*This article has was updated on June 17. Originally, the article expressed that the National Panhellenic Council had not released a statement on racial inequity and Black Lives Matter. However, it was brought to our attention that several statements were released. You can read the statement here and on their Facebook Page. The Echo apologizes for the mistake.
In EMU’s Delta Alpha chapter of Sigma Delta Tau (SDT), alumni have stripped their letters in response to dissatisfaction with SDT’s response to violence against Black people in the US and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Among the women stripping their letters are alumni Cindy Anim-Gyan and Savannah Gariepy. Since their initial response, SDT’s headquarters has released various responses via social media and email. As of June 5, SDT has appointed Victoria Alexander as the Chair of the newly established Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.
This action fulfills a demand among others that Gariepy released in a document listing specific demands addressed to the SDT National Board of Directors which was to “reform National leadership to reflect an organization that is inclusive and diverse.”
“I think that it's a good step, but it's one that should have happened a long time ago. My hope is that the national organization will continue to grow in this area. I would also still like to see them start matching members' donations or commit to making some kind of donation, as well.” Gariepy said.
Anim-Gyan also believes that this action was a “good step.”
“I think it is a good step towards improvement. I think this position holder definitely is qualified.” Anim-Gyan said.
However, before appointing Alexander, the various statements released via social media were heavily criticized in the comment section on Instagram and drove Anim-Gyan, Gariepy, and other members to strip their letters and demand a better response from SDT.
The main criticism was that the organization made multiple posts with statements and resources for members, but no plan to donate to support BLM. They were also criticized up until June 3 because they would not explicitly post the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
“As a member of the Delta Alpha chapter of Sigma Delta Tau, I was so gratified to see my sisters from near and far come together to demand change from our Sorority’s national headquarters. As an African American female, the horrific acts of violence being committed against unarmed black women and men is nothing new to me. For years I have been demanding change and spreading awareness to others. In the past I found myself reevaluating who I consider a friend because many of those I considered to be close friends chose to remain silent about issues affecting the black community in the US and failed to support the Black Lives Matter movement. As you may know, the recent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have created a divide in our nation between those who support the black community, acknowledge both the institutionalized racism within the US and the unjust rates of police brutality/abuse of power against Black Americans vs those who turn a blind eye or support such heinous criminal acts. When I witnessed hundreds of my sorority sisters demand justice for the black community my heart filled with gratitude. Even though I am alum, I felt so proud to have been a member of an organization where its members believe in justice and equality for all and are not afraid to speak up against the leaders of said organization.” Anim-Gyan said in a statement to the Echo.
Anim-Gyan continued, “Never in my life before joining Sigma Delta Tau, have I had a friend base and support system that was so fearless and progressive that they were willing to post and say things they know would cause tension and uproars within their families and friendships. Even though I may not always be proud of Sigma Delta Tau’s words and actions, I am forever proud of my sisters.”
In Greek Life, Anim-Gyan said receiving stitched letters is a “big deal.” Stripping letters is a symbolic gesture communicating to a sorority that they are not acknowledging them because they disagree with their “values or actions.” It communicates to the sorority that “they have disappointed their members and need to make change before members decide to drop the sorority.”
Gariepy also released her statement in a Facebook post on June 3.
“... I have decided to remove my affiliation from Sigma Delta Tau to show solidarity with my Black sisters who have been overlooked in a time of need for unity by SDT Sorority. Our sisters of color have not been protected or elevated now or in the past… I ask sisters of Sigma Delta Tau to join me stripping your letters to demand change while calling out silence by our local chapters and Nationals as a whole. Black Lives Matter.”
She also urged members of sororities under the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) sororities to “place pressure” on their national organizations and “do more than release a generalized statement.”
“Most of these chapters have thousands of dollars in unused funds and the capacity to instill a cultural change in [Fraternity and Sorority Life], yet haven't used their platform appropriately. Step up and speak out.” Gariepy said.
The NPC is “the world’s largest umbrella organization specifically charged with advancing the sorority experience.” Many sororities at EMU fall under the NPC’s umbrella including SDT.
SDT has made adjustments in their leadership by establishing the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, however their umbrella organization, the NPC, is headed by its 2019 to 2021 Board of Directors composed of all white women. You can also view SDT’s national leadership here.
As members of EMU’s Delta Alpha chapter of SDT demand action from their national leadership and urge other members of NPC and others, some chapters at EMU have released statements and/or resources on racial inequity. *NPC has issued multiple statements.
"For the members of the National Panhellenic Conference Board of Directors, the time and place in which we find ourselves has called for clear acknowledgement that racism—within society and within the Panhellenic community—is not an issue we can address simply through kindness or greater respect for one another (as important as those may be). Instead, we must carefully consider the structural and systemic reasons that too many women of color do not view our organizations as places where they feel welcomed, understood or heard... Our approach must change, and the Board of Directors offers at least three considerations we must confront if we are to honestly reconsider our path forward as a conference and a community of Panhellenic women....” The NPC said in a statement.