A University of Maryland fraternity canceled its annual pageant and is donating the budget to a women's charity after hearing rumors that some sorority members found the event degrading.
Sigma Chi's signature weeklong charity event, Derby Days, is held by the majority of the national fraternity's 241 chapters. The fraternity invites this university's chapters of sororities to compete with one another for points to raise money. Typical events include banner-making and obstacle courses, and the week culminates in a Derby Darling pageant.
Each sorority elects a representative to compete in the pageant, which consists of several rounds. Generally, participants speak about themselves for 30 seconds, play Family Feud-type trivia and perform a skit.
The fraternity didn't receive any formal complaints about the event, but there were rumors circulating that it objectified women, said Jake Goode, a Sigma Chi member.
This year 10 sororities participated in Derby Days, declining from 13 sororities in 2015.
Sigma Chi's president, Eric Magas, sent an email to each sorority president to ask them to sit down before Derby Days to "figure out a good solution," said Goode, but he said none responded.
"We didn't know what they didn't like about it," said Goode, a junior finance and marketing major. "We were just trying to figure that out and have an open forum. We reached out, but nobody came and said anything to us."
Panhellenic Association President Maddy Bruffy said some sorority members were unhappy that the pageant was "essentially a joke" and felt uncomfortable participating.
"Women in the past have pre-gamed and gotten drunk for the event," Bruffy said. "Onstage, they're promiscuous, they're dancing sort of to make the audience — a lot of the men who were judging — excited. The manner of how the pageant was run and who the women were trying to impress, it felt more against the values a lot of our organizations are trying to uphold."
Although Sigma Chi received no formal complaints, Magas worked with the fraternity's advisers to figure out a solution so sororities wouldn't feel uncomfortable with attending Derby Days.
Bruffy said it was "really great to hear" Sigma Chi had heard the feedback and took steps to make changes.
Tony Subketkaew, a Sigma Chi adviser, said the fraternity takes accusations of sexism seriously and worked to eliminate the possibility that controversy would distract from their goal of raising money for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.
"Ultimately, it's down to the children, so we don't want to take anything away from that," Goode said. "We want to encourage Derby Days to help people raise money."
Derby Days raised more than $30,000 for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals this year, Goode added.
With only a few days before the pageant, which would have been held last Friday, they decided there wasn't enough time to replace it, said Magas, a senior accounting major.
Sigma Chi has chosen House of Ruth Maryland to receive the Derby Darling budget of about $500. The charity shelters victims of domestic abuse and works with abusers to change their behavior.
Subketkaew said the fraternity wants students to know "that we hear your concerns, and this is a valid concern."
"This is an opportunity for us to really use this as a learning experience," he said. "[We're] kind of looking forward to next year being able to see new ideas for Derby Days and really investigating the possibility of a replacement that sticks to our core values."