In April, I will celebrate the 42nd anniversary of my initiation into our sisterhood. It has been one of the best decisions I have ever made, and one I have never regretted. So I’m feeling rather sentimental as I recall the beginnings of my Sigma journey, and I must confess that the road traveled has not always been a smooth one.
When I became a new member back in 1973, joining Tri Sigma was an easy choice. My roommate and I were transfer students living off campus, and knew very little about the sororities at Central Michigan University. I had worked with a young woman who was a sister of Alpha Sigma Alpha, and it is to her credit that I am a Tri Sigma today, because she explained how to participate in Panhellenic recruitment. Had it not been for Ann, I would not have known to watch in the campus newspaper for the advertisement inviting women to attend an information meeting that would kick off recruitment.
Ignorance was truly bliss for my roommate and I. Having no prior knowledge of the sororities on campus, allowed us to go through recruitment without any biases. We judged for ourselves as we proceeded through the process, and found our “Goldie Locks” group. Tri Sigma was not too big, not too small, and all the sisters were “just right”. We choose and were chosen.
Back then we were referred to as pledges, but I cannot say we were subjected to hazing. We were never made to feel that we might be “black balled”, and understood that there was much to learn about our sisterhood. The active sisters were very supportive and my pledge class had a blast! Initiation was amazing and will always be a special memory for me. Then came our first meeting.
“Shiny Badges” was our new title. This would be the last meeting before summer break, and we were so excited to be officially initiated members. However, we soon picked up on tension in the room. Our current membership was at 40 sisters, but we were losing 20 seniors to graduation. In just a few weeks our “Goldie Locks” sorority, would suddenly be “too small”. This prompted the apartment management corporation who owned our house to decide not to renew our lease. Added to this, our beloved advisor of 10 years informed us that she was retiring from that position. Everyone left the meeting in tears.
So began the blip on the Alpha Phi chapter’s membership chart that marks my time as an active there. Fortunately, an Alumna sister came to our rescue in regard to our house. She and her husband had downsized to another place, and offered to rent their family home to us. It was fully furnished and located within walking distance of campus. This became our house, which was beautifully decorated, oozing with charm. Although this was a huge plus for us, we still struggled.
Prior to “the blip” Alpha Phi had been named as National’s Chapter of the Year, and won numerous awards. We had a lot to live up to, and keenly felt that responsibility. Yet the Tri Sigma grapevine proved to be cruel, and harsh criticism from Alumnae would soon be picked up on our radar. I am sure these sisters were just frustrated, but to pass judgment without offering assistance only added to the problem. After all, the true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do. (Character Counts)
Some how the Alpha Phi chapter prevailed. Things didn’t happen over night, but we hung in there. The 70’s were a difficult decade for Greeks in general. Membership was down for all groups. Two sororities were closed while I was still on campus. Our core group of sisters stayed the course, and while I didn’t personally experience the turn around, one by one the chapter added wonderful new members, and Tri Sigma was back on top by the 1980’s.
My heart always goes out to struggling chapters. Please know that there is power in perseverance. The lesson my group learned was the importance of reaching out and inviting interested women to explore what Tri Sigma is all about. We had become too comfortable with formal recruitment and neglected to use Continuous Open Recruitment (COR) to build our membership back in our “Goldie Locks” days. Alpha Phi also reinvested in our Tri Sigma values by taking on service opportunities and projects. Potential members were invited to participate in these activities along with the chapter. It soon became clear that Tri Sigma was about more than just a good time. By changing the focus from us to others the chapter began to flourish. You can too.
Jacqulyn King (Alpha Phi) is a retired high school Library Media Specialist, and she and her husband Mark divide their time between homes in Michigan and Florida. She belongs to the West Michigan, Central Michigan and Southwest Florida Alumnae chapters. Her blog Confessions of a Sigmaholic runs the third Tuesday of every month.