Over the summer, the women of Omicron Omicron Rho were more than a little surprised to find that their beloved sister, international student Cora Njoroge, owned more than just sorority pride shirts and the newest model of the Vitamix machine.
Njoroge invited her favorited sisters to an all-expenses-paid-for vacation in her home country of Kenya after her pledge classes and she began falling apart following disagreements regarding allegations of theft during their Spring trip to Miami.
The Rho executive board was initially ecstatic, with last year’s president, Lena Brooks, congratulating current junior Njoroge on her leadership and philanthropy toward the sorority.
“She’s just the sweetest, most genuine person in our sorority. She’ll make a great officer next year if she wants it,” Brooks remarked about Njoroge before boarding the bus to the airport. “And we’re all really excited to be visiting Africa! I love elephants!”
“I agree, we all love Cora,” said PR director Nicole Meyer. “There are going to be so many fun photo opportunities for the girls, and we really need those going into next year. We had a few hiccups with recruitment, and all I’m saying is that I’m glad that Cora keeps her promises.”
The girls landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, where they were greeted by a matronly woman in a clean, fresh-pressed white dress standing in front of a small fleet of cars manned by stoic-looking men.
“Welcome home, Mistress Cora. Master Njoroge is so pleased at your safe arrival,” the woman said, bowing slightly.
A few of the girls gave each other looks at that, but shrugged the greeting off as a cultural difference before getting in the cars and enjoying the drive to Cora’s massive estate.
The rest of the vacation, which was truly wonderful otherwise, continued to be plagued by interactions of the same off-color variety as the initial greeting, and some of the sisters began to become suspicious of what was occurring in the Njoroge household.
Cora’s father, the mysterious Master Njoroge, stayed in his wing of the building whenever he was home, and a stream of visitors would arrive in fancy cars, wander into his wing, and then leave hours later. The girls were forbidden from entering the wing, and would only see Master Njoroge at mealtimes.
As the sisters would sit down for meals, a host of servants, all males of the same height and stature and clean-shaven with the same outfits would file into the spacious dining room to present the food prepared by cooks in some hidden kitchen. They would keep their gazes away from the faces of their guests, flinch as Cora or her father would walk by, and never utter a single sound.
This behavior was mirrored in the rest of the household staff, who would stop in their tracks, avert their eyes, and bow when the girls would walk with Cora from room to room.
“It was so bizarre,” said Kaitlyn Chaney, a member of Cora’s pledge class. “I’ve never seen anything like it, not even in The Crown when it’s literally the queen and her family interacting with their house staff.”
“I thought it was super weird,” added Mary Lewis, another member. “I’m the kind of person who says hello and thank you to everyone, especially service workers like bus drivers and the d-hall staff, and Cora practically yelled at me after I asked one of her servants – are they servants? – how their day was going.”
Weirder still, the girls found, was when small pieces of paper with various requests for help began appearing in their bedding and laundry after it had been washed.
Mary Lewis brought it up with Cora, but was brushed off, so she resolved to figure out what, exactly, was happening. When she and her roommate went out for a smoke break one night, they got their opportunity to speak to one of the household workers, a gardener named “John.”
His whole family belonged to the household in the last generation, and John was born in a little hospital a few minutes away and entered the service of Cora’s family as soon as he was able.
“Did you have a choice?” Mary asked. He responded in the negative, saying that it was his family’s only role to serve the Njoroges and that his oldest son, now nine, will take over his role when he gets too old.
Additionally, he revealed that none of the workers save the head of staff (the woman who greeted the girls at the airport) are paid and simply live in the houses attached to the back of the main building.
Mary reported this back to the rest of the sisters while Cora was meeting with her dad. The girls of Rho decided to confront Cora about the status of her workers.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Cora told them. “I would never have slaves. I’m very against the idea, you all know that.”
“But Cora, what else would you call them?” the girls asked.
“They are simply laborers. Unpaid laborers, sort of like an internship,” Cora clarified.
“Bestie, I think that’s just a slave,” one girl said.
“We take very good care of them,” Cora insisted. “They owe their lives to the Njoroge family.”
The girls returned home the next day, discomforted, and resolved to shelve the whole issue while concealing it from the W&L community until the exec team could figure out how they wanted to frame the issue. The matter would still be under wraps if one of the Rho sisters had not loudly bragged to her rush crush that “the girls of Double-O Rho are so rich, one girl even owns people,” prompting further investigation by the school.
“I’m just shocked, honestly,” said Tammy Futrell, Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Student Engagement. “Cora has always been such an exemplary student and a fierce advocate for human rights and equality. Her college essay was about the struggle individuals of African descent face in the institutions that have benefited off their enslavement. She’s a staunch anti-Confederacy speaker and has even been awarded for one of her writings. I would never have imagined this.”
Further information could not be gathered at this time on whether Cora will be allowed to stay at either W&L or her sorority.