UC Berkeley Alpha Omicron Pi chapter loses charter, plans to appeal

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The UC Berkeley Sigma chapter of sorority Alpha Omicron Pi was stripped of its charter last week — a decision it will appeal to the international organization.

Sigma members were notified of the decision at a Sept. 1 meeting in which Alpha Omicron Pi International President Gayle Fitzpatrick announced that the International Executive Board had voted unanimously to pull the chapter’s charter. As a result, the chapter can no longer participate in campus sorority events, including exchanges and recruitment.

For years, the international organization and the local board of Sigma alumnae Sigma 1916, which owns the house, have been stalled in negotiations over control of the property stemming from a 2005 bylaw change. Last week’s split followed further friction between chapter leadership and the international organization over the UC Berkeley chapter’s plans for this year’s Fall Formal Recruitment.

“Initially there was a lot of frustration — and tears,” said Anne Sompayrac, chapter president. “Women were struggling with why this action was taken.”

Alpha Omicron Pi cited the chapter’s “unwillingness to partner with and fulfill the expectations of the organization, evidenced by a series of actions taken by the chapter over the course of several months” as the main factors in the executive board’s decision to withdraw the charter, according to a statement from the international organization.

Last August, Alpha Omicron Pi announced it would no longer recognize the local chapter’s Prospect Street property used to house members and host events, including recruitment. While the sorority letters were removed last year from the exterior of the building, the chapter itself was still recognized by Alpha Omicron Pi and continued to conduct events at alternative sites on the UC Berkeley campus.

The chapter spent the summer searching for locations to host its events for Fall Formal Recruitment, including International House and Memorial Stadium. Ultimately, however, it determined no venue other than the house would accommodate the record number of women participating in this year’s recruitment, according to Jackie Gardner, advisor for the Panhellenic Council and chapters.

“Our hope was always to be in line with what they wanted while still doing what was best for Alpha Omicron Pi on this campus and our sisterhood,” Sompayrac said. “It was confusing.”

Sompayrac wrote a letter to Alpha Omicron Pi in August relaying the chapter’s intent to recruit from its house despite the expectation of the organization that the “Sigma chapter participates in Fall Formal Recruitment at UC Berkeley at a location other than 2311 Prospect Street,” the letter stated.

In response, the International Executive Board requested that the chapter voluntarily hand in its charter.

To preserve its charter, the chapter voted not to host the typical recruitment process at its property and to instead seek new members through continuous open bidding, a less formal means for recruitment through individual meetings rather than group house tours and Panhellenic Council-wide events, Sompayrac said.

While organizations typically revoke charters as a repercussion for chapter behavior, Gardner said the Sigma chapter’s situation was atypical of organizations that lose their charter because it did not result from the misconduct of individual members.

The chapter remains in good standing with the campus and the Panhellenic Council. The delegates will decide whether the two members of the Sigma chapter serving on the Panhellenic Executive Council can remain in their positions for the duration of their terms, despite no longer being affiliated with a recognized organization, according to UC Berkeley Panhellenic President Divya Thomas.

Sompayrac filed a request for a hearing with the international organization Tuesday. A panel of Alpha Omicron Pi alumnae will review the chapter’s petition within 30 to 60 days after receiving the request to determine whether to overturn the International Executive Board’s decision.

“We continue to consider these collegiate women our sisters,” Fitzpatrick said in an email. “We look forward to welcoming the chapter back when they are truly ready to commit to the responsibilities and expectations of membership.”

Contact Chloee Weiner at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @_chloeew .