Recently the Panhellenic Council at Clemson University has gotten some attention for helping the ClemsonLIFE program go Greek. Kappa Alpha Theta and Sigma Kappa gave bids to some special and very deserving girls. Another special and deserving girl got a bid to Kappa Alpha Theta this year, but at the University of Alabama and her name is Rachel Thornton.
Rachel grew up in Eugene, Oregon and came to the south for the culture, but she almost overlooked the University of Alabama due to her love for Oregon football. The top-rated engineering program is what finally made her apply to the university. Many students at the university will say they knew Alabama was where they belonged as soon as they stepped foot on campus. Rachel was no different and is now a freshman Civil Engineering student. Just like many other freshman girls that come to the University of Alabama, Rachel had always wanted to join a sorority. Everyone in her life was very supportive of her and jumped at the chance to write her a letter of recommendation or to help in any way they could. Heading into rush she had expected not to get a bid from any houses because she is not your average freshman. Rachel Thornton is a 27-year-old true freshman.
After graduating high school she was set to go to a small private college in Seattle; however, she would have only been able to afford one semester before having to drop out. One day she decided to go to the recruiter and do something great for someone other than herself. Growing up, Rachel played a lot of sports and looked at the Marines because of how team-oriented they are, unfortunately, there are not many options for women. So on November 9th, 2009 she joined the Air Force because of the plethora of opportunities for women and the fact that it has the highest percentage of women of all the military branches. Rachel's first deployment was to Kuwait for seven months as an Arabic linguist. Her second and favorite mission was being deployed to Turkey for 15 months and she ran emergency management. Rachel left the Air Force on January 6th, 2016 and it was one of the hardest decisions she has ever made, but she felt that her career could not progress without a degree and is considering rejoining after she graduates.
Just like a true freshman, everything is brand new because Rachel has never been to college. Being in the Air Force was just like living at home with her parents, now she must learn to live on her own without harsh restrictions. However, there are still a handful of pros and cons to enrolling in college many years after graduating from high school. On the positive end, Rachel knows that she has a greater appreciation for her education and is not as focused on the social aspect of college because she has already past that phase of her life. Rachel also has a better situational awareness which brings confidence when on a large campus. On the other end, Rachel still experiences many of the same fears that the rest of her classmates have. Her list of cons ranges from not knowing the best study technique to residual war zone anxiety during class and everything in between.
While it is very common for male veterans Rachel's age to go back to college and join a fraternity, to the best of our knowledge, Rachel is the first woman veteran to join a Panhellenic sorority. During rush at the University of Alabama this year, it rained almost every day. This was a problem for many of the true freshmen; however, it did not bother Rachel because if she got dropped from a house based off a disheveled appearance then she did not want to be there anyway. When joining a sorority all she knew was she wanted to be somewhere she would feel comfortable and welcomed. Just like the rain, it did not bother her when she immediately got dropped from houses due to her age. She was drawn to Kappa Alpha Theta because they are known as leading women who have a strong sisterhood. The values of sisterhood like having each other back, come naturally to Rachel because of the brotherhood she has been in for the past six years. While the brotherhood was more of a physical bond that centered around saving each other's lives, Rachel now enjoys her sisterhood because it is based around encouraging and supporting each other.
After finding a house that made Rachel feel comfortable and welcomed it was time for her to see if Kappa Alpha Theta passed the test for all that she was looking for in a sorority. It would have been easy for her to hide in the Campus Veterans Association but she wanted to spend her time at Alabama as a civilian. Joining a sorority would hopefully help draw a connection between Rachel and the other true freshmen. Just like many other sorority girls, Rachel has a long-distance boyfriend. They met working together while deployed to Turkey in 2014. Since he is currently deployed, Rachel had a great idea to bring a sign that states “We miss you, come home soon" that she brings to all of Kappa Alpha Theta's social events. Rachel's confidence in herself opened a door for many connections within her sorority sisters. Rachel's recommendation to other women veterans her age contemplating going back to college is to greatly consider joining a sorority. She has seen first hand that the stereotypes are all false and if anything it has a been great help to her academic success and acclimation to civilian life.