July 23, 2020

#HearHerHarvard: Reflections from a former Zeta Phi chapter president

By Camille N'Diaye-Muller, Zeta Phi-Harvard


Since May 2016, I have been on a journey through the five stages of grief. Denial allowed me to finish out my spring finals when Harvard first announced their policy penalizing membership in Greek organizations. Stage two, anger, followed shortly after, as I joined with other womxn for the #HearHerHarvard protest. Summer break and the distance from campus and my sisters jumped me ahead to stage four: depression. Though I spent a good amount of my time at the Lewis Institute crying, it also gave me the courage and strength to fight and move to stage three: bargaining.

For a year and a half, multi-pronged efforts were made by so many in and outside of the Greek community. Panhellenic used the momentum from the increased Greek community cohesion to organize a new philanthropy event and educate potential new members about recruitment and the evolving nature of the sanctions policy. This paid off as a record number of womxn went through recruitment in the Spring of 2017. Sisters lobbied their professors, thesis advisors, and House Deans to try and provide them with a balanced set of facts with which to vote. As chapter president, I, and the other Greek leadership took any meeting members of  the administration would give us. We fought until the policy was finalized and reaffirmed by the faculty and one of Harvard’s governing bodies in December 2017.

But as we fought, the chapter I loved was atrophying, turning into a shadow of its former self. Chapter meetings were no longer marked by excitement or fun bonding activities, but with conversations about our chapter’s prospects for survival. Wearing letters on campus was no longer an act of pride, but a protest statement and inevitably a conversation starter on the perceived “pernicious” influence of social organizations on campus. Meetings and events were also increasingly empty as sisters resigned their membership, unable to justify the financial commitment when a future was unclear or explain to their parents the importance of this space when Harvard labeled it as negative. 

It was a long journey to the final stage of acceptance. But on May 6th, 2018, the two-year anniversary of the policy’s announcement, holding the hands of my sisters and tears once again in my eyes, I voted to close my chapter. However, I want to be clear it was not acceptance of the accusations this policy made against us, but rather a reaffirmed acceptance of the values at the core of Delta Gamma. 

At that time, the way to be most true to those values was to close Zeta Phi and put our faith that at some point down the road there would be the opportunity to reestablish. 

A few weeks ago, a sister forwarded me an email from Harvard President Larry Bacow with the subject line “Policy on Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations.” My first thought was “Oh great, what now?” After experiencing a litany of ever-changing justifications of the policy, multiple different committees to investigate implementation or the policy itself, and policy proposals running the gambit from none to a complete ban on social organizations, I was expecting more of the same. But as I read shock, disbelief, and finally joy overcame me. Four years later, the policy was no longer going to be enforced.

There are so many things that this change makes me feel: sadness at our chapter’s missed milestones like our 25th anniversary that would have been last fall, frustration resurfacing from the fact that womxn lost their spaces when a number of the male final clubs emerge unscathed, but above all, I feel hope. Hope that Delta Gamma will continue to exist and grow. Hope that some time in the future Harvard womxn will be able to find in Delta Gamma what I and the other alumnae of Zeta Phi found. 

Zeta Phi was a place where womxn from different academic fields, political affiliations, interests, and backgrounds came together solely to support one another and create community. It was the only place where I was not afraid to be authentic and honest, and that I did not feel that my value was tied to anything other than being myself. 

On a campus rooted in competition, acceptance like that was unique.

Every ideal, value, and principle that this policy was intended to champion: inclusion, belonging, empowerment, safe spaces on campus, is what I found in Zeta Phi. It has always been my belief that there should be more spaces like Delta Gamma, not less. That for everyone to truly have a home at Harvard a continued cultivation of not just NPC groups, but NPHC chapters and the gender-inclusive Recognized Social Organizations (RSOs) that were born in response to this policy, would allow everyone to find their fit.

Until we live in a world where the norms of culture and society do not implicitly or overtly perpetuate the continued disadvantage of and violence against womxn, all-womxn spaces and organizations are a necessity. 

While Delta Gamma still has work to do in fully realizing inclusion, with this news I am filled with a hope similar to what I felt during each chapter Initiation I had the privilege to lead. I am hopeful that this is the first step towards a more supportive, inclusive time at Harvard University. I am hopeful that Delta Gamma Fraternity will continue to lead the evolution of the Panhellenic community at large. I am hopeful that one day I’ll be able to attend the reestablishment ceremony of my chapter, Zeta Phi-Harvard.


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