Former Council president never thought she would go Greek

By Stephanie Lulay

Four years ago, Kim Verest, senior in LAS, went through sorority formal recruitment expecting the worst.

“I did it with every intention of quitting,” Verest said. “I was the girl telling everyone why they shouldn’t join the Greek system, up until I ran for president of my house.”

Everything changed when she became president of the University chapter of her sorority, Pi Beta Phi. She credits her decision to go Greek – and stay Greek – to the community created by the system.

“I realized that I met so many people, and it made (the University) not feel so big,” she said.

In April, she accepted the award for Greek Woman of the Year at the annual Greek Oscars. Her nomination for the award came following a year-long tenure as Panhellenic Council president, a term that was filled with obstacles.

Although faced with difficult situations, her recognition symbolized the struggle Verest overcame to leave her mark on the Greek community. On Oct. 5, 2006, an exchange held between Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and Delta Delta Delta sorority — dubbed “Tacos and Tequila” – erupted in response to the controversial event, including a protest on the Quad. Two weeks later, Verest received an e-mail calling her president of the racists.

“This (event) brought the conversation to the forefront,” she said. “It was something we were already discussing and trying to work on.”

Panhellenic’s effort to eliminate culturally themed and other offensive events began in January 2006 when Verest and other Greek leaders began to meet with the University counseling center and other community groups to address the issue. In the aftermath of the Oct. 5 exchange, both ZBT and Tri-Delta had their social calendars suspended, and a Feb. 1 “Racism, Power and Privilege” forum was organized by the STOP coalition and attended by University administration.

“For the campus, a lot of positive social change (happened), but its sad that so many people had to be hurt in the process,” Verest said.

Verest said her role as Panhellenic president in the conversations surrounding the exchange were the capstone of her college career, and taught her a lot about herself.

“It allowed me to recognize what white privilege was,” she said. “I became more introspective in my leadership experience as president. It really became more than just a title I held; it was a dimension of who I was.”

Although the experience was challenging, Verest said she wouldn’t change anything about her time leading Panhellenic Council. She said the executive council worked hard to make positive changes, including focusing on service efforts in the community. During 2006, the group raised more than $3,000 for Rape Crisis Services and held events during Sexual Assault Awareness month.

“I wanted to challenge the way we think about ourselves as a Greek system, and I think I’ve fulfilled that,” she said.

In the spring, Verest finished her term as Panhellenic president and began to focus on the remainder of her senior year. Now she’s serving the University in the Vice Chancellor’s office as a Fred H. Turner fellow. Her experiences in the office and in the Greek system have prepared her for her future career in law, she said.

Next fall, she will be attending Indiana University as a first-year law student, where Verest will begin her path toward becoming a legal advocate of sexually abused women. But even when looking at law schools, she said that her encounters here shaped her final decision.

“I really loved the Big Ten feeling, and I wanted that experience again,” she said. “(At University of Illinois) I’ve made it my own. This school makes you very independent.”