After months of stalled talks, a SJSU sorority can’t afford to stay silent any longer.
San Jose State’s Delta Sigma chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi will hold a press event at noon today in front of the MLK Library to voice claims that their parent organization is financially exploiting them by refusing to reduce fees amid the pandemic.
They’ll be joined by San Jose-Silicon Valley NAACP President Jethroe Moore as well as NAACP Youth Center Vice President Terra Walls, Student Homeless Alliance President Briena Brown and Associated Students Vice President Brendan Quock.
“A lot of the girls are very frustrated,” Delta Sigma member Madi Marchi said in a Tuesday interview with San Jose Inside. “We’re not taking this to the public out of nowhere. This has been months in the making.”
Marchi and Brow, both SJSU seniors, have been in communication with Alpha Omicron Pi [AOII] National Headquarters—the parent organization of SJSU’s Delta Sigma chapter—since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The core issue Delta Sigma has with AOII centers around the international development fees—money used to maintain the upkeep of the housing facility—that will be charged to non-tenant members who are not allowed inside the house due to AOII Covid-19 policies.
After Delta Sigma asked that the fees be waived entirely, AOII reduced the $2,770 a year international development fee for non-tenants by 10 percent, to $2,493.
“That is just not enough,” Brown insisted. “These development fee dues are specifically for using the services of the house. Why would girls who can’t use any of the house services because of Covid be subject to paying these fees?”
An AOII representative who wished not to be identified rebutted many of the claims from SJSU's Delta Sigma chapter in an email to San Jose Inside: “The assertion that non-tenants can't access the house due to Covid-19 is false. Restrictions exist for guest access to the residential areas of the home. Non-tenants are expected to adhere to health and safety guidelines but are not barred from accessing common areas of the home.”
Marchi said their concerns have largely been ignored by AOII executive leadership.
“Once they finally came back with those numbers, it disregards what our sisters really need,” Marchi said. “A lot of our girls lost jobs, some of them have health issues like asthma and they’re all scared of contracting the coronavirus.”
The Delta Sigma chapter at SJSU is one of the most diverse AOII houses in the nation, with 58 percent of its members identifying as Black, indigenous or people of color and 49 percent reporting themselves to be low-income.
Each tenant is required to pay $1,039 per month, according to Brown, while 34 members signed a contract to live in the house prior to the pandemic. However, there are now 19 sisters who want to move out due to financial hardships and health and safety concerns revolving around the virus.
“Seventy-three percent of our chapter members are unemployed because of Covid and 83 percent are doing remote school,” Brown said. “Rather than being flexible and releasing girls out of their contracts, they’re using the contracts against us. There’s not even a plan in place [from AOII] for safety precautions inside the house.”
However, the AOII representative said that the Delta Sigma chapter has the ability to to reduce fees for its members: “Local chapter dues—not HQ dues or fees—cover any expenses for in-person events and activities on any campus. All of our chapters have been encouraged to reduce or eliminate dues according to campus plans. If no events can be held, [we] the chapter should not charge members for the expenses of in-person events.”
It’s not enough just to release girls out of their contracts, Brown said, because then the rest of the tenants would be on the hook for empty bed fees.
Delta Sigma wants those empty bed fees waived as well. If the 19 girls were released from their contracts, the remaining tenants would each have their own room. From a health and safety standpoint, each girl having her own room would make the most sense, especially considering the house is set up to be a communal space.
AOII said Delta Sigma is simply casting a false narrative: “AOII has reduced our housing capacity significantly to accommodate concerns regarding Covid-19. The decision-making authority for whom to release from existing housing agreements in order to reduce capacity was given to the local members at SJSU.
“AOII is absorbing all of the financial implications of those house capacity reductions, and we are at the limit of what is financially feasible for the international organization. AOII’s cost to operate the facility at San Jose State significantly exceed the fees reasonably paid by members every year. With the additional reduced capacity considerations for Covid-19, we are at the limit of what is financially feasible for the international organization.”
Brown, who will speak at today’s press conference, said she got involved because she mentors some of the Delta Sigma members.
“I had a handful of sisters come to me and ask for any resources from the school because they were putting all their money into rent,” she said. “There were a couple of homeless sisters who had to choose between rent and tuition. As a San Jose State activist, I’m interested in seeing some large change. As a woman of color, I would like to know that in the future my daughter and son would be able to go through a Greek system that is financially acceptable and inclusive to them.”
Brown said the Greek system has a long way to go to be an all-inclusive environment for the BIPOC, undocumented, first-generation members of the community.
“I care about this community and want to see change within the Greek system,” she said. “To be frank, it’s a system that was built initially on white supremacy. I know that is a very strong word, but I just want to keep it real. People of all socioeconomic backgrounds should be able to experience the sisterhood, joy and connections of Greek life.”