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3 Questions with a student leader: Panhel President Denzil Sikka

New head of sorority governing council discusses her ‘home away from home’
Junior Denzil Sikka is the MIT Panhellenic Association's new president for the 2012 calendar year.
Junior Denzil Sikka is the MIT Panhellenic Association's new president for the 2012 calendar year.
Photo: Joseph Maurer

Student leadership has long been an integral part of the out-of-classroom experience at MIT. In this series, we hear from some of the students in leadership roles in the MIT community.

In December, the MIT Panhellenic Association (Panhel), the governing council for sororities on campus, announced the results of its executive board elections. Junior Denzil Sikka became Panhel’s new president for the 2012 calendar year. Sikka, a third-year sister of Alpha Phi, takes on the responsibilities of the head post after serving as Panhel’s Vice President of Finance and Administration last year. Majoring in electrical engineering and computer science with a minor in management, Sikka recently completed an externship at J.P. Morgan in New York City. She spoke with the Division of Student Life about Greek Life and the role of the Panhellenic Association in the MIT community.

Q. What does Greek Life mean for you?

A. Greek Life has been one of the greatest opportunities at MIT to help me develop as a woman. It means having a great outlet away from the stress of life and academics, the chance to have unforgettable adventures and collegiate experiences, and the possibility to open new doors.

My sorority is my home away from home. Being an Alpha Phi has allowed me to meet individuals who have acted as mentors, role models, and, most importantly, my closest friends. I’ve learned leadership skills, volunteered in the community, and made life-long bonds. My life would be completely different without Alpha Phi.

Q. The Panhellenic Association is the largest women’s association at MIT. How does Panhel shape the female experience here?

A. Roughly 30 percent of all undergraduate women are affiliated with a sorority at MIT, and Panhel is the governing council that guides these sororities to a common goal and maintains a unified community. While we can't claim to shape every female's experience at MIT, I would say that we make an effort to advocate for all women on campus.

One of the biggest challenges that women face at MIT is gender stereotyping. I’ve felt that, as a woman, sometimes my achievements are undermined because of my gender. I’m sure that some other women at MIT feel the same way. Panhel is working hard to help women overcome common challenges faced at the Institute.

Panhel encourages its members to go out into the world and do great things. This past semester we organized the Women's Career Forum that connected undergraduate women — affiliated and unaffiliated — to Boston-area alums in various professions, and last year, we launched the MIT Girls Rock campaign to increase confidence among all MIT women.

Ultimately, sororities are all about community and a support network. My sorority has helped me work through any challenges that I’ve faced. It helps women on campus remember that they’re an important, large part of the MIT community. Any of their problems are Panhel’s problems, and if we can do anything to help, we would like to. We want to help all women on campus with any of the resources that we have. That’s something that I’m especially hoping to expand upon this year.

Q. What else do you hope to accomplish this year with Panhel?

A. This year, we have three main goals.

First, we want to expand Panhel’s resources and networks, and one of the ways we hope to achieve this is through building a stronger alumni presence. We recently set up a Panhel Fund for Giving@MIT to engage our growing alumni base, and we want to continue to reach out to alumni.

We also want to bolster Panhellenic spirit. I think a problem that we sometimes face — not just Panhel, but many student organizations — is apathy or a lack of time. In the hustle and bustle of MIT, students sometimes lose their enthusiasm. We want to promote and encourage more spirit every semester.

Finally, we want to increase transparency between the Panhellenic Association and the chapters. With increased transparency, we hope Panhel’s resources and what it has to offer become clearer to the MIT community.

For more information, visit the MIT Panhellenic Association's website.

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