Symphony in Action: Sithari Edirisooriya, D.C. AcuChiro
Symphony in Action is our new blog series that focuses on sharing the voices and stories of Alpha Xi Deltas. After the recent senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, we specifically asked our Black Sisters and Sisters of Color to reach out so we could amplify their voices and presence. This ongoing series will feature Sisters’ paths, their Alpha Xi Delta trajectory and a myriad of other experiences. Sharing with one another is a way to live our Symphony out loud. If you’re interested in sharing your story, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I chose my school, Youngstown State University, because my father was teaching as a professor at that university. I grew up moving to different states mainly because of my father's job and spent the majority of my childhood in Tennessee. While I loved living in Tennessee, I also recognized at a young age the usage of the Confederate flag, the naming of high schools after confederate generals, and the reenactments of the Civil War. I was ready for a change. I applied to YSU, was accepted into the Honors and Scholars Programs, and received a full scholarship.
Sithari Edirisooriya is a 2004 initiate of Alpha Xi Delta's Theta Upsilon Chapter at Youngstown State University.
What initially interested you about the sorority experience?
I was excited when I first moved to Ohio. However, a few weeks into starting classes, I already felt homesick. I really missed my friends in Tennessee. I talked to them and used AOL Instant Messenger, (if that doesn't date me, I was also using this new platform that came out called Facebook) but it wasn't the same. I missed seeing them every day. I went to the Freshman Activities Fair on campus with the booths set up a few weeks after classes started. I saw so many clubs, it was overwhelming. I signed up for some, and then saw the Greek Life tables. They seemed friendly and welcoming, but I was unsure. I had a negative stereotype in my mind based on everything I saw in the media. However, I wanted to make new friends outside of the ones in my major, so I signed up for Formal Recruitment.
Can you paint a picture of what your experience in Alpha Xi Delta has been like?
My time in Alpha Xi Delta was and continues to be fulfilling. When I was going through Preference Night, the girl I paired up with told me that she fought with another girl in order to pref me. When my parents' home country of Sri Lanka was hit by a tsunami in 2004, my Sisters helped fundraise for the relief effort. When my father passed from cancer two years after I graduated, my Sisters were my support system. I keep in touch with them today.
However, there were negative aspects also. I’ve lost count how many times I told someone I was in a sorority and they questioned me. They told me it didn't make sense. People I was friends with outside of the Greek system would always mention that I was the only minority in my chapter. One of my own Sisters didn't understand why African American girls would want to go through our recruitment because "they have their own." We had an African American chapter advisor at the time. I once was helping with booths during informal recruitment and an African American girl came up to me, hugged me, and started crying. She told me, through tears, that she was so happy to see me. My Sisters were confused, and so was I. I didn't know her. What was happening? We questioned this for a long time after informal recruitment was finished. When we were walking out, we finally realized that maybe she meant she was happy to see someone who wasn't white at informal recruitment. Our chapter had three other minority girls go through recruitment and accept bids while I was in school, but not one of them stayed. During my four years in college, I was one of two minority girls in Panhellenic.
What line of The Symphony resonates with you the most and why?
A clear vision of life, that with gracious and kindly hearts we may share both joy and sorrow and bring into living reality the Sisterhood of women.
My Sisters have been there through my happiest and worst moments. I didn’t know when I accepted my bid all those years ago, all the wonderful memories that my chapter and I would create together. Though we are now living in different areas in the country, we still have time for each other.
Sithari at the Pink Rose Ball in 2007 with Mallorie Toot, Katharine Downing, and Amanda Mills.
Who is a woman that inspires you?
I am currently a chiropractor in Arizona. Mabel Palmer inspires me. She became the first female chiropractor in 1905. She authored "Anatomy", the first anatomy textbook for chiropractic students. She founded Sigma Phi Chi, the first chiropractic sorority. Chiropractic medicine is currently one of the top ten professions with the least amount of women. Currently, around 20% of chiropractors are female in the United States. Mabel inspired more women to become interested in chiropractic. I learned from her that it is important to push our profession to make strides.
Sithari and her Little Sister, Jennifer Phillips, during homecoming in 2007.
Anything else you would like to share?
The reason I was asked to share my story was because of the turmoil happening in our country. I am happy and proud that Alpha Xi Delta is taking steps to bring meaningful change to our Fraternity. There might be some Sisters reading what I wrote who may feel that if minority girls don’t want to go through recruitment, “What are we supposed to do about it?” Or, some who feel “I don’t think we have anything in common with them.” You can make them feel more welcome.
Speaking about Black Lives Matter is more than Instagram and Facebook posts. It’s becoming knowledgeable on the issue and educating those who are not, including your own chapter Sisters. You should be willing to have uncomfortable conversations. When it comes to things in common, no two Sisters in any chapter are alike. The differences are what we embrace. They help us learn and grow as people. If my chapter thought that way, I would never be an Alpha Xi. My Panhellenic sister at YSU would never be a Zeta Tau Alpha. These next steps may be unfamiliar and uneasy. It will take time making adjustments. In the end, our Sisterhood will be made better and stronger.