Localization changed W&L sorority life

A reflection on the five-year anniversary of the Delta sorority’s localization

Georgia Bernbaum, Opinions Editor

In 2017, a sorority president broke away from the National Panhellenic Council and established Washington and Lee’s first local sorority. 

With informal rush fully underway as of Sep. 19, Delta marks five years as the university’s only localized sorority. 

On Feb. 13, 2017, 85% of Kappa Delta Zeta Tau members voted to localize its chapter, according to a Ring-tum Phi article written at the time. In choosing to disaffiliate from their national organization, Kappa Delta Zeta Tau became the Delta Society. 

Delta’s president at the time, Jane Chiavelli, ’18, said that Washington and Lee’s unique atmosphere and rigor were not compatible with the national organization’s strict rules. Since many of the sorority’s members already had existing commitments, such as athletics or club leadership positions, keeping up with the national requirements was unrealistic. 

Despite the conflict with the national leadership, Delta’s split was relatively peaceful and strongly supported by the school’s administration, the article said.   

Dean Sidney Evans, along with many of the chapter’s alumni, assisted in creating new bylaws, updating graduates’ legacy status and retaining their house on sorority row. 

Delta was able to file for associate membership on the Panhellenic Council, which allows them to still participate in both informal and formal rush. 

Two other sororities, Kappa Kappa Gamma and Alpha Delta Pi, considered localizing as well. Both ultimately elected not to, but Kappa Kappa Gamma strongly considered while they were on probation as a result of tension with their national organization. 

At the time, students doubted the success Delta would have as a local sorority. 

On Greek Rank, a website that rates and reviews sorority and fraternity chapters, one user commented, “I give it three years, max.” 

“They just killed their own sorority,” another said. 

However, five years later, the Deltas are proving their naysayers wrong. And, while Delta’s actions were regarded as unprecedented at Washington and Lee, many other universities with similar size and rigor have localized. 

In 2015, Dartmouth’s Delta Delta Delta chapter voted to disaffiliate from their national organization and become a local sorority. They became Dartmouth’s fourth local sorority, following Sigma Delta, Epsilon Kappa Theta and Kappa Delta Epsilon. 

Other colleges, such as Hamilton and Trinity, have experienced localization efforts, too, resulting from the growing “Go Local” movement. 

The “Go Local” movement aims to combat many of the critiques of traditional sororities, which prohibit chapters from serving alcohol or even hosting large-scale events. Many argue that these rules force sorority members to attend fraternity parties if they want to socialize or participate in nightlife. 

Local sororities have the freedom to operate much like a fraternity in the sense that they can host parties and serve alcohol, providing women with a female-dominated space to have fun and feel comfortable, advocates argue. In a local chapter, sorority women have control over their environment.

Delta also has more control over its philanthropy efforts as a local sorority. This includes its ability to partner with Lexington’s local domestic abuse shelter, Project Horizon. 

“Project Horizon is an organization we are really passionate about and want to support,” said Delta member Libby Ford, ’25. 

Project Horizon is a grassroots organization that provides confidential and free services to survivors and victims of domestic and sexual violence in the Rockbridge County area.

“With a national organization, there are specific charities or causes that the chapters need to support,” said Delta President Sarah Wittpenn, ’23. “Being local, we can choose to support local organizations that directly impact the community where W&L is.”

No matter the benefits, the decision to localize comes with serious financial costs. 

Without funding from a national chapter, insurance costs for most local sororities are doubled. As a result, the parent board and individual members have to supply more funding than in a typical sorority. New member dues for Delta are over $600 as of 2020, as opposed to the $200-$400 new member fees required for the other National Panhellenic Conference sororities, according to a university presentation in 2021. 

Going local may also eliminate the large alumni networks that national organizations provide — networks that would otherwise donate to help offset sorority costs. 

Despite the financial costs, since Delta’s decision to localize, their membership has not decreased, disproving students’ earlier hypothesis of impending doom.