For the girls of Phi Sigma Sigma, sisterhood is about more than Greek letters.
When the spring 2008 pledge class was given the choice to opt out of initiation because there were rumors that the sorority might soon shut down, they all came to the same decision — to stay.
When College senior Anjali Salvador returned this fall from a semester abroad, a girl she didn’t know stopped her on the street.
“Are you Anjali?” the girl asked. “I recognize you from pictures at the house.” The girl was part of the newest pledge class, and asked Salvador to get coffee despite the fact that their mutual chapter closed this April.
And when Nursing junior Lindsey Goldhagen passed away in September 2009, due to complications associated with a liver transplant, the sisters rallied to support each other and remember their sister.
Over the last decade, past and present sisters of Phi Sig have stuck together through thick and thin.
In early November 2002, all members of Phi Sig resigned from the chapter. A press release attributed the resignation to the local and national organizations’ differing views regarding the “future direction of the house.”
The real reasons behind the closure are unclear. Most Phi Sig sisters voiced the opinion that the decision came down to low membership numbers. But when asked if low membership contributed to the decision in a November 2002 Daily Pennsylvanian article, Director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs Scott Reikofski declined to comment.
At the time, the sorority had about 75 members. Most of Penn’s other sororities had over 100.
The chapter re-colonized in January 2004, a date that many sisters agree was too soon. College senior Christina Anderson said she believes the sorority should have waited to re-open because the “taste of scandal and mystique” from the closure was still present.
Anderson said she believes the sorority reopened with the idea to pitch itself as “not the average sorority.” The sisters wanted Phi Sig to be smaller and more focused on intellectual pursuits than the other sororities on campus — which Anderson said may be the reason for Phi Sig’s continued low membership numbers.
But the small size and intimate atmosphere of the sorority was what drew many sisters to join in the first place.
“I was one of those people who was really against joining a sorority,” said Salvador. “[But] I kept going back to Phi Sig. … It seemed like [the sisters] were all genuine friends rather than superficial acquaintances.”
But when Salvador was pledging in 2008, Phi Sig’s national headquarters intervened again. The sisters were told that if they didn’t double their size nationals was going to shut the sorority down.
The sisters recruited hard that year, although they didn’t manage to double their size. Since they didn’t hear anything further from nationals, Anderson said, the sisters assumed that the threat of closure had ended.
The sisters continued to recruit zealously that year and the next, during both formal and informal fall rush.
“For us recruitment was exhausting because every girl had to be on the floor at all times,” Anderson said. “It was definitely a balancing act … we were throwing stuff against the wall and asking what stuck. We couldn’t throw fast enough I guess.”
This spring, officials from nationals appeared on the scene once again. According to Anderson, none of the sisters had any idea why the officials were coming, so it was a shock when they were given a choice: either they could triple their size by winter break or they could vote to close.
Since the deadline was before spring rush, the girls would have only a few months in the fall to recruit.
“I don’t think Tri Delt could have done it,” Anderson said, adding that many girls didn’t want to triple that quickly because it would mean “taking any girl with a pulse.”
So, in mid April, the sisters voted to close.
“It was a bit of a betrayal,” said 2010 College graduate and former DP blog editor Abby Schwartz of the position the sorority was put in. “Especially after the hard work the chapter put in in 2008 and 2009.”
Anderson also expressed a sense of hurt and anger, particularly because nationals waited until after the new pledge class had been initiated to drop the bomb.
“There is no reason they couldn’t have come to us in February,” she said. “It was really heartbreaking to watch how devastated a lot of [the new pledges] were.”
Due to strict regulations, the initiated sisters can either choose to disassociate or assume alumni status. None are allowed to join another Greek organization.
But the sisters still look back fondly on their time in Phi Sig.
Anderson, who pledged in fall 2008, said she originally joined because she felt a connection with the sisters from the very beginning.
“I was nervous when I first came to the house,” she said. “But I sat down and they were really warm and welcoming and smart.”
Schwartz recollects her first time in the sorority house as a sister with similar sentiments.
“The first thing anyone said to me was … this is your house now,” she said. “Everyone really is invested in getting to know the new members.”
Salvador said she didn’t hear any “negative stereotypes” about the sorority until after she began rushing, but its reputation actually made her like Phi Sig more.
She explained that the fact that the sisters were so devoted to the sorority despite its reputation showed her that “these people were genuinely friends and that they had a reason for being there.”
And while for now the sisters’ memories may be tinged with sorrow, a May 4 press release announced that the Panhellenic Council supports Phi Sig’s return as soon as 2014.
Until then, Anderson said the sisters will remain close. They will keep the house at 4032 Walnut Street for this year and there is talk of planning a formal.
“We joined the sorority not because of the Greek letters,” she said. “We joined the organization because we liked the girls, and we’re going to continue to like these girls whether or not we have the organization behind us.”
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