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Feb 18, 2015

Leading by Example: How Delta Delta Delta Made its Mark on Greek Life

By Megan Sibley (’16)

The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life held its annual Excellence Awards on January 25 to recognize the accomplishments of fraternities and sororities at James Madison University. One of these awards was the Ethical Reasoning in Action Award, based on the Madison Collaborative’s Eight Key Questions and its mission to develop students’ ethical reasoning skills. The selection was also based on the fraternity or sorority’s continued embodiment of their own mission and vision statements. This year, that award was given to Delta Delta Delta, based on the outstanding efforts of its members to form an anti-hazing program, not only for their chapter, but for other Greek organizations at JMU as well.

"we...realized that we needed to be more empathetic with one another..."  Gamma Tau, the chapter of Delta Delta Delta at JMU, found an opportunity to turn a negative incident into an inspiring opportunity. During Big-Little Week, new members, informally known as pledges, received presents and surprises from their Bigs before the Bigs’ identities were revealed. However, reports of hazing during Big-Little Week caused the sorority’s headquarters to take disciplinary action. It was decided that the chapter would go on probation in addition to receiving other sanctions. Instead of meeting the minimal requirements, Gamma Tau’s executive board decided to execute an Internal Plan that would revise their New Member Education Program and discuss the consequences of hazing within their own chapter and with other sororities affiliated with James Madison University.

The plan was drafted by five sorority members: the president, vice president of administration, the member development chair, and two pledge moms who are in charge of the new member experience. The Bigs of the new member class completed community service hours and wrote formal letters of apology to their new members. Both the Hazing Policy and Sponsor Policy were refined based on the judgment of the Executive Office and advice from other chapters of Delta Delta Delta and other JMU sororities. The Internal Plan included an outline of what would be presented at other JMU sororities’ chapter meetings: “Basic education on hazing, transition into what happened in our chapter, the process, and what Gamma Tau is working towards in order to change the situation.”

The New Member Education Program changed the Big-Little Week activities to large group events, rather than just one-on-one exchanges. This new set-up holds every member accountable for her actions and makes it more of an organization-wide week, welcoming new members into the entire sorority instead of just receiving isolated gifts from their Bigs. The results were noticeable to Former Chapter President Jordyn Kennedy, who observed that the incoming new member class under this program was closer than those in previous years, and they felt more comfortable reaching out to other sisters in Delta Delta Delta.

“People appreciate honesty. Hazing used to be the elephant in the room, but we addressed it and realized that we needed to be more empathetic with one another and recognize that not everyone would be comfortable with the activities that took place during Big-Little Week. We loved these girls and were hurt that we hurt them,” said Kennedy.

This outreach stretched beyond Greek Life to the entire JMU community. Another goal of the Internal Plan was to have the Delta Delta Delta sisters hand out anti-hazing accessories, such as buttons, bracelets and shirts on the Commons. By making themselves examples and advocates against hazing while being involved in events like “National Hazing Prevention Week,” the sorority increased JMU’s awareness of what hazing actually is in addition to illustrating the consequences for such behavior.

When asked how Delta Delta Delta’s anti-hazing message had such a widespread impact, Associate Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Adam Lindberg explained that the sorority compiled a plan not just to better themselves, but to better the JMU campus: “The sorority already has a lot of respect in the community, so when they were intentional with their anti-hazing message, people listened.” Jordyn Kennedy also believed that the friendships between Delta Delta Delta members and other sorority members had a big influence on the success of this campaign.

With regards to the Eight Key Questions, Delta Delta Delta’s nomination essay connected to four of the questions. It touched on fairness because the sorority encouraged others to view new members as equals with the elimination of hazing. It addressed rights because the new members deserved the same rights and respect as anyone else in the organization. Their plan incorporated character by challenging their sisters to model the values of their organization (friendship, self-sacrifice, and truth). Finally, the essay elaborated on empathy because it is important to understand each person’s point of view and how one’s actions can affect the Greek life experience.

Dr. Mark Warner, Senior Vice President of Student Affairs and University Planning, was the presenter of the Ethical Reasoning in Action Award at Fraternity and Sorority Life’s Excellence Awards. As a personal advocate of the Madison Collaborative, he shared his goal for the role of ethical reasoning at JMU: To make ethical reasoning as engrained in JMU culture as opening doors. Dr. Warner feels that Delta Delta Delta’s outreach is an example of how to accomplish that goal. Students teaching students about difficult issues, like hazing, has the greatest impact on campus culture. The message is more powerful coming from a friend or group of peers than anyone else. With more examples like the women of Delta Delta Delta and their Internal Plan, students will learn how ethical reasoning can make a positive difference in their organizations and the entire university community.  



Photo credit: Stephen Meyer (’17). Thanks also to University Unions Technology & Design and Erin Phillippi ('08M) for their contributions.