Alpha Sigma Tau can—and should—be the place where women feel empowered to be who they are without fear of judgment, rejection, or ridicule. We are better equipped than nearly any other organization, on a college campus or otherwise, to provide women with this community of emotional safety and unconditional support.
Last summer, Alpha Sigma Tau embarked on an intentional journey to create and foster this inclusive Sisterhood experience—one where the diverse identities of our members are embraced, respected, and celebrated.
To do this important work the right way, we knew we needed to look inward and challenge the status quo, keeping open minds and humble hearts. We committed to proactively confronting our own institutional barriers that prevent us from building the best, most inclusive community of women possible.
We understood this introspection would lead us to changes in practices, policies, and traditions, but Alpha Sigma Tau is no stranger to changing for the better. Generations of members have been rejecting mediocrity and adapting to create a better Sisterhood for 121 years. After all, that’s the essence of Defining Excellence.
In the summer of 2020, the National Council appointed the Sorority Advisory Committee 3.0. Their charge was to serve as a think-tank and lay the groundwork for Alpha Sigma Tau’s next steps for creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community.
Additionally, the National Council requested the expertise and guidance of Dr. Grace Henry to work with the Sorority Advisory Committee and to lead the National Council through their own learning objectives and goals as they relate to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
At the recommendation of the Sorority Advisory Committee, the National Council adopted an overarching philosophy to serve as the Sorority’s expression of our beliefs related to cultivating an inclusive community.
Our Philosophy on Inclusive Learning Environments
Alpha Sigma Tau believes the membership experience is strengthened and enriched when the diverse identities of members are embraced, respected, and celebrated. Alpha Sigma Tau expects members, employees, and volunteers to cultivate inclusive, welcoming, and safe spaces that promote dignity and respect for all members and which are free from bigotry and oppression.
Alpha Sigma Tau believes that ongoing learning and unlearning is essential to creating welcoming and inclusive spaces. Alpha Sigma Tau expects members, employees, and volunteers to embrace a learning mindset, to genuinely seek to understand experiences outside their own, to be receptive to feedback when they misstep, and to work to restore and repair when harm has been done.
To support this overarching philosophy, the National Council also adopted a position statement and policy on anti-racism. These provide members and chapters with clearer expectations by which to hold members accountable.
Position Statement on Anti-Racism
Alpha Sigma Tau strives to be an anti-racist organization. Alpha Sigma Tau opposes and condemns racism, bigotry, oppression, white supremacy culture, hate speech, and hate crimes – none of which are consistent with Alpha Sigma Tau’s Core Values. Alpha Sigma Tau expects members, employees, and volunteers to engage in anti-racist education and behavior.
Racist and race-based misconduct by members, employees, or volunteers is prohibited. Racist and race-based misconduct includes but is not limited to:
- Unequal application of policies,
- Use of inappropriate racial comments, jokes, pictures, or objects,
- Intended slurs,
- Physical assaults,
- Participation in or support of hate-based or racist organizations, and
- Hate speech and hate crimes.
For future reference, members can find this position and policy in Alpha Sigma Tau’s Policy and Position Statements in Officer Portal or AΣΤ Connect.
For Alpha Sigma Tau to be a truly inclusive community, our efforts related to diversity, equity, and inclusion cannot exist in a vacuum. Instead, we must ensure our processes to recruit volunteers and Sorority leadership reflect our commitment to inclusion.
In 2020, the National Council added “Inclusive” to the list of required competencies for all volunteer and Headquarters Staff positions.The competency of “Inclusive” is defined as:
- Has anti-racist mindset and does not tolerate racism in any form
- Prioritizes diversity, equity, access, and inclusion
- Acknowledges that all humans have an unconscious bias and actively works to reduce personal and group bias
- Strives to create a culture of belonging
- Seeks out underrepresented perspectives when gathering input
- Engages in learning opportunities to broader perspectives
In addition, on June 15, 2020, the Alpha Sigma Tau National Council unanimously voted to approve and adopt the following:
The fourth line of the Creed of Alpha Sigma Tau states, “[As a member of Alpha Sigma Tau]…I believe in the fulfillment of self and will strive to contribute my share to the progress of mankind.”
The intended sentiment of this line is that members of Alpha Sigma Tau play an active role in elevating humanity and making the world a better place for all.
The exclusivity of the gendered term “mankind” not only doesn’t represent our membership base of women, but it also overshadows the key message of contributing positively to all of humanity.
This line of the Creed of Alpha Sigma Tau has been revised and now states, “…contribute my share to the progress of humankind.”
Two letters may seem like a small change, but this revision makes a big impact. As members of Alpha Sigma Tau, enriching both the lives of others and the world around us is a core part of who we are and what we believe. Now with this modernization, our Creed clearly reflects the spirit of our ambitions and is inclusive of all identities.
The Sorority will begin modifying the Creed immediately, beginning digitally and completing all printed versions in summer 2022.
Alpha Sigma Tau has eliminated the policy that required AΣΤ legacies to receive preferential consideration during recruitment. Additionally, Alpha Sigma Tau has expanded the definition of a legacy to be inclusive of all family structures.
