The following is an excerpt from our spring feature on Tri Delta’s legacy policy. You can read the full-length article in the spring 2014 Trident.
By Staff Writer Amanda Milford, Texas/Arlington
For every daughter, granddaughter or sister who joins Tri Delta, there are countless others who do not. Sometimes these choices are voluntary — a daughter finds a better home in another organization or on a campus without a Tri Delta chapter at all. But sometimes mothers are devastated by Tri Delta releasing their daughters, and daughters are faced with their own disappointment, knowing they will never share the bonds of sisterhood with their mothers.
There are a variety of reasons and circumstances surrounding why a Tri Delta legacy may not get selected by Tri Delta — or may not pick Tri Delta herself. Understanding the big picture of membership selection can help Tri Delta mothers, daughters and sisters gain more insight into Tri Delta’s legacy policy.
The Legacy Policy & the Legacy Problem
The 1988 centennial edition of the “History of Delta Delta Delta” says of legacies: “Legacies have always been a special joy and a special problem for the Fraternity.”
No sentence better describes the paradox of legacies. While Tri Delta highly values these young women who represent a direct link to Tri Delta’s past, the sheer volume of legacies today also presents a problem for chapters’ membership selection.
Tri Delta defines a legacy as a daughter, step-daughter, sister or step-sister of a Tri Delta member. From the beginning, the Fraternity has attempted to maintain a fair, balanced approach to its legacy policy by providing chapters with suggested guidelines regarding the daughters and sisters of Tri Delta members.
The Fraternity’s approach to legacies has evolved over time to match the needs of Tri Delta’s growing chapters. Initially, guidelines required chapters to place legacies automatically at the top of the bid list. That turned into putting legacies who attended the preference party in alphabetical order on the first bid list. Then, chapters were allowed to place legacies on the second bid list as long as they were at the top of that list. At one point, the Fraternity made chapters vote early on legacies so the women would have “early warning” if they would not be pledged. Eventually, chapters were instructed to treat legacies just like other potential new members.
Today, the Fraternity gives collegiate chapters full discretion over how they treat legacies, so long as a specific policy is clearly outlined in the collegiate chapter policies. The Fraternity policy states: “Chapters are encouraged, but not required, to entertain legacies for a minimum of one invitational event if possible.” It also goes on to specify that, “voting on legacies must be conducted at the same time and in the same manner as voting on all potential new members.”
“We do try to educate chapters on the historical significance of legacies and the emotional connection these women and their families have to Tri Delta,” says Ashley Coleman, Stephen F. Austin, senior director of chapter services. “But at the end of the day, it’s up to each individual chapter to decide how they take legacy status into consideration when selecting their members.”
Some chapters place great value on legacy status and seriously consider each potential new member who is a Tri Delta legacy. In many of these chapters, legacies are automatically placed at the top of the bid list. Other chapters don’t consider legacy status at all. In these chapters, legacies aren’t given any special treatment. Instead they’re placed among the rest of the potential new members and are extended bids based on the same criteria as non-legacies.
Putting the onus on the chapter to decide how exactly it treats legacies gives the chapter members the privilege of final membership selection. But when a chapter’s final membership selection includes releasing a legacy, sometimes these policies can be difficult for mothers and their legacies to understand and accept.
Playing the Numbers Game
The most concrete reason why a legacy gets released from a Tri Delta chapter is simple math. In the early years of the Fraternity, most daughters and sisters of initiated members were pledged automatically. However, as Tri Delta began to grow and more and more legacies went through recruitment (or rush, as it was then known), it became clear that it was impossible to pledge and initiate every legacy.
Today, Tri Delta has been in existence for more than 125 years. When our Founders graduated from Boston University in 1889, they were the only four alumnae members. As the Fraternity began to expand to other college campuses and pledge new members, more women graduated and became alumnae. By 1906, there were 378 dues-paying alumnae who belonged to 18 newly formed alumnae alliances.
As of spring 2014, Tri Delta has 197,575 current active alumnae members (7,725 of those pay alumnae chapter dues). If you consider how many of those alumnae members have daughters who will go through recruitment (some have more than one), you can see the problem with pledging every legacy. Depending on the size of the school and the number of Greek organizations on campus, a chapter could potentially have as many legacies going through formal recruitment as the number of new members it can extend bids to.
Sometimes chapters have to release legacies, and this will continue to happen as Tri Delta continues to grow.
Finding the Right Fit
Numbers alone are not the only reason why a legacy might not end up finding a home with Tri Delta. Even if a chapter does have room to extend bids to all legacies, it’s not always in its best interest to do so. Chapters strive to recruit a wide variety of well-rounded women who can each bring their own unique talents to the chapter.
“Tri Delta’s recruitment philosophy is still faithful to Sarah Ida Shaw’s founding principle of being kind alike to all and thinking more of a girl’s inner self and character than of her personal appearance or circumstances,” says Ashley. “That includes whether or not she’s a legacy.”
The unfortunate truth is that sometimes a legacy is released because she isn’t a good fit for a particular Tri Delta chapter. But that also doesn’t mean she wouldn’t have found a great home in Tri Delta on a different campus. Just as every college campus has its own distinct culture, the collegiate chapters of Tri Delta vary widely across North America. Even a mother who had a positive experience in her chapter at one school decades ago may not recognize the Tri Deltas on her daughter’s campus.
Sometimes there just isn’t a good connection there between the legacy and the chapter — and that can go both ways. A Tri Delta legacy may not like the Tri Delta chapter on her campus, or she may walk into another house and feel immediately at home there. Sometimes the legacy is the one who drops Tri Delta or preferences another chapter over Tri Delta.
When Tri Delta members are pledged and initiated, they make many promises to the Fraternity, and expect much in return. Unfortunately, this commitment to Tri Delta doesn’t guarantee that their daughters, granddaughters, nieces or sisters will one day receive bids too. Sometimes, it does work out that Tri Delta membership is passed on to the next generation. But every legacy’s circumstances are different.
What Tri Delta does guarantee to every one of its members is a lifetime of membership in the company of true friends. And those daughters, granddaughters, nieces and sisters will also find their meaningful friendships and sisterhood, even though it may not be with Tri Delta.