Winter 2013 Web Extra: Letter to the Editor

An excerpt of the following letter to the editor was included in the Winter 2013 Quarterly. Below is the letter in its entirety. We value the input of our members. If you'd like to share your opinion about the Quarterly, please submit a letter to the editor.

Alumna Responds to Fall 2012 Quarterly Feature
It hardly seems possible that 25 years have passed since I was initiated into Alpha Phi. Since then I have been an eager consumer of Alpha Phi Quarterly, finding pleasure in reading of the accomplishments and activities of our diverse, talented, hard-working, well-educated, community-minded sisters. I have also taken pride in reading of our organization's exemplary and committed work on behalf of heart health, and other activities and initiatives that promote our core values of 'sisterhood, service, scholarship, leadership, loyalty and character development' (taken directly from the Alpha Phi website).

It is with some confusion, therefore, that I understand the decision to place, as cover article, "More than a Crown: 2013 Miss America Contestants Debunk the Beauty Pageant Stereotype", in the Fall 2012 Quarterly. The article profiles three Alpha Phi collegiates who are competing in the Miss America Pageant 2013. This is certainly worthy of a mention in the 'People' section of the magazine, but the editorial decision to place it as a cover article shows a profound lack of insight regarding how we align ourselves with, or promote the goals and values of, another organization. The piece serves as a publicity trumpet for the Miss America Pageant, and does little to promote the core values of Alpha Phi. Indeed the article reads like a press release sent out by the Miss America Organization, without the benefit of editorial analysis or critique.

To say, as I was told when I phoned the Quarterly editorial office, that the Miss America Pageant has 'a lot in common with Alpha Phi', is disturbing, shockingly absurd, misguided, and indicates an unsophisticated level of thought beyond the most simplistic understanding of what the two organizations truly stand for. Did the editorial board carefully consider not only the superficial similarities, but also the profound differences between our organizations? Simply because two organizations share a number of similarities does not mean that they share the same core values. Anyone who would give this more than a minute of thought would see, with great clarity, that it is, in fact, the contrast between Alpha Phi and the Miss America Pageant that defines us.

The title of the article suggests that we readers are to be persuaded that the Miss America Pageant is not primarily about judging women by their physical appearance; that the pageant offers more. Granted, the pageant does have non-beauty based components, but beauty is the primary criteria for participation. Stated or unstated, this cannot be disputed. Therefore, on this point alone, the article, however hard it tries, cannot master an argument compelling enough to warrant a cover spot in our Quarterly. The Miss America Pageant is a BEAUTY PAGEANT. It is a pageant that has components of community service and that gives scholarships, and on that level it can be compared to Alpha Phi. From there the similarities end and the contrasts begin.

In my collegiate years I had the privilege of participating in Alpha Phi member recruitment. We met thousands of young women at our recruitment events and had the difficult task of identifying those few women who would be invited to join our sisterhood. Never once was a woman's physical appearance mentioned during our selection sessions. Not her hair color, her size, her race, her weight, her height, her beauty. Nothing. Ever. Beauty is not a criteria for membership in Alpha Phi.

What emerged was a membership of women who occupied a wide range of 'beauty definitions.' We are not all thin and gorgeous, but we are all Alpha Phis. The Miss America Pageant, in contrast, only takes women who are gorgeous. Those women undoubtedly have other commendable attributes and accomplishments, but BEAUTY is the baseline for the Miss America Organization. Have you ever seen an unattractive Miss America contestant? Have you ever seen a Miss America contestant who is only average looking, or who is overweight or has saggy breasts? Would anyone watch a televised pageant with unattractive women strutting around in bathing suits and high heels? Beauty is the pageant's core value.

Is beauty our core value? Of course not, that would be offensive and beyond our collective comprehension as Alpha Phis! None of us became, or remain, sisters because of our looks. Why then are we promoting, so prominently, the Miss America Pageant in our magazine? Our magazine should reflect our core values, not superficially, but meaningfully. If we choose to profile another organization so prominently, then are we not obligated to think deeply about and to investigate whether or not we really share something special, at all levels?

I would like to see articles about Alpha Phi collegiate members and alumnae doing remarkable things in their studies, professions and communities. Alpha Phis who have supported their sisters in ways that inspire us to do good for one another. Alpha Phis who are doing amazing things in teaching, science, business, the arts, the military, government or volunteerism. I would like to read about the cardiologists, nurses, and other health practitioners who are curing and preventing heart disease. The Alpha Phi women who are competing in the Miss America Pageant will be these women - living lives filled with accomplishments and success and service. Good for them! I sincerely wish them all the success, health and happiness in the world. Let us not confuse celebrating their accomplishments with lauding the Miss America Organization. Those are two very different acts.

Years ago, I was the recipient of an endowed Alpha Phi Foundation scholarship to support my graduate studies in architecture. I am now a professor and practicing architectural designer. I am also a donor to the scholarship fund of Alpha Phi Foundation, so that I may, in a small way, help Alpha Phis further their education and professional pursuits. When I applied for the scholarship I was required to provide academic transcripts, recommendations from professors, a letter from a chapter sister, and a personal essay describing my commitment to my chosen course of study. What the scholarship committee never asked me to do was to strut down Sherman Avenue in high heels and a bikini. That is not what we do! Why are we allowing our Quarterly to serve as a publicity vehicle, in such a public, fawning and uncritical way, with an organization that does?

-Jennifer Perlove Siegel (Theta-Michigan), M.Arch, A.M.


Editor's Response
Thank you to Jennifer Siegel for expressing her opinion and concerns regarding the Fall 2012 Quarterly feature. The purpose of the article was not to praise the Miss America Organization, but to recognize what a unique achievement it is to have three Alpha Phis representing their states in a prestigious competition that has been in existence more than 90 years. These women are among our many talented, accomplished members. After interviewing them, it became apparent to the author that each contestant felt strongly about addressing the stereotype that goes along with such competitions, and therefore, that angle was chosen.

Just as Jennifer points out the uniqueness and varied backgrounds of all members, we recognize and celebrate this diversity. We also understand that - because of this diversity - not every article in the magazine will interest and appeal to every sister. That is the beauty of Alpha Phi. As a result, the magazine strives to include a balance of material for varied interests.

We welcome suggestions from our readers! If you know a sister who you think should be featured in an upcoming issue of the magazine, please submit a Quarterly Ideas form.