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A Seat at the Table

Multicultural sorority Sigma Lambda Gamma sets out to empower change

Members of Sigma Lambda Gamma pose at Washburn

[Members of Sigma Lambda Gamma from left to right (bottom row), Chelsea Cole, Lesley Ayala, Laisha Figueroa and Yennifer Lopez-Bustamante; and (top row) Ana Estrada, Pat Moore, Jasmin Roman and Ashlyn Norwood. Photo by Jeremy Wangler]

From The Ichabod - Spring 2023
By Annie Flachsbarth

Before joining Sigma Lambda Gamma, Washburn University senior Lesley Ayala didn’t always feel like she had the confidence to speak up as a minority.

“As a Latina woman, I didn’t feel like I had a say in the room,” Ayala said. “Joining Sigma Lambda Gamma changed my views and perspective. It’s very empowering when someone makes a space for you at the table.”

Now, as the multicultural sorority’s chapter president, Ayala is helping to spread the word about Sigma Lambda Gamma and help others find the community she did within the organization.

“We like to say it’s a space to be who you are,” Ayala said. “It really is a home away from home.”

A Space to Call Home

The Tau Zeta associate chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma was formed at Washburn in 2019 to create a space for multicultural students. The group received full chapter status in the fall of 2022. Depending on the organization, it is reasonable to take one to three years to establish a chapter as most national and international organizations focus on ensuring the sustainability of membership before chartering a new chapter.

The chapter’s marketing chair, Washburn senior Ashlyn Norwood, said many multicultural students have a hard time making connections when starting college.

“It’s often hard to a find space to feel fully yourself in primarily white institutions – which is a college where more than 50 percent of enrolled students are white,” Norwood said. “Sigma Lambda Gamma can be that space.”

Although the organization was originally founded as a sorority for Latina women, the sorority is now open to anyone seeking a multicultural experience.

The group focuses on five core values: academics, community service, morals and ethics, social interaction and cultural awareness. Chapter activities have included community outreach by making sandwiches for kids battling food scarcity at Hillcrest Community Center in Topeka, a highlight on academics by hearing from an alumni panel about life after college and a feature on morals and ethics by learning about abusive relationships and local resources for help from a YWCA speaker. All activities were open to the public for anyone interested.

“Anyone who aligns with our values is able, encouraged and welcome to join,” Ayala said. “Our white members not only have a chance to connect with others who have the same values, but it gives them a chance to become more empowered and secure in those principles.”

Haydee Reyes, Washburn’s assistant director of student involvement and development, said Sigma Lambda Gamma’s recruiting practices are different from how Greek organizations have traditionally sought members.

“Sigma Lambda Gamma intentionally recruits members who come from groups that are traditionally marginalized in higher education, such as women of color and different backgrounds and belief systems,” Reyes said.

Small But Mighty

The sorority had nine active members this spring with additional incoming members going through the membership process. And although the sorority doesn’t have a house, it hasn’t stopped them from building strong connections. The group meets every week throughout the school year for chapter meetings, cultural awareness and bonding. Their goals for the future include continuing to recruit and spread their values on campus and in the community.

“There is power in numbers,” Ayala said. “Not only that, seeing people who look like me in seats of power – like judges, facilitators, faculty here at Washburn – it’s a big thing. It’s inspiring to think ‘Hey, I can really do that.’”

Now in its fourth year on campus, the group has alumni in a variety of industries, creating built-in connections for members in the real world.

“It’s beneficial for everyone to learn how to interact with people of all different cultures, ethnicities and races. You're going to have to learn to do that no matter what industry you work in. That’s a big part of who we are, and that can help us in the future,” Norwood said.

After finding their bearings with all that comes from starting a new chapter, members of the sorority are now participating in Washburn’s Fraternity and Sorority Life Week activities to increase their exposure on campus and help with recruitment.

“Our biggest goal going forward as a chapter is to continue to create that space and grow our presence on campus,” Norwood said.

“I know we’re not the last students to feel a little out of place when finding a school to go to, and I want Washburn to continue to grow in this area of multiculturalism and inclusion,” Ayala said.

Winter 2024 The Ichabod magazine cover with picture of the bell tower and snow fallen on campus

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