Occidental’s chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta disbands in wake of racist text messages

Kappa Alpha Theta house located on Stratford Road near Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 15, 2022. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

Content warning: This article discusses texts that emerged in February between two Occidental students that included genocidal, racist speech toward Asian people.

Occidental’s chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta (Theta) officially closed Feb. 18 after members of the sorority voted unanimously to disband, according to former chapter president Hannah Christensen (sophomore), who assumed the position at the end of the Fall 2021 semester. The decision comes after a text message conversation between two former Theta members containing anti-Asian genocidal speech circulated through the Occidental community in February.

“There was a multitude of reasons [we chose to disband]. One of the big ones was that we acknowledge that the way everything got handled with the situation regarding [Student A*] caused more harm to the Oxy community, especially the [Asian and Pacific Islander] community, than we as a predominantly white organization could ever imagine,” Christensen said. “Even if we were able to right all the wrongs and continue as an organization it would not be a safe space for women of color and at that point, the organization just shouldn’t exist anymore. It has no place at Oxy.”

Christensen said Theta’s remaining funds will be distributed among Asian former members of Theta, the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Association (APIDAA) and ASOC Diversity and Equity Board (DEB).

“The last thing we voted on before we voted to disband the charter was what to do with our remaining funds,” Christensen said. “A decent portion is going to member reparations for the API members of Theta who were hurt by this. Basically, just giving them their dues back because this organization hurt them.”

The sorority house is owned by the college and will continue to house the former Theta members who live there, but a decision has not been reached yet for what the space will become in the future, according to multiple Theta members.

Kappa Alpha Theta house located on Stratford Road near Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 15, 2022. Grace Meadows/The Occidental

Both Christensen and her predecessor, former Theta chapter president Liz Frissell (senior), said national and local Theta sorority advisors rejected attempts by Occidental Theta leadership in early November 2021 to expel Student A from the sorority because the text messages were sent before Student A joined the organization.

Frissell said the direction of the removal process changed after local Theta advisors spoke with national leadership.

“At first [the local advisors] were really supportive of us removing [Student A] from the chapter and they said they just needed to talk to some people from National to figure out the process,” Frissell said. “Then after they talked to headquarters, there was a loophole that we couldn’t kick [Student A] out for this because [the texts] were sent before she was officially a member.”

“They were very much gaslighting us all,” Frissell said. “I had an argument with one advisor that said [Student A] wasn’t racist. They threatened to send me to Grand Council.”

According to Frissell and Christensen, Theta advisors refused to expel Student A from the organization and they were unable to remove her without the advisors’ approval.

“As the president that inherited the situation, I was also incredibly frustrated with how our advisory board handled everything,” Christensen said. “At the end of the day, we could never remove a member from our organization without advisory board approval. The process requires them to sign off.”

Frissell said she, along with two other members of Theta leadership, also spoke with Marcus Rodriguez, director of Student Life, Involvement & Community Engagement (SLICE), and Isaiah Thomas, assistant dean of students and director of student conduct in November 2021 about the text messages. In those meetings, Thomas and Rodriguez explained the Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation (DHR) policy process to Frissell and the other Theta leaders and said there was a chance Student A would be put on academic probation which would remove her from Theta, but neither administrators followed up again.

“I wrote up this seven-page document of everything I knew about it and attached a screenshot,” Frissell said. “They said they would get started on [the DHR process] and that looked good, and then that was the last I ever heard from them.

Both Rodriguez and Thomas responded to requests for interviews from The Occidental with emailed statements.

“It is important to note that my priority is to maintain a safe, comfortable space where students can feel heard and listened to, while being provided with good counsel and resources on campus,” Rodriguez said via email. “Students enter my office knowing I make every attempt to respectfully and confidentially gain understanding while also helping them feel less isolated. To foster this environment, I aim to be both accessible and approachable throughout the day, always centering the student experience at Oxy.”

When the text messages circulated on social media in early February, Theta advisors reversed their decision and removed Student A from Occidental’s chapter of Theta, according to Christensen and Frissell. Christensen said she was never informed as to why it was possible to remove Student A in February, but not in November 2021.

“That’s a question I still have too,” Christensen said. “None of us ever got a clear answer.”

The two women on that advisory board most immediately involved with the sorority’s response to the text messages were former Saddleback College biology professor Jane Horlings and Heather K. Dennis, a former business consultant at Kaiser Permanente, according to Christensen and Frissell. Neither Horlings nor Dennis responded to multiple attempts to reach them for comment.

Theta’s Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Schmaltz declined to answer specific questions for this article but provided a written statement over email.

“The closing of a college chapter is a painful experience for everyone at Kappa Alpha Theta, but we know it is especially difficult for the college and alumnae members of the chapter, who feel a profound sense of loss,” Schmaltz said via email. “Kappa Alpha Theta does not condone, tolerate nor excuse hate speech of any kind. It is against our values as an organization, as local chapters and as individuals. We deeply regret that people were harmed by the hateful words of an individual previously associated with our organization.”

Christensen said the events surrounding the text messages changed her perception of Greek life and its ability to evolve to support students of color, which ultimately solidified her decision to disband the organization.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Christensen said. “I think a lot of us in Theta joined Greek life at Oxy because we thought it would be different, but a national organization is a national organization.”

*Consistent with The Occidental’s previous coverage of the anti-Asian text messages that emerged on campus in February, the name of Student A has been omitted in accordance with The Occidental’s policy of protecting the privacy of students as private individuals on campus