and officially resigned last week.
Lee became a member of Chi Omega’s DEI committee after seeing a post on Shades of Cal Poly that mentioned her sorority.
Despite her and other’s efforts, Lee said she was disappointed by the lack of change she saw within her sorority. She said she felt like the actions that her chapter did take were performative.
Throughout the summer, Chi Omega members and DEI leaders worked 15 to 20 hours on these diversity, equity, and inclusion proposals — consulting with lawyers, law students and leaders of national organizations with other sororities.
“We worked totally within the bylaws and rules Nationals gave us,” Hurd said.
Yet, when all these initiatives were finally proposed, they were met with the same answer as before: no.
“We were told no to everything,” Hurd said, “We put so much work into it, and really made sure it was something that they could say yes to easily, but they just were not willing to accept that change.”
Following the denial of their proposals, many members voiced their frustrations in the chapter GroupMe, questioning why there were so many barriers to the changes they were trying to put in place.
“There were a lot of people talking and sending long messages about how our chapter is divided right now and not a united, inclusive safe space,” Milligan said. “A lot of the messages during that conversation were directed at our executive board. … They weren’t responding,”
After these conversations in the GroupMe, Hurd, Milligan and other leaders of the DEI Committee were sent an email summoning them to requesting a Zoom meeting with the Chief Experience Officer and other leaders of Chi Omega Nationals with an hour and fifteen minutes notice.
Hurd said that for the first 15 minutes of the meeting with Nationals, she and the other members were chastised for their actions.
Hurd said that Nationals officers called her and other leaders of the DEI Committee “mean girls,” “bullies,” and told them they “maybe didn’t belong in Chi Omega” for having conversations about racism and discrimination.
“I felt like I was being told that fighting for myself as a woman of color and fighting for the people that I love who are also being mistreated and harmed in this chapter… that fighting for ourselves and the skin that we live in is considered ‘bullying’ and being a ‘mean girl,’” Hurd said.
“That fighting for ourselves and the skin we live in is considered ‘bullying’ and being a ‘mean girl.’”
“The fact that it was coming from the Chief Experience Officer really solidified the fact that our National organization is prioritizing comfortability and the status quo over the safety and happiness of its members,” Milligan said.
Christina George, Director of Chapter Development for Chi Omega Omicron Mu, was one of the Nationals Officials present on the Zoom call. When asked about the situation, she sent the following statement in an email to Mustang News:
“Recently, the Chi Omega chapter has been navigating varying opinions regarding the levels of diversity, equity, and inclusion that need to be implemented within the chapter. … Individual membership is a choice and while some have opted not to further participate in this important conversation and the progress ahead, our many members who are committed to Chi Omega look forward to welcoming women who are interested in being change-makers within the sorority and throughout fraternal life.”
After 15 minutes of speaking to the DEI leaders of the chapter, the host of the meeting attempted to end the Zoom call, according to Hurd.
“I had to raise my voice and talk very loudly over her [the host of the meeting] and say wait a second, I really think we should have an opportunity to respond to everything that you just said to us” Hurd said.
Hurd shared the hurt she had personally experienced from racism and discrimination in the sorority.
The response from National officials was a request to produce proof of the racism and discrimination that the students were experiencing.
“I went through and I opened those wounds for them because I guess they needed to hear it in order to believe,” Hurd said.
“It was very invalidating, and honestly kind of offensive to be told that the work we were putting in for diversity, equity, and inclusion wasn’t wanted,” Milligan added.
After the Zoom call with Nationals, members of the DEI Committee held a Zoom call for the chapter to discuss what had happened. About 40 chapter members attended the meeting as well as a few members of the chapter’s executive board.
“We shared what had happened in that meeting, and the executive leaders in our chapter shared the hurt that they felt being in the position they were in, and that they had felt bullied by the DEI committee, and that they felt attacked,” Hurd says.
Hurd shared the pain she was in, how small and unimportant she felt in a place that was supposed to be her support system and her sisterhood.
“I got a lot of affirmations from members of the DEI committee, and got no response from the leadership in our chapter,” Hurd said. “That’s not on them as human beings … but I think they were so afraid of Nationals. They were just so afraid of making these big changes that they could not see the value of what we were trying to do.”
In the next couple of days following the processing session, Hurd attempted to reach out to the entire executive board of Chi Omega to have a conversation to figure out the chapter’s next steps. She was met with no response, and on Sunday, Sept. 16, all but one executive board member of Chi Omega resigned from their positions.
The National board took over the chapter following the executive board’s resignation. Under the National board, members weren’t allowed to elect their own officers or choose their recruitment activities, and removed members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee from the chapter’s GroupMe messaging chat and Facebook page after they expressed that they were considering dropping from the sorority.
Members were still required to pay dues for the quarter, despite many of the activities being cancelled due to the pandemic. According to Lee, dues paid by members go towards the national board of the chapter, and the university, with only $17 out of $200 going directly to the chapter.
“We were paying the salaries of the woman who came in and completely tore down our chapter,” Lee said. “And so I didn’t want to financially support any of that anymore.”
“We were paying the salaries of the woman who came in and completely tore down our chapter.”
The reason Lee believes that the board of Nationals was so against change was because it goes against the very nature of Greek life.
“The appeal of Greek life is how exclusive it is,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of things that go into making Greek life very exclusionary, and every single part of our bylaws almost is meant to exclude people who aren’t white people who aren’t rich.”
Hurd calls upon the Greek Life as a whole to prioritize DEI work: “Centralize women of color, centralize LGBTQ women, centralize survivors of sexual assault, centralize all these women who are normally pushed to the margins. … Then you can say that you have begun to do the work in the way it needs to be done.”
Grace Kitayama contributed reporting to this story.
Executive Board members of Cal Poly’s Chi Omega chapter declined to comment.