Ecstatic, eager and even a little scared is what every young college woman feels for the first time while searching for her sorority sisters at recruitment, but unfortunately for AnneCatherine Heigl, she only felt devastation when George Mason University sororities could not look past her down syndrome.
“She asked why no one wanted to be her sister, and my heart broke” said AnneCatherine’s older sister Lillie Heigl.
Her older sister had encouraged her to rush a sorority and even helped pick out her outfit for bidding day, although AnneCatherine was hesitant, she decided to go through the recruitment process. When she discovered that none of the sororities wanted her, AnneCatherine cried and was extremely upset that she could not take part in the sorority experience her sister and mom had talked so highly about.
22-year-old Lillie tweeted an email she sent to Phil McDaniel, the associate director of student involvement at George Mason voicing how infuriated she was with the sororities that excluded her sister.
Upon what grounds was AnneCatherine rejected on? Her older sister Lillie believes AnneCatherine was denied solely because of her down syndrome.
AnneCatherine upholds a courageous sense of character as she is originally from Indiana, but is now 10 hours away to continue her education at George Mason in Fairfax, Virginia. Being so far away from home is hard on any college student, so naturally, AnneCatherine expected to find a home within a sorority but was ultimately rejected.
She is also a D1 student athlete– not to mention the first collegiate cheerleader in the nation to have an Intellectual Disability– and works relentlessly to not have her down syndrome define her which is another impressive quality of AnneCatherine’s that sororities should have recognized.
Her Rho Gamma, a sorority member who separates herself from her sorority in order to help those wanting to be recruited through the process, said AnneCatherine was nothing but confident and friendly to everyone she met– an obvious characteristic sororities seek.
According to Lillie, there were 288 women and 8 sorority chapters at the recruitment her sister attended. This furthered Lillie’s skepticism of George Mason’s recruitment process as this is considered to be a below average attendance for sorority recruitments.
“I struggle to believe that when ONLY 288 women went through recruitment at GMU, and you have 8 chapters, there wasn’t a place for my sister in a single one” Lillie wrote.
From being a D1 athlete to having confidence as well as showing courage throughout her academic and personal life, it becomes difficult to understand why not one sorority chose to accept her besides the assumption of George Mason sororities being discriminatory against intellectually disabled.
Lillie explained in an interview that she knows that this a recurring problem with all sororities. She said when she went through the bidding process as a young collegiate, she never saw anyone with physical or mental disabilities join sororities. There seems to be a lack of education about inclusivity and diversity amongst sororities, said Lillie in the interview.
3 days after Lillie had tweeted about her frustration and disappointment with George Mason sororities, the university’s Panhellenic Council released a statement saying that the council does not have any ability to decide a chapter’s membership selection.
George Mason also said they promise to do better in the future.
The goals of George Mason’s sororities are explicitly stated in their Bylaws which say they strive to promote basic intellectual development and boast on how their sororities are a place for anyone who truly wants to be part of their community.
But it is hard to see these goals being accomplished when AnneCatherine was denied even though she truly wanted to be apart of this community.
These sororities have yet to speak publicly on their behalf, but it seems to be clear that their focus should be on working towards a more inclusive and diverse community.