Senior Alyssa Meritt remembers spending her freshman days in a repurposed storage room brainstorming ideas for a club before the pandemic hit. The brainstorming sessions soon turned into the creation of the organization Elon Maintaining Pan-Asian Respect, Equity and Social Service, also known as EMPRESS.
Now, three years later, the organization recently completed its spring recruitment at the beginning of Women’s History Month, celebrating new members and recognizing the importance of uplifting the Asian American community at Elon.
“EMPRESS was created to have a safe space for Asian women on campus and to bring that space into the spotlight,” Meritt said. “We are a minority group of students, we are small in number. It’s nice to see yourself represented on campus.”
EMPRESS is currently looking to become the first Asian sorority on campus. In order to become a recognized sorority, EMPRESS must charter itself through the National Panhellenic Conference, in which the official documentation is drafted and signed to allow Elon University to create a new chapter of an existing sorority. EMPRESS tried to charter itself in fall 2021, but was unsuccessful due to a lack of interest. Despite the unsuccessful charter, Meritt said the organization is still trying this year.
“Chartering a sorority is trying to bring people closer together than we thought possible because the Asian community is so spread out,” Meritt said. “We want to be a family. We want to be closer. We want to keep pushing people to do better the way you would in a family.”
Currently, the organization functions like a sorority on campus by setting GPA requirements, participating in philanthropic endeavors and hosting cultural events in order to emulate the functionality of sororities.
Elon’s sororities either follow the Panhellenic Association or the National Pan-Hellenic Council, both of which promote cooperation and cohesiveness within the Greek community. Sororities must have formal recruitment, sponsor social events, promote service opportunities and encourage educational programs throughout the year. There are currently 10 Panhellenic Association sororities and three National Pan-Hellenic Council sororities on campus.
March will be used to connect with other women in the organization, especially with the three new members from spring recruitment. An older member, sophomore Sonali Schroder said she feels like she’s been able to find herself and be proud of her identity since joining.
“We want to start to form a cohesive group and a close knit community to make sure our new members feel at home within EMPRESS,” Schroder said.
Though EMPRESS is geared toward Asian American women, the group is open to all women on campus who are interested in uplifting and celebrating Asian culture. Junior and EMPRESS member Alana Evora said this was the first place she found “home” on campus.
“Society doesn’t inherently make space for women, unfortunately,” Evora said. “EMPRESS is actively trying to do that for ourselves and for others on campus. Womanhood is nurturing women and creating space for them.”
President and sophomore Vibha Maheswaran said the organization does a good job with helping students find relationships, especially at a predominately white institution like Elon University.
“It's hard to find people on this campus to relate to,” Maheswaran said. “We all really find strength and being able to relate to each other. Not only relate to each other, but present that on campus as we are very happy and secure and proud of Asian culture and want to share that with all of Elon.”
With EMPRESS bringing Asian women on Elon’s campus to a spotlight, Meritt said this is the first time she had a positive experience in a women’s organization.
While EMPRESS plans to use Women’s History Month to connect with each other more, they’re also working to become one step closer to being officially chartered. Meritt said the organization is also preparing to celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander month in May.
These upcoming events and bonds will all happen in the Asian Pacific Islander room on campus — twice the size of the repurposed storage room Meritt found herself in three years ago.
“For years we’ve been making fun of the closet that we sit in, and it’s a real room now,” Meritt said. “The journey of the API room is in line with the journey of EMPRESS and seeing how we can still have our meetings here, but our people can spread out. That is the most amazing thing to me.”