From Oct. 3-5, 2019, the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) hosted the inaugural NPC Annual Educational Conference at The Peabody Memphis – The South’s Grand Hotel – in Memphis, Tennessee.
“In conjunction with NPC’s new organizational and governance structure that took effect July 1, we have introduced what is ‘Our Grand New Tradition’ – an annual educational event with programming of interest and value specifically to those working for and with women’s-only organizations,” said NPC Chairman Carole Jones. “That includes member organization staff and volunteers, NPC volunteers and other interfraternal partners.”
Jones noted this year’s event featured both large and small group educational sessions, with topics generated by the 2019-22 NPC Strategic Plan and NPC’s Advocacy Building Blocks. The NPC Foundation provided significant financial support for the educational sessions, as did many sponsors who supported programming, meals, refreshments and other meeting services.
This year’s event began on Thursday evening with a kick-off reception on the roof of The Peabody that included networking time and special entertainment: The Peabody Ducks! (Visit peabodymemphis.com for a video.)
Attendees then gathered for the opening dinner to celebrate the NPC community and special Panhellenic women. The program included recognition of the 2017-19 NPC Executive Committee, introduction of the 2019-21 NPC Board of Directors and the presentation of new badges designed by Herff Jones, a memorial service, special presentations from NPC member organizations and an update from the NPC Foundation.
Everyone gathered Friday morning for the first keynote session from Liz Murray who shared the inspirational story of her journey from being homeless at age 15 to graduating from Harvard in 2009. Relevant to the sorority experience, her message stressed the importance of finding a sense of belonging within a community and the transformational effects of mentorship.
Talkspace’s Elizabeth Hinkle, LMFT, then spoke to attendees about the mental health needs of young women as they transition from high school to college and provided resources to support the mental health of today’s collegians.
During the Partner Marketplace, attendees visited with NPC Partner Program representatives to learn about their products and services that support member organizations and the sorority experience.
Attendees spent Friday afternoon in small group educational breakout sessions. Topics included using data and patterns to grow the sorority movement, drug use trends among college-age students, building Panhellenic sisterhood in alumnae organizations and a day-in-the-life of a fraternity/sorority life campus professional.
Next, NPC welcomed Christina Geist, brand strategist, bestselling author and entrepreneur. Geist founded the company Boombox, an idea inspired while celebrating the 40th birthday of one of her Chi Omega sorority sisters. During a conversation with NPC Chairman Carole Jones, Geist shared her story of women’s friendships, sisterhood, empowerment and leadership.
Clark Brown, general counsel for the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), then presented an NIC litigation and health/safety update, including a discussion of newly adopted campus advocacy protocols and NIC’s updated position statements.
During the NPC Foundation dinner, NPC Foundation President Ann Brookshire presented the Women in Higher Education Achievement (WHEA) Award to Dr. Darcy L. Russell, dean of the college of arts and sciences at Baker University. Dr. Russell is an accomplished researcher, professor, author and presenter who has made it her lifelong quest to make difficult subjects understandable. She is also a member of Zeta Tau Alpha and a long-time NPC volunteer.
The evening concluded with small group educational sessions for NPC family members on the topics of Release Figure Methodology (RFM) and Extension.
On Saturday morning, attendees participated in the large group session “Reflections From the Anti-Hazing Coalition” with Richard Braham, Evelyn Piazza and Jim Piazza, three of the parents who have lost sons to hazing. During the past two years, the Brahams, Piazzas and other members of the Anti-Hazing Coalition (AHC) have become part of our interfraternal family. This discussion, moderated by NPC Chief Executive Officer Dani Weatherford, provided an opportunity for the parents to share lessons from their discussions about hazing with thousands of sorority women, their legislative efforts to end hazing and the future work of the AHC.
During the Saturday morning educational breakout sessions, attendees chose from four topics: current membership expectations from potential new members, how and why women haze, mentorship in today’s sorority world and an exploration of bias in the Panhellenic sorority experience.
The State of the Conference & Award Presentations Luncheon followed. NPC Chairman Carole Jones delivered the “State of the Conference” address highlighting the work of NPC volunteers and staff to position NPC and the entire sorority community for a strong future as they execute on the NPC Strategic plan. She also highlighted the work plans of the Board of Directors for the coming year. (Note: For more information, read the October 2019 NPC Chairman’s Message found online.) A number of award recipients also were recognized.
Afternoon educational sessions began with the final set of breakout topics: personality trends and member motivations within sorority chapters, creating a culture of well-being in organizations, technology and volunteers and the benefits and outcomes of implementing a common read program in a college Panhellenic community.
During the final large group educational session, NPC Chief Operating Officer Jenny Greyerbiehl moderated a panel discussion with four local campus administrators to discuss higher education trends. These professionals shared their thoughts on how sororities have contributed to their campuses and what sororities need to do to remain on campuses in the future.
With the educational sessions complete, the evening programming took a lighter turn. Attendees participated in a service activity to assemble hygiene kits for use by girls participating in Girls Inc. Memphis-sponsored programs and at home.
That was followed by the closing dinner that included a program by Fran Becque, Ph.D., historian and archivist for Pi Beta Phi. Her “The Power of 26” program helped attendees be more informed about and inspired by the history of the sorority movement; the story of NPC; and the women who founded, joined and built our organizations.
The evening closed with a dessert bar, sponsored by Chi Omega and Kappa Delta, both headquartered in Memphis. Attendees also were serenaded by an Elvis tribute artist, and they took pictures with him in the event-themed photo booth.
“NPC is already looking forward to next year and building on the success of this inaugural educational conference,” said NPC CEO Dani Weatherford. “We’re already at work incorporating feedback from this year to plan the 2020 NPC Annual Educational Conference, and we hope you’ll save the date, Oct. 29-31, at The Galt House in Louisville, Kentucky.”