The Kentucky Gamma chapter of Pi Beta Phi, a social sorority that has been on campus for over 40 years, was closed by their national headquarters on September 3, as described in a statement released on Pi Beta Phi’s website.
“Closing a chapter is never easy,” said Paula Shepherd, Pi Beta Phi Grand President, in the statement. “We commend the women of Kentucky Gamma for making the honorable and courageous decision to act in the best interest of their chapter and the Fraternity. We encourage all members enrolled at Eastern Kentucky University to continue the lifelong sisterhood and sincere friendship outside the chapter setting.”
The statement from headquarters explained that the chapter lost its charter due to lackluster recruitment.
“Over the course of the last several years, the chapter has experienced significant recruitment challenges,” according to the statement. “While the chapter members demonstrated a sincere effort to improve, they were still unable to build their membership.
This semester proved to be a last-ditch effort to improve recruitment. In records released by EKU Greek Life, Pi Phi came 12 recruits short of their quota of 27, the fourth year in a row they have failed to meet demands. In 2016, they recruited 29 of 32. In 2015, only 21 of 33. Although the chapter showed little improvement in recruiting, former members of Pi Phi still said losing the charter came without much of a warning.
“Nationals didn’t talk to us like we were in trouble,” said Kayla Picinich, former Kentucky Gamma member. “They were just giving us extra help.”
The extra help came from National members aiding the chapter in recruitment. They put the Kentucky Gamma chapter on a “5 to 6-year plan” in 2016 to improve membership and save the chapter’s charter, Picinich said.
But it was on Bid Night of 2017 that the chapter’s president, two alumni, and members from Nationals broke the news to members in the president’s dorm rooms – five minutes before they were supposed to welcome new members at the Ravine.
Picinich described the scene as “a lot of crying.”
“A couple of girls tried to argue back, but our president said there was nothing we could do,” Picinich said. “I thought this would happen after I graduated. We thought we had two or three more years at most.”
The program director for Greek Life, John Davenport said he received word from Pi Phi headquarters that the chapter was in trouble at the start of the semester and oversaw the decision from their nationals to pull their charter on August 30.
“This recruitment was definitely make or break,” Davenport said.
Davenport said he was notified on August 27 by Pi Beta Phi headquarters that they would release all Fall 2017 recruits in EKU’s Kentucky Gamma Chapter. Active members were given automatic alumni status. The next day, EKU’s National Panhellenic Council (NPC) determined where the women would go.
NPC used a computer-automated program called Infinity Consulting Solutions (ICS) to handle the issue of distribution, Davenport said. The program keeps track of bid-matching — the process in which a recruit is potentially given a bid by her top two sorority choices. Ideally, a recruit who signed a bid with Pi Phi this fall would be “bid matched” to her second-choice sorority. Because of ceiling caps on recruitment, however, some women may not have been granted a second home in their choice sorority immediately.
Some women will receive “continuous open bidding” and will only have a chance to sign bids in other sororities once spots open up, due to either women graduating or becoming alumni for other reasons. Davenport said a few have already been offered open bids.
Other women, Davenport said, were offered nothing because they chose nothing but Pi Phi during recruitment week. This revealed an unusual trend in Panhellenic Recruitment: all of Pi Phi’s new recruits either chose Pi Phi as their second choice, or only chose Pi Phi.
Representatives from Pi Phi’s headquarters were hesitant to explain why recruitment had become such a challenge for the Kentucky Gamma chapter. Eily Cummings, senior director of Marketing and Communications at Pi Beta Phi said their statement was as much as she would comment.
Those active in the Greek community at EKU, however, seemed to understand the pulled charter.
“Pi Phi gained a bad reputation a couple of years before I got here,” Picinich said.
Picinich said she rushed Pi Phi in 2015 and listed the chapter as her only choice. Since she’s joined, she said she’d heard different criticisms. Most comments were aimed at the women’s looks, social involvement, and failure to meet the status quo as a Greek organization.
“One of the guys at Kappa Sig[ma] said ‘it’s because you guys never go out,’” Picinich said. “Other people call us ‘the leftovers,’ but we never talked about it — no one really wants to talk about it.”
Picinich said it’s not uncommon for women to know about Pi Phi’s reputation during their first week on campus.
Panhellenic President Ivonne Gonzalez acknowledged this as a problem.
“Everyone in the Greek community played a role in this,” Gonzalez said. “Other chapters have had similar issues, but have been at it longer.”
Gonzalez said fraternities would “pick on them”, make demeaning jokes, and make comments about what “tier” the chapter fell into at EKU. Gonzales said she was even asked by Pi Phi’s president to help defuse rumors and tone down negative comments.
Still, many others in the Greek community dealt with the Pi Phi issue with an attitude Gonzales described as “not my chapter, not my problem” as the chapter continued to have problems with recruitment.
“I feel like it’s a wake-up call,” Gonzales said. “How can we bring in other chapters if we can’t even support one that’s struggling?”
Noah Shartzer of Sigma Nu said he is familiar with the issue from a fraternity standpoint.
“The stereotype of Pi Phi has been around since I was in Greek Life,” Shartzer said. “People didn’t really try to get to know them.”
Shartzer said that comments made about the sorority were part of the “usual joking” common among EKU Greek Life.
“Whether or not we like to admit it, looks matter,” Shartzer said about his thoughts of the Greek community’s expectations.
Pi Phi’s absence will have an impact on the Greek community and surrounding communities. Gonzalez said this could force some EKU sororities to recruit 20 extra women this year in open bidding and spring rush. She also said one less sorority on campus will present challenges for Panhellenic Council in fundraising and supporting events.
Greek Threads, an embroidery shop on St. George St. will have one-sixteenth of their total revenue affected by Pi Phi’s removal.
“We’re so sad for the girls,” manager Coy Perkins said. “I don’t know why they can’t just let small chapters be small.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article misquoted Picinich as saying “One of the guys in Kappa Sig[ma] said ‘it’s because you guys don’t go out.’” The staff of The Eastern Progress has released an editorial on the article that you can find here.