Tillman Hall 3.jpg (copy)

Tillman Hall clock tower on Clemson University campus. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

One of Clemson University's oldest sororities will close its doors in 2019, just three years shy of its 50th anniversary on campus.

The Delta Phi chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta is the ninth Greek fraternity or sorority to receive a suspension or shut down completely at the Upstate public university in the past five years.

Unlike other Greek organizations that have faced a crackdown for conduct and alcohol violations, the sorority's own national organization announced the closure and gave just one reason: Its membership numbers were too low.

Kira Novack, a Kappa Alpha Theta alumna and advisory board chair for the Clemson chapter, said the sudden announcement struck a blow to students, particularly to freshmen who had recently pledged and joined the organization.

"This sorority offered a place for someone who was not your typical sorority girl," Novack said.

Kappa Alpha Theta is in good standing with Clemson University. The chapter has had no investigations for rule violations since at least 2013, and its members' GPA is among the highest on campus. The sorority's membership, which hovered above 140 students for the previous eight years, dropped to 117 this fall. 

Ever since the death of 19-year-old Tucker Hipps in a Sigma Phi Epsilon initiation event on Lake Hartwell in September 2014, overall Greek organization membership as a percentage of undergraduate enrollment has tapered off at Clemson.

The decline has mostly happened among fraternities, whose membership shrank by 14 percent overall since then, although sorority membership numbers did not keep pace with the university's female enrollment growth, either.

Greek life, named for the Greek letters that adorn social, service and academic fraternities and sororities, remains a major force on campus. About 23 percent of the university's 20,000 undergraduate students were members of Greek organizations as of last fall's count.

Gary Wiser, Clemson's director for fraternity and sorority life, said the decline in Greek membership was due to the suspension of seven organizations between fall 2014 and spring 2016 due to "conduct matters." An eighth organization, Lambda Chi Alpha, closed its own chapter at Clemson in fall 2017.

Hipps' death proved to be a galvanizing moment in the state Legislature, not just in the Clemson community. The Tucker Hipps Transparency Act of 2016 ordered the state's colleges and universities to post information on their websites about investigations, sanctions and shutdowns of fraternities and sororities.

In the fall 2018 semester alone, three different Greek organizations at the University of South Carolina received sanctions related to "personal servitude," among other forbidden activities. At the College of Charleston, seven Greek organizations are currently suspended or banned, including Alpha Epsilon Pi, which shut down its chapter in August 2016 following allegations of sexual assault, hazing and alcohol violations.

Hipps' fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, remains under suspension at Clemson until Dec. 1, 2019.

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Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546. Follow him on Twitter @paul_bowers.