photo by Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Alpha Pi Omega offers community, connection for Native American students at UW-Madison

Of the 25 sororities at UW-Madison, one sorority in particular stands out from other Greek life organizations on campus.

Alpha Pi Omega is only Native American sorority at UW-Madison, and it has just two active members on campus. Despite being the smallest sorority at the university, Alpha Pi Omega Vice President Faith Bowman said the organization has a strong sense of community.

The sorority’s motto, “my sister as myself,” represents that principle of community and sisterhood, according to former member and current faculty advisor Lauren Cornelius.

“One of our missions is to make the path wider and better for our sisters that follow,” Cornelius said. “Being the faculty advisor helps me feel like I am manifesting that mission by helping my Native sisters, and those who come after me, to become successful.”

Lakita Maulson, former member of Alpha Pi Omega, said the sorority serves as a “cultural bridge” for both Native and non-Native American UW-Madison students.

She said the sorority provides a cultural connection on campus through volunteering in Native American communities, as well as participating in traditional and spiritual indigenous practices, such as talking circles and traditional craft-making.

“We come together to do things that are common within our own communities, but are not typically common within a college campus,” Maulson said. “It helps us stay close to our culture and stay close to our roots.”

According to Bowman, the sorority not only provided her with a community, but also gave her a sense of purpose to help other Native students at UW-Madison. She said the organization also offered her a support system through the sorority’s sisterhood.  

I have never had so many sisters before, or these types of role models before. That is one thing I can say now that I couldn’t say before — I have sisters, and I have over 700 of them.

“[The sisters] are all there for each other which is very important, especially on a campus where Natives have such limited resources,” Bowman said.

Maulson agreed, saying that Alpha Pi Omega and other Native American student organizations are important in making indigenous students feel more comfortable at such a large university.

“Because there are so few [Native American students] at UW-Madison, we need to create these types of communities,” she said. “It helps you feel like you’re not drowning on this huge campus where it seems like no one else is really like you.”

Both Maulson and Bowman said Alpha Pi Omega introduced them to students who have similar identities as them.

“[Alpha Pi Omega] can keep you close to people who are like you, who know where you come from or who have gone through the same struggles as you,” Maulson said. “It is a big deal that we have this community at UW-Madison, so we can continue to support Indigenous students and empower Native American women on campus.”

Alpha Pi Omega was originally established at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the first historically Native American sorority in the nation. With over 700 sisters representing more than 100 tribes, Bowman said the sorority fosters a sense of connection to other sisters across the country.

“I have never had so many sisters before, or these types of role models before,” Bowman said. “That is one thing I can say now that I couldn’t say before — I have sisters, and I have over 700 of them.”

Bowman said the sorority goes beyond bringing Native American women together through sisterhood and community, it also gives her confidence that she can be successful in all aspects of life.

“This is a space for me — it’s an organization that can stand up and speak out for what Native students need,” she said. “It’s really important that an organization like this exists on campus, because you can build connections and show that you can do anything, no matter where you’re from.”

Kayla Huynh Box