In recent years the women of DePauw's Delta Zeta sorority had been getting not-so-subtle hints. Former members arrived at the sorority house, for instance, and gave out tips on makeup and wardrobe. Then last November four officials of the sorority visited the campus in Greencastle, Ind., ostensibly to energize a membership drive. Junior Megan Sikes, 20, recalls sitting down with one of the women—each of the sorority's 35 members was interviewed—and promising to do all she could to recruit new members. But with one condition: "I wasn't going to change the way I looked or acted."

Wrong answer. Three weeks later Sikes and 22 of her sorority sisters were sent letters informing them that they were being placed on "alumna status" and they would have to vacate the Delta Zeta house no later than Jan. 29. It escaped no one's notice that most of the women discharged were either not thin or were not glamorous. "First I laughed and then I cried," says senior Kendall Crager, 22, describing her reaction to the letter. "I felt like they didn't like me for me."

Outraged by the decision, 6 of the 12 women who had been asked to stay quit DZ in solidarity, and the DePauw campus has been in an uproar ever since. Robert Hershberger, chairman of the university's modern-language department, started a petition criticizing the expulsions as "unethical": "We the faculty couldn't stand on the sidelines."

Cindy Menges—national executive director of Delta Zeta, based in Oxford, Ohio—insists that drastic measures were needed to shore up a chapter in trouble. DZ's membership had dwindled to the point that the DePauw chapter had reluctantly voted to change its status from "active" to "inactive." Meanwhile, other students at DePauw, according to a recent informal campus survey, said they considered its members to be "socially awkward." Menges says each member was presented with the sorority's plan for revitalization and was asked to comply. "The choice was made by the women themselves," she says. "[They] are very busy, and the time necessary for our chapter to rebuild is extensive. We respect their decision." Menges adds, "DZ does not discriminate."

At least one of the six DZ sisters defended the housecleaning. "The ones who were asked to stay were the most active in the chapter," says the member, who wishes to remain anonymous. "They did the most to recruit other women." But ousted members such as Elizabeth Haneline, 21, were having none of it. "It was all about image," says Haneline. "I want an apology, a very public apology."

There's little doubt that DZ members didn't enjoy the most popular reputation at DePauw, a scenic campus where 70 percent of the 2,400 undergrads belong to fraternities and sororities. But DZ sisters say they prided themselves on being down-to-earth and smart—in other words, more than just party animals. As Martha Griffin, the mother of one of the ousted students, explained in a letter to The New York Times, her daughter Erica, 20, joined because "the women were intelligent and not interested in getting drunk or high every weekend, as was the reputation of some of the other houses."

DePauw's president, Robert G. Bottoms, wrote a stern letter to the DZ administration expressing the university's "dissatisfaction" with the sorority's handling of the mess. He has also reserved the right to kick DZ off campus. But the sorority may already have done itself more harm than anyone else could. During the February rush period, 11 freshman accepted bids from DZ—but only 3 have taken steps to join.

  • Contributors:
  • Angela T. Koenig/Greencastle,
  • Lisa Barron/Chicago.