By: Lizzie Palmieri. This blog was originally published by Onward State.
With more than 40,000 students at University Park, it’s easy to get lost in thrashing waves from all directions. Yet, for the nine members of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc., action for change serves as a single drop in this vast ocean.
“Little little sparks start big forest fires,” said sister and mental health chair Jahnia Kytana Marimon.
Adapting the popular quote, Marimon speaks to the nature of Lambda Theta Alpha, the nation’s first Latina sorority. While the current Beta Lambda chapter at Penn State holds just nine active members, the organization’s impact is felt far beyond University Park.
A sorority of philanthropy, professional development, and sisterhood, Lambda Theta Alpha represents a commitment to diversity for possibility, championing inclusion in similar fashion to Penn State’s “We Are” tradition.
“I am Penn State, too,” said Marimon. “I’m prideful in that I can represent a community back home that people typically look down on sometimes…I’m prideful of the fact that I can go back home and [say,] ‘I’ve got a Penn State degree.’ That’s my goal: to go back and help my community.”
The organization serves the community with a commitment to the betterment of all people. Today’s members remain especially grateful for the leadership that brought Lambda Theta Alpha to Penn State over 20 years ago.
“Our founders wanted to create a group to support those communities,” said Marimon. “It was new, so they didn’t have those resources or opportunities to grow within college because it was the first.”
Established nationally in December 1975, Lambda Theta Alpha created a different kind of Greek life. Founded at a time when the Latinx community was first gaining access to higher education, the sorority originated as a space for opportunity and representation.
Today, the sorority remains rooted in this initial founding. Embracing change, the sisterhood has grown by accepting members regardless of age, race, creed, or sexual orientation.
“We like to say ‘Latin by tradition, not by definition,’” said Marimon. “We were established as a Latina sorority, but that doesn’t mean we are not going to historically grow…We’re very open to everyone.”
Welcoming a recent addition of non-binary members, Lambda Theta Alpha recently celebrated another milestone by inducting its 20th line into the organization. Through intention, philanthropy, and purpose, this new class joined the sorority by learning about the organization’s core values of unity, love, and respect in the sacred space of the organization.
“It’s very beautiful because when people hear about Greek life, they hear about all these crazy things that happen during the process,” said Marimon. “But in our organization, we don’t just do anything just because. Everything we do is with a purpose.”
All members are encouraged to grow both personally and professionally. By providing support, academic resources, and genuine connection, Lamba Theta Alpha inspires members and interests to become the best version of themselves, specifically through its message of the universal woman.
Yet even within this concept, a commitment to inclusion adapts the terminology, pushing the conversation forward towards acceptance.
“That doesn’t mean that you have to be a woman in order to have those traits and uphold the values that we stand for,” said Marimon. “It’s just someone who isn’t afraid to step out of their comfort zone, get what they want, and encourage not only themselves but others…So, it’s really a universal person.”
Updating standards to include non-identifying and non-binary individuals, the members build upon legacy by carrying values closely. Continuing innovation for inclusion, President Audreé Montero explained the importance of tradition displayed on campus.
“When you see the universal woman represented on our flyers, it’s always a figure,” she said. “It’s never an actual person because it doesn’t matter what you look like, or your race, or where you come from.”
“It’s already within you and you just have to find it,” said Vice President Dominique Solano, who also serves as Lamba Theta Alpha’s academic chair. “And that’s what the organization helped us do: find the universal woman within ourselves.”
Solano explained the sisterhood as an exquisite culmination of connected humanity. By Lamba Theta Alpha’s standards, it is a place in which individuals can thrive on unique paths, all while sticking together in the navigation of collegiate life.
“Sisterhood is kind of like a home away from home. You always have your family at Penn State, so anywhere you go, you’re always going to have that support,” she said.
“Even as sisters, it’s not always beautiful,” Solano continued. “Sometimes, we have our struggles…That’s when you appreciate the good times because you had those other obstacles that you had to go past.”
Continuing themes of sisterhood for personal growth, Chapter Recruitment and Retention Advisor Nicole Pinto shared her origin story in crossing with her line in 2020.
“I felt like no one on campus felt the way that I felt. I felt like I was in too big of a space to make an impact,” said Pinto. “But then…I learned a sister had the exact same story.”
Grateful for growth as an individual starting within Lamba Theta Alpha, Pinto now also holds the role of public relations chair as well as president of the Multicultural Greek Council.
“No matter where you start, you can 100% end where you want to be,” said Pinto.
Inspired by similar encouragement in Lamba Theta Alpha, MGC Executive Vice President Audreé Montero explained her journey to success.
“When I think about who I was before I was an LTA, I would have never thought I would be the person I am now,” said Montero. “I’ve just been given the opportunities and the platform to become the person who I wanted to be three years ago, and I couldn’t imagine not being here.”
With gratitude, Montero elaborated on her perspective of possibility when coming to campus.
“Knowing where I come from and that a lot of kids where I come from wouldn’t be able to come to Penn State, I want to be able to take any opportunity Penn State gives me and give it my 100%,” she said.
Committed to taking every chance as a first-generation student, Montero has advocated for Lamba Theta Alpha and led the organization to stand tall as ever. In addition to a collection of charity events and public programs, Lamba Theta Alpha furthers this expression of inclusivity with allyship for other organizations on campus.
“As much as we are called ‘the First and Only,’ we also have to pay respects to people who came before us,” said Nicole Pinto. “We wouldn’t be a Greek community without them.”
