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Unsisterly Conduct

A sorority's attempt at a makeover backfires.

By Sam Dillon


In November, the national officers of Delta Zeta, a sorority on 165 college campuses, interviewed all 35 members of the chapter at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, quizzing them about their dedication to recruitment. A month later, they evicted 23 of the women.

Those asked to leave included every woman who was overweight, and the only Korean and Vietnamese members. The 12 women who were allowed to stay were all slender and conventionally pretty.

Delta Zeta says that the 23 ousted members were insufficiently committed to recruitment efforts. Critics say the sorority's actions were insensitive.

"Virtually everyone who didn't fit a certain sorority-member archetype was told to leave,'' says Kate Holloway, a senior and one of six members who left the sorority in protest. "I sensed the disrespect . . . and got fed up.''

The mass eviction left a messy aftermath of recrimination and tears on DePauw's rural campus of 2,400 students, 50 miles from Indianapolis.

Last month, following student protests, outraged letters from alumni and parents, and a faculty petition calling the sorority's actions unethical, the university severed ties with Delta Zeta.

'Incompatible' Values

"We at DePauw believe that the values of our university and those of the national Delta Zeta sorority are incompatible," says Robert G. Bottoms, DePauw's president. v Starting in the fall, Delta Zeta won't be allowed to house students in its Greek-columned residence on the DePauw campus. The university says it will help women who had been planning to live there find other housing.

This is not the first time that Delta Zeta's DePauw chapter has stirred controversy. In 1982, it attracted national attention when a black student was not allowed to join, provoking accusations of discrimination.

Despite this and other incidents, the chapter appears to have been home to a diverse community over the years, partly because it has attracted brainy women without focusing as exclusively as some sororities on potential recruits' sex appeal, former members say.

Over the years, however, DePauw students had attached a negative stereotype to the sorority. The sisters were seen as "socially awkward." This image had hurt recruitment and may have triggered the sorority's actions.

Rachel Pappas, a junior who left the sorority before the evictions and later organized a protest on campus, says Delta Zeta's national leaders misrepresented the truth when they asserted they had evicted the women for their lack of commitment.

"The injustice of the lies," she says, "is contemptible."