Zoe Berg, Senior Photographer

After a nearly year-long campaign for disaffiliation by some members, Yale’s chapter of Pi Beta Phi voted on Dec. 6 in favor of disaffiliating from their national chapter. The vote marked the first time a sorority has moved toward disaffiliation at the University.

The News spoke to six pro-disaffiliation members of Pi Phi, some of whom cited insufficient financial aid, debt to the national chapter and political and cultural differences with nationals as their main reasons for wanting to disaffiliate.

“One of the primary benefits to our disaffiliation is the increased budget, as we no longer have to send a large portion of our dues to nationals,” Sofia Manriquez ’25, former director of leadership for the chapter, wrote to the News. “Perhaps the most important factor of this budget increase is the ability to provide financial support to our members. Currently, more than half of Yale students receive some portion of financial aid. Groups like our new organization should be able to mirror this support so that everyone has access to the community we are so excited to build.”

The sorority held two mandatory town halls for members on Dec. 1 and Dec. 3 to discuss reasons for remaining affiliated or for disaffiliating from the national Pi Beta Phi organization. 

The News obtained documents advocating for and against affiliation, which were shared with all Pi Phi members before the meetings.

“Remaining affiliated provides the Connecticut Beta Chapter with critical support such as legal aid, liability coverage, financial structure, long-standing philanthropic relationships and public relations support,” Connecticut Beta Chapter President Charlotte Lisa ’25 wrote to the News. “Without affiliation, our chapter would lose access to this support.”

TG Livak, the marketing and communications director for Pi Beta Phi nationals, wrote to the News that the Connecticut Beta chapter of Pi Phi has “enriched Pi Beta Phi sisterhood” for more than 30 years and the chapter “holds a cherished role within [the] organization.”

She added that the national organization is concerned by the information shared with the chapter regarding the benefits of disaffiliation and the “inaccuracies” in these materials.  

“Affiliation with Pi Beta Phi as an international organization provides the Connecticut Beta Chapter with multi-layered operational, programming and mentoring support, playing a vital role in the chapter’s success and the personal development of each member,” Livak wrote.

Affiliation hinders financial aid, keeps sorority in debt

At the time of the vote on Thursday, Pi Phi’s campus chapter was over $100,000 in debt to its national organization, stemming from housing costs in the 2020-2021 school year, per one of the documents obtained by the News. The financial strain from this debt limits Pi Phi’s ability to host events like formals or crushes, with members in favor of disaffiliation document saying that the “chapter’s budget is much smaller than other sororities on campus, which makes it very difficult to compete for the members we want,” according to that document. 

The document further contends that if the chapter were to formally disaffiliate, budgets for crush, formal and bid night would increase by thousands of dollars.

But the second document, largely in favor of staying tied to Pi Phi nationals, described the organization as one that offers “institutional support and strength for its members,” referring specifically to a recent bridge loan.

In 2020, Pi Phi’s eight-bedroom house was only occupied by one member who paid her portion of the rent; Pi Phi nationals covered the rest of the costs. Over the course of the year, this accrued to a “roughly $146,000” debt, according to the pro-affiliation document, and the sorority formally lost the lease in the 2021-22 school year when they only had five members sign on to the lease for the house. The chapter has since paid off about $40,000, and nationals has offered the sorority a bridge loan to pay off the remaining $106,000. 

While nationals offered the sorority a loan to help pay the debt, members supporting disaffiliation told the News that this money would not be paid off for five to ten years. Until then, the sorority would not be able to rent an off-campus house, which the first document argued hurts their recruitment process and their ability to host sorority events.

The second document says that Pi Phi’s Fraternity Housing Corporation is “committed to working with [Yale’s] chapter to find chapter facility solutions,” further saying that a studio or one-bedroom apartment would likely be available to the sorority by the fall 2024 semester.

Pro-disaffiliation Pi Phi members told the News that Pi Beta Phi nationals confirmed with the sorority that if they were to disaffiliate, the debt would cease to exist. This is because the debt is “intra-organizational,” meaning the rent has already been paid for the apartment.

However, members in favor of remaining affiliated with nationals feel that this move to relieve the sorority of this debt would be “effectively stealing from charity, which is a serious ethical concern we cannot ignore,” the second document says. 

In response, pro-disaffiliation members said that Pi Phi is a multi-million dollar organization that donates more to political lobbying than charity. In Pi Phi’s 2021 tax return — a copy of which the News obtained —  the national organization had $32,610,579 in net assets. The News was unable to independently confirm if the national organization spends more on political lobbying than charity. 

In addition to the debt, Yale’s Pi Phi chapter is only allocated $350 of financial aid from the national organization, which it has to spread across all 118 current members who demonstrate need. For first-semester members, often first years or sophomores who go through sorority recruitment in the spring, current dues are $786 per semester. Non-senior members pay $461 and senior members pay $456. 

Separate from the $350 in financial aid from the national organization, members have an internal chapter financial aid process. The documents provided to the News did not include the total of how much financial aid is offered through this process. Under Pi Phi bylaws, the chapter’s internal process is an “illegal scholarship fund, which Nationals would shut down if they knew about,” according to the first document, which is largely in favor of disaffiliation. 

