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Nationals Vote to Close UM’s Epsilon Zeta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta

By Blake Alsup
Daily Mississippian News Editor

*Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the Friday, Nov. 2 edition of The Daily Mississippian. The Kappa Alpha Theta Epsilon Zeta chapter was founded at Ole Miss in 1979, and the sorority’s house was completed in the fall of 1980. Zeta Tau Alpha was the last Panhellenic chapter closed at Ole Miss in the spring of 1999.

The Kappa Alpha Theta Epsilon Zeta chapter was founded at Ole Miss in 1979, and the sorority’s house was completed in the fall of 1980. Photo by Talbert Toole.

The national Kappa Alpha Theta organization has decided to remove the University of Mississippi’s Epsilon Zeta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta at the end of this semester after 39 years on campus due to a number of issues including “low membership and discouraging recruitment efforts.”

National leaders of the organization voted unanimously to close the chapter, according to an email obtained by The Daily Mississippian that was sent to members by Kappa Alpha Theta Fraternity President Mandy Burgett Wushinske on Nov. 1.

“As you know, present membership in Epsilon Zeta is significantly below Panhellenic total, and results from this fall’s primary recruitment were discouraging,” Wushinske said in the email. “This is despite 17 visits over the last two years from Theta volunteer officers, staff, and educational leadership consultants to assist with recruitment, chapter operations, and finance issues.”

The national organization sent an email to members of the Ole Miss chapter on Oct. 10 that indicated steps toward the chapter’s closure. It said the “Epsilon Zeta Chapter is placed on Membership Limitation effective immediately… Despite previous communication from the Fraternity, Epsilon Zeta Chapter will not be participating in continuous open bidding this fall.” Continuous open bidding is an informal recruitment process that takes place in fall and spring semesters after formal recruitment has ended.

Emails show that a meeting was held with UM chapter members on Oct. 22 to discuss a strategic plan for the chapter over the next three years, from 2019 through 2022, which highlights the Theta experience, recruitment and retention and recommended steps to be taken.

“We recognize that Epsilon Zeta is at the tipping point when it comes to the health of the chapter. We would be remiss if we did not address the areas in which the chapter is continuously falling short. This Plan represents a collaborative effort, combining member surveys, membership data from the past six years and countless conversations about how we can successfully guide Epsilon Zeta to a successful future,” part of the introduction to the plan written by the UM chapter’s executive board reads. “Epsilon Zeta has had its peaks and valleys over the years, and we think it is safe to say that the Fraternity intends to determine the health of this chapter and whether or not we can be sustainable down the road.”

Less than a week later, the chapter announced its closure.

Another email indicates a mandatory chapter meeting was held with Wushinske and Fraternity Vice-President Cate Bibb on Oct. 28 for the “Grand Council to discuss their concerns and determine an appropriate path forward.”

A press release from UM Communications said the decision was made without consulting senior officials at the university.

“University officials have asked Kappa Alpha Theta national leaders to reconsider their closure and will continue to advocate for an alternative solution, although the authority to withdraw the chapter charter rests solely with Kappa Alpha Theta at the national level,” the UM Communications statement said.

Current members will become unaffiliated students and new members can still be initiated as scheduled on Nov. 10 or be released from their pledge and Membership Recruitment Acceptance Binding Agreement, UM Communications said. New members who choose not to be initiated will have all of their dues refunded.

The chapter will close at the end of the fall 2018 semester, but the chapter house will remain open through May 12, 2019, the statement said. Members currently living in the house can remain there through then, or they have the option to give up their room licenses without penalty.

An “Epsilon Zeta/Mississippi Chapter Closing FAQ” attached to the letter notifying members of the closure clarified that although current members will become unaffiliated students, their status will be changed to alumnae in good standing upon graduation. If any initiated member transfers to another school with a Theta chapter, they will be allowed to affiliate with the chapter there.

“Greek life continues to be an important and valuable part of the student experience at the University of Mississippi, and leaders within the Fraternal Leadership & Learning department remain committed to providing a variety of membership opportunities and a transformative experience for members,” UM vice chancellor for student affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc said in a statement. “University leaders will visit with Epsilon Zeta Chapter members Friday to discuss the national office’s decision and additional resources available to them on campus.”

UM Kappa Alpha Theta Chief Executive Officer Katherine Parks declined to comment.

Theta Encore, an annual philanthropy event the sorority hosts each year, is still set to take place at 7 p.m. on Nov. 7 in the Ford Center.

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