Many Hillsdale students and faculty assume Alpha Xi Delta sorority has been gone for decades. It only went defunct 14 years ago, however, and its departure played a role in shaping today’s informal recruitment process to what it is today.
AXD was created in 1982 and departed in 2004 following many years of extreme growth and campus involvement. It wasn’t until a sudden controversy that caused a third of their house to quit that they had to consider ending their chapter. Two years after their departure, as another one of the sororities on campus began to shrink, Hillsdale’s Panhellenic Council created a new recruitment process to prevent the decline of another house.
The Zeta Sigma chapter of AXD, which was active at Hillsdale from 1983 to 2004, is one of 86 inactive chapters of AXD. There are currently 134 active AXD chapters, six of which are in Michigan.
AXD, first proposed to join Hillsdale in 1977, was the first sorority addition to campus since Chi Omega in 1924. In the 15 years leading up to its founding on campus, 10 groups had unsuccessfully attempted to start a new sorority at Hillsdale, The Collegian reported in September of 1982.
The process of bringing AXD to campus began in the spring of 1982, when former student Pat Dzialowski ‘83 noticed the increasing number of independent girls who were interested in joining a house but were unable to due to the previously-established sororities’ membership rules. Dzialowski attracted three others girls who recognized the same need, and they began their joint effort to form an official sorority, originally dubbing themselves the Athelias.
The Athelias held regular meetings and finally chose Alpha Xi Delta as their official sorority. The Athelias worked closely with former Dean of Women Carol Ann Barker in speaking with the national sorority. The college played a direct role in organizing the chapter at first, but AXD grew increasingly independent once in contact with the AXD national headquarters. After a year of working to bring the sorority to campus, the Athelias officially pledged AXD.
The Collegian reported in 1983 that the sorority had grown extremely fast through each stage of development necessary to have active members of AXD. During its first year on campus, AXD picked up 23 pledges, which is seven more girls than the sorority with the largest spring 2018 pledge class. In 1985, it grew so large that its current home was no longer fit to house the sorority, and the chapter found a new home at 306 N. West St., which housed 11 members. Today, the three sorority houses hold anywhere from 22 to 37 girls.
During AXD’s relatively brief time on campus, it celebrated many achievements, including success in competition with other Greek houses, most of which had higher membership and a longer history on their side. AXD won the Homecoming Mock Rock dance competition in 1997, as well as Sigma Chi Derby Daze in 1995.
“Although they are the smallest house on campus, the women of Alpha Xi Delta work as hard as the others to raise money for charity,” the Collegian reported in 1986.
The Collegian often recognized AXD for their extensive volunteer efforts, reporting in 2000 that “The philanthropic spirit literally consumed this house last year when they won the Greek Week fundraiser with the greatest number of construction paper links bought in their name to fund the charity of their choice.”
The sorority’s praised pursuits were not only social and charitable but academic as well. AXD commonly took home the scholarship cup, holding it for three consecutive semesters in 1986 through 1987. During its last semester at Hillsdale, AXD won the scholarship cup with an overall GPA of 3.435, while the all-school average was 3.132.
Despite its apparent success as a chapter, AXD eventually began to struggle with membership.
“We had thriving membership for many years, but I think we picked up sort of a problem pledge class my senior year which changed the house culture,” said Jaminda Springer ‘95, who joined AXD the fall semester of her sophomore year and is now the wife of Professor of Art Bryan Springer.
After a few years of declining membership, a third of the sorority suddenly left in May 2002, when AXD member Amber Briggs’ ‘02 exhibited behavior many in the sorority found unacceptable.
“She likes to have fun,” The Collegian noted. “Parties, frat boys and off color humor were things that defined her, and endeared many.”
According to The Collegian in 2002, the debate over Briggs’ actions climaxed during an executive committee meeting on April 24. “Words flew and tears flowed,” The Collegian reported.
The AXD Executive Committee decided to suspend Briggs after she refused to sign a contract putting her on probation and requiring her to go to anger management classes. Five other members deactivated shortly after, refusing to sign a contract requiring them to pay for a spot in the house for a year, citing the sorority’s treatment of Briggs as motivation to leave.
In their last year, members split the chapter’s 28 offices between all 14 members.
“Our chapter of 15 accomplished what other houses did with 70 members,” Courtney Kaye, who was the chapter’s president at the time, said in a 2003 letter to The Collegian.
During this time, the chapter received a national award for sound management practices for their last four years, in addition to receiving a perfect score in financial management and receiving national honors for scholarship the three years prior.
In October of 2003, The Collegian reported that AXD decided to close the Zeta Sigma chapter, effective May 2004. The choice came after their chapter’s national council gave them the option of quadrupaling their size within three pledge classes, or ending their chapter at the end of the semester or year.
The seniors in the sorority thought it unfair to hand such a difficult task off to new members, Kaye told The Collegian.
Springer said she believes the membership challenges were due to the lack of an established culture on campus.
“Our oldest alumni were only 10 years out of college, and they were busy starting families and having kids,” Springer said. “Other houses have the kind of proper advising that will notice house issues right away and help fix them.”
Former Dean of Women Carol Ann Barker told The Collegian in October 2003 that the decision came quickly, and that she was never at all contacted before the decision was made by AXD.
“ ‘We’ve never lost a sorority,’” Barker told The Collegian, adding that the administration never considered the possibility of the chapter closing.
Only two years after AXD left campus did Hillsdale decide to switch to a new recruiting process. After seeing a growing disparity in numbers between the three houses, Dell said they needed to take precautionary measures with a new recruiting system to prevent what happened to AXD from happening to another sorority.
“We weren’t doing what was in line with NPC [National Panhellenic Council],” said Associate Dean of Women Rebekah Dell, who also serves as Panhellenic Advisor for Women’s Greek Life.
Kappa Kappa Gamma member Dana Falvo, a senior at the time, told The Collegian in 2004 that AXD’s departure was a “loss for the Greek community.”
“It says something for the college to have strong national organizations,” she said.