Fourth-year UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) student Ellen Whitehead sits outside the UCSB library preparing herself to attend the last meeting of the Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority she will be leading as president. Though she is sad that in a few short hours, she will never lead a Monday night meeting with her sisterhood again, she smiles at the memories of her experiences as president over the past year.
Whitehead was elected last fall quarter (2022) to be her sorority’s president for the 2023 calendar year after being a member since her first quarter at UCSB in fall 2020. Now at the end of her presidency, she offered to catch up with The Bottom Line (TBL) and share her experiences!
TBL INTERVIEW WITH WHITEHEAD:
TBL: Have you always wanted to be president of your sorority?
Whitehead: Yes. Growing up, my family was very centered around Greek Life. My mother and grandmother were both presidents of their sororities and would always talk about the benefits and life skills you can gain from holding a leadership position. It was always in the back of my mind as something I would strive for.
TBL: You spoke about learning life skills. Did sororities help fulfill your family members’ goals?
Whitehead: I think my grandmother owes everything to the school she attended, the sorority she was in, and her presidency. She came from a small town in Texas and went to Southern Methodist University, didn’t know anyone, and joined a sorority. She became such a successful woman as mayor of her town, and later State Treasurer of Texas. I definitely grew up with ideas centered around what sororities can give you, as much as sisterhood as well as life skills in general.
TBL: What has your experience as president been?
Whitehead: It’s been really good, really hard, but really fulfilling. I think that I was handed a chapter that needed a lot of work. The morale was low and there was a lot that happened in the quarter previous to when I took over. I feel I spent two quarters building it back up. Now, things couldn’t be better. We have rebuilt this chapter into becoming something people want to be in. It’s been great to see that change, especially with the new members. I think they have a much better foundation for the start of their time in our chapter.
It’s also important to delegate. That was my biggest thing throughout. After the first month, I realized I couldn’t do everything, and delegating and giving responsibility back to other officers allowed them to do so much more with them.
TBL: What were your day-to-day duties versus overall responsibilities?
Whitehead: Day to day is mainly attending meetings. My Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday are Kappa Alpha Theta (Theta) heavy. Sunday is executive meetings, Monday is chapter meetings, and Tuesday is my president meetings with the [National Panhellenic Conference]. It’s a bit of a shift every day, but there is a lot going on. It’s a weekly routine full of meetings and signing off on things. For example, meeting with a certain officer whose event is coming up. That leads to the overall responsibilities. It’s the big picture. I oversee everything but others have more specific centered positions and catch what slips through the cracks. It’s little things, like giving my extra perspective while having a big-picture mind.
TBL: I know you said you changed some aspects, but did you know what you were getting yourself into when you applied to be president, or was it a bit of a shock?
Whitehead: I was abroad when I was elected, so coming back to the chapter, a lot of things had changed since I’d been gone. I was thrown into it and wasn’t transitioned into the presidency until the first meeting I was running. But it’s just learning and improving, and after the first few weeks, I had it down. It is one of those things that you have to learn as you go, and I feel like it is a weakness to not ask for help. It’s better to say you don’t understand something than to move on and brush it off. It’s very much a team effort, and once I realized everyone was there to help, it got a lot easier.
TBL: How do you feel about handing down the torch to the new president?
Whitehead: I go back and forth. Tonight is the last meeting I’ll be leading. In the past month, I’ve been thinking that I can’t wait to be a normal member of the chapter, but now that it’s coming to an end, I’m sad. I wonder what I will do with all my free time. I think transitioning from being in charge of everything to being in charge of nothing will be the hardest part for me, but I trust the new people we have elected. I think it’s good timing. I’ve done the most I can, I feel I have done well.
TBL: Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Whitehead: There are always going to be things you wish you could change or have done better, but with what I was given and the amount of time I had, I did the best I could. I wanted to give my all for this last quarter. Some of the events we planned used to be people’s least favorite part, but now they are their favorite. That was always a great thing to hear. I am proud of what we have become over the past year. It is up to the next president to keep that momentum going.
Whitehead’s final remarks: My biggest thing when I became president was that I wanted to show my love for [Theta] to give back to the chapter that gave so much to me. A lot of people join for the social aspect, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a lifetime of commitment, sisterhood, educational opportunities, [and] connections for the future. This is something that’s going to last a lifetime.