Under proposed fees in the pro-disaffiliation document, if the chapter were to separate from nationals, fees would drop to $425, $375 and $250 per semester for first-semester members, non-senior members and senior members, respectively. This means a first year who joins in the spring semester and stays until graduation would save more than $1,117, disregarding possible year-to-year fluctuation in membership fees and decreases in cost due to financial aid. 

“Antiquated and uncomfortable”: Cultural, political motives drive disaffiliation efforts

Current members also raised issues with the national organization’s values and history in conversations with the News.

Pi Beta Phi was established in 1867 as an “all-white, Christian, cis-gendered, heterosexual organization,” according to the first document. Members cite national bylaws that require all chapters to begin their meetings with a Christian prayer, which they said makes some members feel uncomfortable or unwelcome.

“During Pi Phi initiation, I was disheartened to learn that membership in an organization of such incredible women required participating in antiquated and uncomfortable rituals with Christian origins,” Josie Helm ’26, former chapter vice president of inclusion, wrote to the News. “Given Pi Beta Phi’s historical and ongoing homogeneity, I felt inspired to help shape a new organization that fosters a more inclusive environment for all members.”

Members also raised issues with Pi Beta Phi’s membership in the so-called “Frat PAC,” or the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee. The organization describes itself as a bipartisan PAC that donates to and advocates for causes that support Greek life, such as anti-hazing bills. 

But, in every election cycle since 2006 — with the exception of the 2008 cycle — the PAC has donated more to Republican candidates than Democratic candidates. Pi Phi’s national organization was a member of the PAC from 2014 to 2020, but the sorority has not had elected representatives to the PAC since 2020, leaving its two seats vacant. 

The second document, largely in favor of preserving the chapter’s relationship with nationals, says that Pi Phi has not contributed funds to so-called Frat Pac for nearly three years.

“As of January 2021, Pi Beta Phi has not held seats, nor financially contributed as an organization to the FSPAC,” the pro-affiliation document says. 

In the 2020 election cycle, the last election for which Pi Phi had representatives in the PAC, FSPAC donated $200,500 to Republican candidates and $183,000 for Democratic candidates, according to publicly available information on OpenSecrets

FSPAC did not respond to requests for comment.

“What particularly drew me to disaffiliation was both the opportunity to distance ourselves from an antiquated organization with almost no transparency in everything from its history and practices to political and charitable donations, as well as the ability for us to form an organization that better represents the views and desires of its members and the Yale community,” Dorothea Robertson ’25, former chapter vice president of external affairs, said.

Disaffiliation at Yale

Pi Phi’s disaffiliation comes as several other Greek organizations have disaffiliated in recent years. LEO formally broke from Sigma Alpha Epsilon in 2018 after initially announcing plans to disaffiliate in 2015. LEO members told the News in 2018 that they wanted to stop relying on their national organization for resources and support, but the move came after the fraternity made national headlines for hosting a “white girls only” party and was banned from campus in 2015 for violating the University’s policies on sexual misconduct.

In 2020, Sigma Phi Epsilon also voted to disaffiliate from nationals and become a co-ed social club known as Edon. Edon became the second co-ed social club on campus after the Fence Club — without its previous affiliation with Psi Upsilon — returned to campus in 2007 and became co-ed in 2009. 

Pi Phi now may become the first disaffiliated organization solely for female students.

“We’re incredibly excited for where this new organization can go,” Skylar Kronrad ’25, former chapter vice president of recruitment, wrote to the News. “To our knowledge, this is the first time Yale will see an independent all-women’s organization in-control of its own space. I think it can have an incredible impact on the going-out scene at Yale and can offer a more inclusive, enjoyable, and comfortable space for women on this campus.”

Pi Phi members have not yet decided what the new branding or name of their organization would be in the event that the disaffiliation becomes formal, but Kronrad and Manriquez told the News that decisions would be open to all members for input and voting. Siona Jain ’26, former chapter vice president of risk management, said that Phi Phi will “continue [their] relationships with these organizations, with the added opportunity to be able to host [their] own events.”

Assuming the official vote passes, the sorority plans to file as a 501(c)(7) non-profit status organization, which is tax exempt, similarly to disaffiliated sororities at Tufts University

For recruitment, which last year took place from Jan. 25 to Jan. 30, the organization would not be bound to the Panhellenic recruitment schedule. In the proposed recruitment model, the timeline for Pi Phi’s recruitment would last five days longer than the Panhellenic schedule.

“As a disaffiliated organization, we can really take things in our own direction,” Jain wrote. “While there are some co-ed spaces that host, it’s typically male-student run spaces that invite others to their parties. We’ll no longer be bound by the confines of what a sorority is allowed to do, and this flexibility is invaluable to our current and new members.”  

Members in favor of remaining affiliated nationally highlighted issues that could arise with recruitment for an independent organization, as the second document contends that“many people will just opt for Theta and APhi to stay in the regular sorority recruitment process.” 

Yale has four nationally-affiliated sororities that participate in the common rush process — Pi Beta Phi, Kappa Alpha Theta, Alpha Phi and Kappa Kappa Gamma. 

Correction, Feb. 12: A previous version of this article stated that Pi Beta Phi was established in 1871; it was actually established in 1876. The article has been updated to reflect this.

TRISTAN HERNANDEZ
Tristan Hernandez covers student policy and affairs for the News. He is also a copy editor and previously reported on student life. Originally from Austin, Texas, he is a sophomore in Pierson College majoring in political science.