SJSU students demand changes at national sorority

Members of Alpha Omicron Pi at San Jose State University are demanding the sorority lower its dues and eliminate “empty bed fees” to provide relief to less-advantaged students during the economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Student sorority member Madi Medina stands in an unoccupied room at the house on 408 S. Eighth Street. Photo by Katy Jenson.

The university’s Delta Sigma chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi organized a news conference Wednesday to address concerns about the house at 408 S. Eighth Street owned by the fraternity’s headquarters. Typically, about 28 women would occupy the home, with two to four students sharing a single bedroom.

“Because of the pandemic, they’re not allowed to set foot in the house,” said Madison Marchi, a member of Alpha Omicron Pi. “However, they’re still holding us liable to pay up to $2,500 in (annual) fees in order to support the house.”

One room at the sorority house at 408 S. Eighth Street is occupied by three students, against CDC guidelines, according to photographer Katy Jenson.

All sorority members pay $694 annually in chapter dues, according to member Katy Jenson. Those who live outside the Eighth Street house pay about $2,500 in yearly “development” fees to help sustain the home, while students living in the home pay $10,396 annually in rent.

“The issue of finances does not come without addressing the systemic oppressions of our institutions, including this very organization,” said Erica Lizarrago, a student at San Jose State and sorority member. “So long as they don’t address this, colleges, universities and Greek communities will remain primarily white.”

Lizarrago said the fraternity headquarters is not clear with students on how it spends the money, adding levying these charges against students from low-income families during a time of growing unemployment is unconscionable.

“I do not come from a trust fund; I do not come from generational wealth,” said Lizarrago. “I come from a descending line of fruit pickers who have given their life to the very ground I stand upon today.”

According to a statement issued by the chapter, 58% of its members identify as people of color and 49% are low-income. In addition, 73% have become unemployed due to the government shutdown order.

The house at 408 S. Eighth Street, owned by the Alpha Omicron Pi headquarters in Tennessee, is usually occupied by about 28 San Jose State students. Photo by Sonya Herrera

The San Jose State chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi issued demands to the executive leadership in Tennessee: allow members to break their housing contracts, reduce membership dues, and improve financial accessibility and transparency over how dues and fees are spent.

Leadership said in a written response the costs of operating the house outweigh the amount collected in rent. During a meeting with the San Jose State chapter on Monday, a member of the executive team called the chapter a “poor investment.”

“During the conversation there was a statement about the chapter operating at a significant annual net loss,” the leadership statement said. “This statement was taken out of context and used as the basis of the campaign. At no time were members of AOII nor the Delta Sigma Chapter called a ‘poor investment.’”

The national headquarters pledged to remove the consideration of “legacies” — family members — in its recruitment and said it would hold a financial transparency meeting next week to explain how dues are spent.

Rev. Jeff Moore, president of the Silicon Valley chapter of the NAACP, spoke at the news conference and said his organization would keep a close eye on the Tennessee headquarters’ handling of the matter.

“Though we have no evidence thus far that race is a factor in the situation, we will be looking into it,” Moore said. “We understand that the corporation is directed by all white women in the state of Tennessee.”

Rev. Jeff Moore speaks at the sorority chapter’s news conference outside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in downtown San Jose Wednesday. Photo by Sonya Herrera

Moore said the NAACP would make sure officials at San Jose State, including Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Patrick Day, would be held responsible for the mistreatment of students.

“I will be going to City Hall and to the County Board of Supervisors immediately to support these students,” Moore said. “This mistreatment, or maltreatment, or racist behavior of people from out of state (toward) people of color from in our state can not be tolerated.”

Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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