When Delta Gamma’s national organization decided to shut down the GW chapter last week, two days before recruitment for the group would have started, the chapter president said she felt “blindsided.”
Isha Elhence, the chapter’s president, said she and all of the chapter’s members did not know until Wednesday that national representatives would visit the following evening. During that Thursday night meeting, the now-former Delta Gammas found out their chapter had been closed, but Elhence still doesn’t know exactly why.
When Elhence first learned staff from the sorority’s national organization would be visiting campus, she said she wasn’t particularly worried.
“I called our contacts and advisers. No one answered, or they said, ‘I can’t tell you anything,’” she said. “The chapter was looking to me for answers and I wasn’t equipped to do my position properly.”
Elhence said she was told just moments before the rest of her chapter on Thursday evening that it would be shut down. GW had sanctioned the chapter for hazing about a year ago, taking away its on-campus townhouse.
“The people from executive offices pulled me aside and told me,” she said. “I was like, ‘OK, so we’re done?’ And I just ran to the bathroom.”
Elhence called the announcement a “huge blow,” adding her chapter had spent several days preparing for recruitment, including a workshop two weeks ago focused on recruiting new members with values that match the chapter.
She said the representatives who visited Thursday read the news from a letter. Halfway through the reading, she said, the national organization posted the news in its Facebook group. Some commenters, many Delta Gamma alumnae from other universities, applauded the council’s decision. Others said they were “disappointed” and “devastated.”
Elhence said she hasn’t engaged with any of the commenters and that there’s been an “outpouring of support” from more recent chapter alumnae.
One comment on the chapter’s Facebook page, which changed its name to GW Hot Dam on Thursday and has since been taken down, read, “This isn’t a joke. You have destroyed a chapter that generations of strong and dedicated women have built. You should be ashamed of your actions.”
The comment was quickly removed.
“It’s easy to condemn us for making mistakes. They don’t know the full picture,” Elhence said.
Panhellenic Association President Mollie Bowman said in a statement that “Panhellenic did not expect DG’s chapter to be closed,” adding that she doesn’t know if the chapter could be reinstated.
In a statement identical to the one provided by the University, Bowman said that the closure would not affect recruitment.
“A woman’s ability to join a chapter of her choice is not dependent on the number of organizations participating in Recruitment. We work closely with the chapters and the National Panhellenic Conference in order to match as many women as possible to Panhellenic chapters through this process,” she said in an email.
The national organization declined to say specifically why Delta Gamma was closed, or on the timing of the decision, which took place two days before recruitment for the chapter was to start.
Delta Gamma is the third chapter to close on campus since 2014, following Alpha Epsilon Pi and Tau Kappa Epsilon. Ten months ago, GW sanctioned the chapter for hazing, providing alcohol to minors and hosting an unregistered party with alcohol. The chapter faced deferred revocation of its chapter status until May 2016 and was booted from its University townhouse.
Stacia Rudge Skoog, the national Delta Gamma president, said in a statement released Thursday evening that the council “faced a very real situation at our Beta Rho chapter.”
“The high-risk culture, multiple violations and lack of adherence to our Constitution and our policies, along with dangerous and poor decision-making, led us to this point,” Skoog said.
Mary Ellen Hardies Smalley, the director of communications at Delta Gamma’s national organization, declined to comment further.
Nine other Greek-letter organizations have been sanctioned for hazing since April 2013. Officials have tried to control Greek conduct on campus through an online list of sanctions, which they added additional details to this fall.
In a response that did not mention Delta Gamma by name, Director of Student Involvement and Greek Life Christina Witkowicki said GW is committed to ensuring “safe and positive membership experiences.”
“The decision by a national organization to close a collegiate chapter is made internally by the national organization and may be based on a number of factors,” she said. “During these times of transition, the University’s Greek Life staff works with the community to support our chapters and students.”
She added that if a chapter is not already on campus, any group can apply to the Panhellenic Association, although campus history is considered during the selection process.
“When the community determines it is an appropriate time to add another chapter to the Panhellenic Association, all NPC organizations not present on campus are eligible to submit applications for membership,” she said. “The community selects an organization to invite to join GW based on a variety of criteria including campus history, community needs, fit, support and partnerships.”
Experts have historically said the relationship between a university and a chapter’s national organization can be disparate at times – both are able to discipline chapters, but officials are not always in close contact. After Alpha Epsilon Pi lost its charter at GW in 2014, its national organization supported members running an unofficial recruitment process on campus last fall.
Matt Supple, the director of Greek life at the University of Maryland, said that typically, if a college or university considered revoking its recognition of a chapter, it would reach out to the national organization and release a joint statement.
“We don’t want to have a group that is not recognized, but still has a charter,” he said.
He added that it’s more common for sororities’ national organizations to intervene when chapters are cited for hazing.
“With frats, it’s more common for [universities] to intervene because the national organization is unwilling to do something,” he said. “Stereotypically, women’s groups are more engaged than fraternities’ groups.”
Natalie Maher contributed reporting.