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AKA returns, plans for new recruitment

Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, which stopped accepting new members nationally after two pledges in one of its California chapters drowned three years ago, has begun recruiting its first new class at Duke since 2002.

Although the Duke undergraduate chapter has technically been active since Fall 2003, there are no active undergraduate members at the University today.

This year marks its first opportunity to gain new members.

AKA has received preliminary approval to begin its recruitment, known as "intake," confirmed senior Brandi Stewart, president of the National Panhellenic Council at Duke.

"We expect them to be back sometime this spring," she said.

Stewart added that, in contrast to the 10 Panhellenic Association sororities, African-American sororities do not accept freshmen.

The sorority will be on a trial period for an undetermined amount of time, Stewart noted.

The tragic incident in California was not indicative of the values or nature of the mother organization or the Duke chapter, maintained AKA Regional Director Caroline Lattimore.

According to a lawsuit filed by one of the women's surviving family members, the two women were killed when they were "blindfolded and tied by their hands and their bodies and led into the rip tide conditions of the ocean."

The nation's oldest African-American sorority, AKA has denied any wrongdoing, and the case was recently settled out of court without the organization admitting any liability.

Lattimore, who is an adjunct associate professor of education at Duke, emphasized that the perpetrators in California were acting as individuals, not on behalf of their chapter.

"This was unauthorized behavior by people who misrepresented our organization with no authority," she said.

AKA nonetheless instituted a moratorium to reaffirm anti-hazing policies that were already in place.

The organization also sought to develop new bylaws that would leave no room for interpretation, she added.

The AKA website indicates that 16 chapters are currently serving five-year suspensions for violations of the anti-hazing guidelines.

Now, Lattimore said she is excited to seek new members who will follow in the footsteps of famous alumni, including jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and the late Coretta Scott King, who passed away Jan. 30.

"There is no secrecy, no hazing, no going through anything together other than an academic process," she said.

The current resurgence can be credited to the efforts of the Duke graduate chapter, said Kandi Chitman, Trinity '05, the sorority's only undergraduate member last year.

Chitman, a current member of AKA's graduate chapter at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said there were about 15 members when she was initiated in 2001.

"A lot of women graduated over the time period of the moratorium... but the demand is still there," Chitman said.

More than 50 prospective Duke members attended an information session in late January.

Chitman noted that this is the first and only opportunity for this year's seniors to join AKA.

As an individual last year, Chitman said she could not begin the recruitment process on her own.

"I could only do so much during my senior year, and intake is not the most important thing," she said.

Chitman noted that the main focus of the organization is local community service efforts.

"I'm very excited about having new members and fresh minds," she added.