Eliminating preferential consideration
The Sorority’s former legacy policy required collegiate chapters to invite legacies to the first invitational round of recruitment. This policy gave preferential consideration to potential new members who had specific family members who are Alpha Sigma Tau alumnae.
While no legacy was guaranteed an invitation to membership, this special consideration created an uneven playing field for potential new members.
Although this policy originated with good intentions, this preferential treatment perpetuated systemic barriers to access for women who are the first in their family to attend college or have a limited network of college graduates.
Alpha Sigma Tau wants members to be proud of their membership experience. In fact, our Sisterhood, and sorority life in general, relies on alumnae members sharing their positive experiences with the women and girls in their lives. At the same time, we recognize this preferential consideration is exclusionary and introduces more barriers to membership for women based on factors out of their control.
All women who meet our values and seek to Define Excellence will have an equal opportunity to become a member of Alpha Sigma Tau.
Including all family structures
Any woman who is eligible for membership and identifies as a relative of an Alpha Sigma Tau is now considered a legacy.
In 2015, Alpha Sigma Tau revised the Sorority’s definition of who is considered an AΣΤ legacy. Understanding that our members come from a variety of familial backgrounds, we expanded our definition of legacy to include step-relatives. At the time, this policy update was considered inclusive and forward-thinking; however, we understand now it was not inclusive enough.
With this latest change now in effect, Alpha Sigma Tau no longer defines which family members constitute an Alpha Sigma Tau legacy. Every family is different, and it is not Alpha Sigma Tau’s place to define relationships. By expanding our criteria of a legacy, we foster a more inviting and inclusive Sisterhood.
Legacies continue to have a special place within our Sisterhood. Even two of our Founders—Helene and Adriance Rice—were biological sisters. With these changes to build a more inclusive community, we will have even more legacies to celebrate.
Alpha Sigma Tau collegiate chapters are now prohibited from recognizing chapter sweethearts.
Throughout most of the Sorority’s history, Alpha Sigma Tau allowed chapters to recognize sweethearts. According to the policy, the Sweetheart of Alpha Sigma Tau was an “honorary designation for a gentleman who exhibits behavior beyond reproach, respects the Sorority and its members, supports the ideals and purposes of the Sorority, and supports the chapter in its endeavors.”
While the sweetheart program was established with good intentions, Alpha Sigma Tau has advanced beyond traditional gender roles common in the early 19th century. Outdated traditions, such as the sweetheart program, detract from our focus as a Sisterhood and set back centuries of efforts and sacrifices to eliminate male supremacy and societal sexism.
Additionally, in recent years, sweethearts have been the epicenter of many negative chapter cultures and situations jeopardizing our members’ emotional and physical safety. Several chapter discipline issues over just the last three years involve policy violations and health and safety issues related to or involving chapter sweethearts.
To be an organization truly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, we must retire this program and refocus our energy on the relationships within our Sisterhood and eliminate practices rooted in sexism and traditional gender roles. Alpha Sigma Tau is grateful for the opportunity to have a century full of supportive sweethearts around the country who have become some of the most loyal champions of the Sorority and our chapters.
To continue building on the Sorority Advisory Committee’s work, the Sorority is launching a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Unlike the Sorority Advisory Committee, the DEI Committee is a committee focused on operational, tactical work related to Alpha Sigma Tau’s inclusion goals.
Learn more about the DEI Committee and submit your application for volunteer service here.
The National Council and Headquarters Staff have been discussing the effectiveness of the Tau Honor Council (THC) process for several years. Additionally, the Sorority Advisory Committee focused on DEI efforts highlighted concerns about THC as an effective accountability mechanism.
The Collegiate Chapter Accountability Task Force will be formed to help tackle accountability issues at the collegiate member and chapter level. In addition to researching current obstacles, the task force will develop and pilot a revised accountability process grounded in practical, educational, and restorative approaches, as well as effective training processes to ensure such approaches are utilized effectively.
In the words of Dr. Grace Henry, “Self-awareness and self-reflection are critical components for becoming effective allies, advocates, and activists.”
Our individual work of self-discovery and personal improvement is never done. For members seeking more resources in anti-racist education, visit Dr. Henry’s curated library of readings, courses, and books here.
The Alpha Sigma Tau National Council recognizes and thanks the latest iteration of the Sorority Advisory Committee whose research, expertise, and insight influenced these changes and those to come. Alpha Sigma Tau depends on members volunteering their time and talents to advance the Sorority, and the Sorority Advisory Committee’s hard work and dedication were integral in starting our efforts to foster an intentionally diverse, equitable, and inclusive place of belonging.
All of the aforementioned policy changes are in effect immediately. Alpha Sigma Tau Headquarters Staff are working diligently to update resources for chapter officers, advisors, and members, and most pertinent resources will be updated by the start of the fall 2021 semester.
Additionally, the National Council is grateful for the support of all of our collegiate and alumnae members as we all do our part to build a stronger, more inclusive community.
Together, we will continue building a stronger Sisterhood.