With membership declining, and the sorority acquiring a campus rep for being more brainy than beautiful, the national officers of Delta Zeta embarked on a fall recruiting effort for their DePauw University chapter in Greencastle, Ind. But instead of adding members, they wound up effectively asking 23 of the existing 35 members to leave. Outraged sorority sisters at the liberal arts school said those dumped were the women considered overweight or unattractive. DZ officials say that isn’t so. Cindy Menges, national executive director of Delta Zeta, says that the only factor in determining who would stay was a commitment to recruit for the chapter. "Any allegations otherwise are false," she said in a statement.
The incident has sparked an uproar both on and off the campus. Six sorority members who were not ousted quit anyway to show solidarity with the sisters who received the letters telling them to vacate their sorority house rooms by Jan. 29. The university administration also stepped in, with DePauw president Robert Bottoms announcing that the university is moving to prevent future flaps by requiring sororities and fraternities to allow students to continue living in their houses for the entire school year unless a behavior issue warrants removal. The school has also helped ejected girls find new housing.
NEWSWEEK spoke to Carolyn Thatcher, 22, the sorority's former president who was forced to move into an apartment after being asked to leave the Delta Zeta house. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: Why do you think you were told to leave?
Carolyn Thatcher: I don't think I am unattractive. I don't think I lack dedication. I've given up multiple opportunities in order to be able to devote more time to being president and helping with this organization. It might be because I'm not necessarily the most outgoing, most bubbly personality. I'm generally more introverted. The criteria weren't specified to us. I felt I presented myself professionally. I was the one wanting to recruit from the get go.
Did looks play a role?
I think that did play a factor. I'm not blond. I'm a brunette. I'm a size 8. I'm fairly proportioned. I don't wear designer labels. I will admit that I wear jeans and a T shirt almost every day to class.
What types of women were asked to stay?
Half of them were blond. The others were brunette or redhead. They're beautiful women. They were more fit. All of them were very good at meeting new people and expressing themselves and coming across as very warm and outgoing.
What was your interview with the national representative like?
She asked me what our image was on campus, if I could put a brand on our house, what would it be. I told her I didn't feel like I could put a stereotype on our house other than other people would say we're the bottom of the pecking order. Our chapter adviser said we should probably put our best foot forward, appearancewise. I wore brown slacks and a cream-colored sweater. It wasn't anything particularly trendy.
Your reaction when you learned you were out?
Naturally, I was sad. What about me wasn't what they wanted? Something like that is very damaging. I didn't go into any bouts of depression, but I questioned what about me wasn't valuable. But I know I'm still a valuable sister to the women I was in the organization with. It was more of, "I'm good enough. Why wasn't I asked to stay?"
When a recruiting event was held at your house, only the women who ended up being asked to stay were invited to participate, along with attractive Delta Zeta women brought in from another campus. Were you asked to stay in your room?
It was our impression that we were not allowed to go downstairs. I wasn't going to be there anyway, but I know that it hurt the other women. It was a self-esteem blow and slap in the face of the women I care about.
What did you like most about the sorority?
Being able to walk down the hall and pop into someone's room and strike up a conversation. Just hanging out and what we call random hallway parties. All of sudden there are 10 girls sitting in the hallway just talking. It was a chance to make some of the best friends I'll have.
Did you ever feel pressured to act or look a certain way?
I didn't feel like I had to change who I was. I feel like they accepted me for who I am. They helped me grow. I probably wouldn't have even thought of being chapter president except for a couple girls in the house said, "I think you'd be great for it."
Anything you won't miss?
I wasn't a big fan of chanting for recruitment or dressing up for weekly meetings. But I didn't mind singing before formal dinners because it's a ritual, and I've never been part of an organization that had rituals. Doing some of the things our founders did and honoring that was kind of cool.
Has being kicked out marred your college experience?
I'd say it put a damper on it. I'm still doing theater, I'm still friends with women in the house, I still go to class. But there's a part of me that's ready to graduate and put it behind me.
What about the university's response?
I'm pleased with what the university has done thus far and that they've taken a stance to prevent this from happening in the future. I think it's going to start the conversation for improving our Greek system here.
Should they have done more?
Some people are wanting the university to force the DZ nationals to leave campus.
What do you think?
In the long run, it might be best for everyone. They only have six members currently active and four are leaving at the end of this year. To try to build a chapter and compete for members, is that really going to be fair to them? It might be better for everyone to say it's done.
What do you think about all the media attention?
In a way I think it's good. We can now begin to talk about our culture and our image, and what kind of image we are selling to our women and men about beauty and integrity.
But it is disrupting the life of women on campus. A concentration has been lost for some women. They can't just completely devote their time to their studies like they did before this happened.