Behind Panhellenic’s boycott
March 3, 2022
The Panhellenic Council unanimously voted Wednesday not to participate in Sigma Chi’s Derby Days unless a performance aspect of the fundraiser is removed, according to an email from Panhellenic President Abigail Pittman obtained by the Old Gold & Black.
Derby Days – a multi-day philanthropy event that raises money for the Brenner Children’s Hospital and the Huntsman Cancer Foundation – is an event in which all national chapters of Sigma Chi participate.
The 2022 calendar for Wake Forest’s Derby Days included an off-campus event called EX-Factor, a talent show which, according to a copy of the event proposal obtained by the Old Gold & Black, could include “any” talent, including “singing, dancing and karaoke”.
According to the event proposal, the talent show “will be judged by a panel of members of the Wake Forest community who are part of organizations or fine arts studies applicable to the talents sororities choose to perform.” There will also be a “head judge” who will be a professional dancer or singer with expertise in the fine arts. Additionally, each sorority could place one individual on the judging panel.
Sorority presidents on the Panhellenic Council, as well as members of the Panhellenic Council’s leadership, expressed their belief that EX-Factor is a revival of AirBands, an event that sorority alumnae have described as “sexualized” when they were students at Wake Forest.
“Given the problematic history of the performance aspects of Derby Days, we do not want to see [a tradition akin to AirBands] revived,” Pittman wrote in an email to Sigma Chi President Timothy Liles on behalf of all eight of the council’s sororities.
Liles and Derby Days Coordinator Santiago Leon disagree with Panhellenic’s assessment of the EX-Factor event.
“No student [currently] at this school has ever been part of, witnessed or experienced [AirBands] in any sort of way,” Liles said. “So we just didn’t think that it would be so upsetting for people to do something that was, I guess, slightly related in the sense that there was a performance-based aspect.”
Leon added: “The reason why we wanted to do a talent show is that anyone obviously can pick whatever talent they want … they can draw things on a board, they can do a magic trick, they can sing, they can dance.” Liles added that an EX-Factor event is also put on by Sigma Chi at San Diego State University.
Assistant Dean of Leadership and Fraternity and Sorority Life Elizabeth “Betsy” Adams supported Panhellenic’s decision.
“Our Panhellenic leaders had important discussions about some of the proposed events for this year’s Derby Days, and they ultimately decided that performance-based events were not something they would support,” Adams told the Old Gold & Black. “They had concerns about the sexist and misogynistic culture associated with years past. They expressed that they did not want to be a part of something that had the chance of enabling that culture now or in the future. I fully support their desire to participate in events that empower and respect their members.”
There appears to have been some progress made. According to a Sigma Chi-provided summary of a March 3 meeting with Adams, the fraternity agreed that all Panhellenic sororities will have a seat on the Derby Days planning committee going forward. Additionally, Sigma Chi said in the summary that Adams suggested the idea of a dodgeball tournament.
However, Adams, who was provided a copy of the summary, was disappointed with its contents.
“I’m disappointed if this was their only take-away from our 90-minute meeting,” Adams said. “We discussed what true allyship looks like, how to collaborate effectively and what it means to listen to women when they express concern.”
Adams also addressed concerns raised by Sigma Chi in a response email to Panhellenic, its provided summary and in an interview with the Old Gold & Black that they were not given the opportunity to speak with Panhellenic leaders about the event before they voted.
“I acknowledged that Panhellenic could have given Sigma Chi a few minutes before the Panhellenic presidents’ discussion,” Adams told the Old Gold & Black. “But I also said that they needed the space as women to fully discuss it without the men present and that women do not owe men an explanation for why being expected to perform makes them uncomfortable. I hoped this would be a learning moment for the leaders of Sigma Chi about what it truly means to respect women.”
The Panhellenic Council has requested an updated Derby Days schedule by noon on March 14. According to the Alpha Delta Pi email, members of Sigma Chi have agreed to meet with Panhellenic leadership to discuss Derby Days on that date.
“We are now working with Sigma Chi on a revised schedule that includes a non-performance-based event, in order to make this week as inclusive as possible for all chapter members,” Pittman said. “We look forward to a new schedule that will allow all chapters to comfortably participate and will ensure a fun and successful week.”
Continue reading below for more context surrounding Airbands and Sigma Chi’s email in response to Panhellenic.