Despite a jam-packed schedule of events, the nine active members prioritize uplifting other MGC organizations both on campus and online.
As Public Relations Chair, Pinto elaborated on the balancing act of advertising LTA events while also drawing eyes to other organizations on social media, a subtle but not unfelt testament to Lamba Theta Alpha’s commitment to giving back.
“There are people who are deserving of space and recognition that we can serve,” said Pinto. “Our following will get that information as well, and maybe start following other organizations.”
Additionally, Lambda Theta Alpha creates active opportunities for change on campus, partaking in philanthropic efforts to make a tangible impact. Each day, the members work to improve life for all people, proving once again that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
For Lamba Theta Alpha’s national philanthropy of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, one golden example includes its semester empanada sale. Through it, the organization gives back with an undeniably personal feel, as members prepare the food together and handwrite customer names on each bag. In the past, the event found great success with more than 400 empanadas sold.
“At the same time, it kind of gives us that sense of home,” said Montero. “We’re all together at one time, playing some music, making empanadas.”
In another event returning in-person for the first time in three years on April 24, Lamba Theta Alpha hosts Mr. Burgundy and Grey, a male pageant offering a scholarship to the winner. A nod to the sorority’s colors and commitment to empowerment, the event serves as an interactive opportunity to showcase male leaders on campus as well as connect during rehearsals.
“During that time, sisters really take their time to get to know our contestants,” said Montero. “As well as allow our contestants to get to know us.”
Upon winning the award through questionnaire portions and dance performances, recipients gain the opportunity to host an event with Lamba Theta Alpha in support of Saint Jude’s Research Hospital.
Building upon its national philanthropy, Beta Lambda at Penn State also supports the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence as a chapter initiative, most publicly through their popular event entitled Take Back The Night.
When considering the impact and attendance at this event, it’s hard to believe that the entire program is run by only nine active members. In a community-wide gathering of students, faculty, and survivors, individuals unite to march against sexual violence. Walking the campus to common locations of reports, sharing stories from victims, and providing an overarching message of understanding, Take Back The Night establishes a renowned sense of support for survivors, often missing as outlets of empowerment in addition to basic acknowledgment.
In simple terms, President Audreé Montero synthesized the understanding provided at the event as the ultimate safe space for survivors, just in time for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and SVAP Week through the Penn State Gender Equity Center.
“There is no fear of judgment. There’s no fear of someone not believing you. There’s no fear of someone calling you a liar,” she said. “It’s just that safe place that, especially victims of sexual violence, don’t always get to experience.”
Due to the pandemic, the event was held virtually last year. Despite the limited format, Take Back The Night 2021 had more than 500 attendees online, a massive success for both Lamba Theta Alpha and the Penn State community.
“It wasn’t only students, it was faculty and staff,” said Marimon, “and the beauty of it was that people were comfortable enough to share their personal stories with 500 people listening.”
“Once one person does have the courage to say something, that’s giving everyone else the power to speak up for themselves,” Solano added. “And that’s why it’s so impactful — because one person makes this huge change.”
Providing a space made both emotionally safe and physically safe by the presence of campus police, the return of this in-person event this evening, Thursday, April 7 at 6 p.m., promises honesty, community, and perseverance. Symbolizing Lamba Theta Alpha’s commitment to changing perspectives on campus, Take Back The Night brings love and light from darkness, extending hands beyond the bounds of membership within the actual organization.
A common practice of the members, reaching out remains important as a key differentiator of Lamba Theta Alpha once again. In an eternal drive for open-mindedness as champions for change, Lamba Theta Alpha ensures that at least one member shows solidarity with other causes on campus by showing up and standing up, wearing their letters proudly, and making their presence known at community events.
“LTA stands with you and we are here to speak up when other people can’t,” said Marimon. “We have that confidence, that voice to use that platform for the better good.”
Transforming words to real action, Marimon recently represented Lambda Theta Alpha as a living sign of support at Love is Louder, as well as served in another previous role as vice president of QTPOC, Queer and Trans People of Color, at the event. With her community directly affected, Marimon stepped up to speak up in true “bold and beautiful” fashion.
“It’s necessary to fuel any time of negative energy with positive energy,” said Solano. “So, yes, Milo [a provocative speaker] was coming onto campus, and if you heard about it as an LGBTQ person, you feel unsafe in that sort of way.”
Within this threat felt by members, taking positive action was the only response considered. Once again, Marimon stood proudly as a voice of Lamba Theta Alpha at the event, uplifted by her sisters who remarked on their admiration for her actions.
“That’s something that we are proud of her for because instead of ignoring it, we made sure to push away anything where anyone could get harmed and make sure we’re in a positive environment,” said Solano.
Championing causes on campus to facilitate real change, Lambda Theta Alpha shines brightly as a pillar of Penn State pride. Within this pride held uniquely in a relationship of mutual value between sorority and university, Solano shared her interpretation of blue and white values as a current sister while also honoring tradition.
“Latinas in education is still something that needs to be worked on, so all of us here are making sure that there’s that support,” she said. “For me, Penn State pride is starting your own story…You can start it yourself and be that person…that role model for anyone that is to come after you.”
A cultivation of opportunities taken and challenges conquered, Lambda Theta Alpha illuminates campus through even dark times. Lighting a fire from a single spark, the members bring unique perspectives to the Penn State community — small in number, but never in spirit.
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