During the Nooner, the Bell Tower looks like a shopping mall on Christmas Eve. Music playing in the background, people bustling in every direction, avoiding others as they rush to the food court from the all-day trek, or stopping at the various kiosks to see what gifts each has to offer — and these kiosks are the student organizations. People representing sports clubs, nerdy get-togethers and the ultimate toga life wave at the onlookers to share with them what each has to offer. And if the couches on the lawns and loud laughter weren’t eye-catching enough, the 11-foot-tall letters would definitely cause a head turn. A table that caught my attention, draped in maroon and silver with the Greek letter lambda with “Ladies” spread across it, blatantly states “These Hands Don’t Haze.” That was enough for me to approach the ladies behind the table and essentially behind the first Latina Sorority in the nation: Lambda Ladies.
Established in 1975 in New Jersey, Lambda Ladies was formed by (what the sisterhood refers to as) the 17 founding mothers. The Latino movement was in full force at this time: the Latino population wasn’t as prominent here in the U.S. Established as a support system for higher education, Lambda Ladies was founded by first-generation, mostly Puerto Rican students. It was said the founding mothers “didn’t think it would be as big as it is today,” president and fourth-year student Vanessa Garcia stated. “Lambda Theta Alpha is always changing, always evolving … better ourselves and provide resources for our sisters and all reach higher education.”
The gamma zeta chapter here at UCR was formed on May 27, 2001. As a business-oriented sorority, it has opened many doors for networking and professional development for their sisters. Even though they were founded by the Latino community, it does not mean the philanthropy opportunities are closed for others. “You’ll hear us say,” Vanessa began, “we are Latin by tradition, not by definition.” With a multicultural family, these sisters come from all backgrounds, races and religions, priding themselves on their diversity. However, they do work with the Latino community as much as they can. For example, they participate with the national political campaign, Voto Latino, that empowers the Latino population as they try to educate and register members to vote.
When asked what their most successful campaign or service has been, Vanessa went ahead to explain their contributions, awards and recognitions. The nonhazing organization joins the National Hazing Prevention Week to raise awareness as a resource for interested students in fraternities and sororities. They take part in Highlander games and political campaigns, but nothing has been as successful as their work with St. Jude’s Hospital. “Not just because it is our national philanthropy, but I believe we actually have made a difference with St. Jude,” said Vanessa. Last year, she explained, the UCR’s chapter of Lambda Ladies flew a cancer survivor to Las Vegas for the annual banquet the sorority and the 150 chapters across the nation (including Puerto Rico) hold every year. UCR’s chapter holds a weeklong fundraiser and workshops for the hospital and all the proceeds are donated.
Lambda Ladies, representing R’side, have been recognized for years as Sorority of the Year for NALFO (the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations). They also earned the service awards from 2010-2014, Sorority Women of the Year as well as the chapter president award for 2014. Each award is a major accomplishment for any organization. But it has been a major feat in Lambda Ladies as the chapter only houses eight members. “We are still able to be recognized … it’s nice to see all of our hard work pay off that’s why those awards mean so much.”
As the sorority does so much for the community and even the nation, I had to ask if they have the time to do anything for UCR itself. Lambda Ladies has even found the time and strength to work with other organizations on campus. “This year we are planning a Latino Youth Conference in the spring — our first-time ever planning something (this big).” The small group has collaborated with the Chicano student programs here on campus, with volunteering and events.
When asked her main goal before she leaves her position as President, Vanessa immediately said more recognition on campus. “I’m really, really proud of the work we do. I just kind of want to expand more … to get our name more out there and to be able to help and make a bigger impact in the community.” She plans on pledging Alpha Theta Alumni Chapter as she hopes to graduate this year. Lambda Ladies has pushed her to become the leader that she is today and she hopes to continue to help her sisters to grow to their full potential.
Lambda Ladies at UCR has not only made a difference on campus but also nationwide. As the sorority continues to grow on campus, so will their efforts in the community.