Tuesday, April 13, 2021

From the NPC Chairman: The State of the Conference in 2021

Per the Bylaws of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), the Board of Directors shall submit an annual report to the Council of Delegates during each Annual Membership Meeting. During the 2021 NPC Annual Membership Meeting, held virtually on April 10, the board delivered its annual report of the activities and financial position of NPC. Following is an edited version of excerpts from the chairman’s portion of the report, presented by NPC Chairman Carole J. Jones.

During the June 4 (2020) Council of Delegates call I shared a quote from Cora L.V. Hatch – “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

This past year has certainly been a year of adjustment as the NPC Board of Directors continuously assessed the changing winds brought on by the pandemic and anti-sorority activism, and carefully and thoughtfully adjusted our sails in response. When the pandemic hit and students were sent home last spring, the board’s focus had to quickly shift from conversations about the future of sorority and Project 2029 to how to protect sorority members and the sorority experience in the moment of a very real and ongoing crisis. I am humbled by the support of our member organizations, inspired by what we accomplished together and energized by the potential for big things to come.

The challenges of this past year offered us an opportunity to test changes to the ways in which we recruit and to begin eliminating barriers to membership, including some financial barriers. In response to the relevancy research conducted last summer and presented to the NPC family last fall, staff and members of the board have been engaged in considerable conversations about the findings and appropriate responses to them.

As announced earlier this year, we have launched an examination of the cost of sorority membership with the context of growing over-arching concerns about college affordability. As part of this yearlong project, data has been gathered and reviewed regarding the costs associated with Panhellenic membership recruitment and we are already at work incorporating what we’ve learned. …

Knowing that NPC can more effectively tell its story when it is backed by data, the board has been committed to partnering with research experts. For example, we partnered with VOX Global for the 2020 relevancy research. Those research results have informed our current and future marketing efforts, such as Join a Sorority Week and new quarterly campaign templates for College Panhellenics. And, we’re beginning to roll out updated NPC messaging and proof points – supported by the relevancy research and other sources – to help us focus on our strengths and improve public perceptions.

We are also pleased to partner with the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform as we embark on two companion research studies that will evaluate cultural competency and diversity, equity and inclusion within NPC-affiliated sorority chapters. The two studies will measure the level of cultural competency among sorority women at both minority-serving institutions and at predominantly white institutions. Researchers will also identify best practices for strengthening competency and enhancing inclusion within sorority chapters and communities. …

But it hasn’t only been the pandemic that has influenced the board’s work and the work of the Conference and its member organizations. As part of the strategic plan, the board had begun strategic discussions regarding racism and inequity within Panhellenic organizations prior to the pandemic and the conversations about racial injustice. This has helped bring greater clarity to these topics and set us on a path to create a more inclusive, equitable and accessible Panhellenic sorority experience.

We appointed the Access and Equity Advisory Committee, and they have been diligently working in three areas:

  • Auditing of Unanimous Agreements, policies, best practices and template documents. …
  • Consulting on inclusion of diversity factors for NPC workforce recruitment focusing on creating an accessible and equitable recruitment, hiring, application, selection and onboarding process as part of our commitment to building a diverse and inclusive workforce, both staff and volunteers
  • And third, identifying barriers to access created by norms and practices at the campus level. Data from College Panhellenic area advisors, chief panhellenic officers and member organization chapter services staff has been gathered and reviewed to develop a better and broader understanding of barriers that exist on the campus level.

We know that collegiate members seek to hold NPC and inter/national leadership responsible to make changes within current policies and practices in response to the demographic and attitudinal shifts that will continue to happen within the collegiate environment. Moving forward, as we work to create positive change toward access and inclusion within our organizations, the Access and Equity Advisory Committee will be focused on recommending potential pipeline programs for recruiting a more diverse group of high school women and helping to educate them about the Panhellenic experience, identifying barriers to sorority membership based on social identities and reviewing Resolved to Educate resource documents in order to provide recommended edits to include more inclusive language.

And, finally they are working to recommend a process for reporting bias and discrimination by Panhellenic community members, recognizing that adjudication of such incidents would likely be handled by individual member organization chapters.

As we lived through this uncertain year, I believe there is a silver lining as it has helped us make change faster than anyone ever expected. The spring task forces led the way in ensuring Panhellenics could operate during the pandemic and prepare to welcome new members last fall. The need and desire to make aggressive and significant changes to the way we offer membership, removing barriers to the cost of membership and responding to questions of diversity, inclusion and gender identity that reflect our values and respond to the expectations of our members and prospective members all fit into the larger whole of visioning the sorority experience in 2029.

We continue to discuss and examine ways to help our Panhellenic communities reflect the diversity they would like to achieve, consider and work to change the systems and norms within the Panhellenic community that have historically benefited and centered the experiences of women of privilege and empower our members and volunteers to openly discuss race and racial injustice. …

We have learned this year that we cannot predict what the future holds, but rest assured our commitment to our mission will not waver. Together, we will continue to build upon a stronger, healthier sorority community. Each of us are concerned about our organizations’ survival during this time of uncertainty. We are all grappling with complex challenges, but it is crucial that we understand how these challenges and our responses to them affect the greater good of our Panhellenic communities and the Conference as a whole.

One example, and a great win for the sorority community, was our win at Harvard. It took two years of legal maneuvers and the issuance of many public statements condemning the school’s actions, but Harvard women once again have the opportunity to celebrate sisterhood. We look forward to rebuilding that Panhellenic community to be stronger than ever.

However, the fight to protect the fraternity and sorority experience is far from over. Many institutions seek retribution against our membership organizations for a variety of reasons. So, the value of fraternity and sorority life must always be at the forefront of our mission.

We are all the Conference. It is not a separate entity. As we work to leverage our strengths to advance sorority, let us remember the values we have collectively committed to – relationships built on trust through transparency, accountability and mutual respect. Innovation and our core values of friendship, leadership, service, knowledge, integrity and community guide us in fulfilling our mission of the advancement of the sorority experience.

I invite you to imagine with me the impact we can have together in the years to come. The board looks forward to our continued work together as we make sound decisions and understand how to thrive in today’s ever-changing world.