Faculty votes to approve Alpha Phi as Whitman’s fourth sorority

Rachel Alexander

Whitman College faculty voted on Wednesday, Feb. 23 to approve Alpha Phi as Whitman’s fourth sorority. The vote was the culmination of a yearlong selection and approval process, and means that a chapter of Alpha Phi will be started at Whitman next fall.

The news was met with enthusiasm by junior Heather Smith, who was Panhellenic President last year.

“I feel really fortunate that I was able to be a part of Panhellenic at such an exciting time,” she said in an e-mail. “I don’t know if the Whitman community and the Greek system fully realize how rare and exciting this is.”

Smith is currently abroad, but largely directed the process of recruiting and approving the addition of Alpha Phi to Whitman’s Greek community over the past year.

Current Panhellenic President sophomore Alex Woodward echoed Smith’s sentiments, and said that Panhellenic will now be able to move forward with starting the new chapter.

“We were at a standstill until they voted,” she said.

Whitman’s Panhellenic Extension Committee voted last April to begin the process of selecting a fourth sorority to come to campus. The decision was made to address overcrowding issues and reduce chapter sizes for the three existing sororities–Kappa Kappa Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta and Delta Gamma.

“This is something that we’ve been thinking about for a number of years as we’ve watched the sorority membership size go up,” said Associate Dean of Students Barbara Maxwell.

According to Maxwell, optimal chapter size is around 65 members. Whitman’s existing sororities are well over this number; last fall, Delta Gamma had 110 members.

“At one hundred members, we’re pushing providing a quality experience,” said Maxwell.

Specifically, she said that smaller chapters allow more members to pursue leadership roles, and ensure that everyone is able to participate in community service and other activities.

The process of selecting a sorority to come to Whitman began last spring. After the Extension Committee approved the plan to add a fourth sorority, members of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) were able to submit applications to Whitman. NPC is an organization made up of 26 national sororities, including the three already at Whitman. Maxwell said that only five groups applied, in part because Whitman Panhellenic chose to limit the process to sororities which had existing chapters in the Pacific Northwest.

“We wanted [our chapter] to be able to belong to a province or a district, because that’s where leadership opportunities exist,” said Maxwell.

To choose a sorority for Whitman, Smith formed a committee which included members of each sorority to rank the applicants. After the ranking had been approved, the top three groups were brought to campus, and Alpha Phi was selected from among these.

Representatives from Alpha Phi are scheduled to visit Whitman in the spring. Because the sorority used to have a chapter at Whitman from 1948-1979, Maxwell said that some alumni of that chapter would likely visit campus at the same time that other sororities host alumni.

After the spring visit, Alpha Phi’s new chapter will officially begin in the fall. Because the chapter is starting from scratch at Whitman, they will not go through the normal recruitment process. Instead, Alpha Phi will only be able to recruit members after the other three sororities have finished their fall recruitment. Maxwell said that first-years usually go through recruitment, and each sorority recruits a relatively small number of new members. In contrast, Alpha Phi will need about 65 new members to start a chapter and needs to have a mix of classes represented in their initial membership.

“In order for Alpha Phi to succeed as well as the existing groups, all three sororities, as well as the four fraternities, will now need to come together as one united organization in their support,” said Smith. “I have no doubt that will happen, and it will be exciting to see the results.”

Maxwell stressed that a new sorority chapter represents an opportunity for Whitman women to take on leadership roles.

“Hopefully there are women out there who want the challenge of starting something new,” she said.

Woodward said that a fourth sorority on campus will mean more philanthropy and community service will occur. She said she looks forward to the addition of an Alpha Phi chapter.

“They’ll be a noticeable presence in the fall, and it will be exciting,” she said.