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Monday, September 28, 2009

A half century of sorority life

Saturday morning, September 26, I experienced a half century of Greek life for women at Emory, when I attended the “Fifty Years of Sorority Life” panel presentation during Emory Homecoming Weekend 2009. I was impressed with the open and candid panel presentation and the lively discussion on topics ranging from life for Emory’s first women students, to the impact of civil rights, campus protests, race relations on campus, and female empowerment.

Jody Usher 86G, 89PhD, co-director of the Transforming Community Project, moderated the panel, which included a wide array of alumnae, each of whom offered a distinct perspective on her time here.

Jaye Johnson Smith 59C came to Emory in 1955. Back then, clubs were being organized, largely by transfer students who were given scholarships by their national chapters of Greek organizations, to get “colonies” established at Emory. At the beginning of the school year, virtually all the women were eager to attend rush parties and join these clubs—they were among the few social outlets for women at the time. Anyone who wanted to join one of the clubs was able to do so. Four years later, in 1959, Emory would hold a mass chartering ceremony for the nine new Greek sororities. Greek life for women had officially arrived.

Julianne Daffin 60C talked about starting college at Sullins College in Virginia where the strict curfews, bed checks, and women-only environment soon stifled her and encouraged her transfer to Emory. A bit of a non-conformist, Daffin chaffed at the semi-conformity of Greek life, but after her graduation, she eventually returned to Emory as a staff member and went on to become Emory’s last Dean of Women. She retired just a few years ago.

Bonnie Rubenstein Wunsch 83B attended Emory in the 1980’s, during a time she describes as a “complacent period.” An engaged and active member of Alpha Epsilon Phi, a Jewish sorority, Wunsch talked about how far-thinking Emory had been when 50 years ago, it ensured that a Jewish sorority was among its first chartered groups. She also discussed the empowering experience Greek life provided her as she found both social and leadership development opportunities through her participation in Greek life. Wensch went on to continue her involvement with Greek life following graduation and today is the executive director of the AEPhi Sorority, nationally.

Melissa Bowman 02C was exposed to sorority life before she came to Emory, largely through the example of a church youth director who was a member of Delta Sigma Theta, one of two black sororities on campus at Emory. The first black sororities came to Emory in 1979, following the integration of the University in the wake of the 1962 case, successfully argued by Ben Johnson Jr. 36C 40L 05H, dean of the School of Law, and Henry Bowden 32C 34L 59H, chairman of the Board of Trustees, before the Georgia Supreme Court, that allowed the private schools in the State of Georgia to desegregate and still keep their state funding.

Today, the Emory campus is 29 percent Greek, and Greek students have a fairly significant impact on campus. After 50 years on campus, sorority life at Emory continues to challenge students to lead, to gain in self respect, and to set demanding personal and academic standards.

Not a bad record of achievement.

-- Martha Fagan, senior director, alumni relations, EAA


  1. i believe melissa bowman is a member of delta sigma theta, not alpha kappa alpha.

  2. Oops, that's correct. Sorry about that editing error. The text is updated.

    -- Eric