Diane Spatz, Nu - University of Pennsylvania

‘I Am a Phi Sigma Sigma!’

As a leading advocate for the new national agenda on breastfeeding,
Dr. Diane Spatz is also one of our sisterhood’s best (and most vocal) ambassadors.

March 9, 2011

WHEN YOU FIRST MEET DR. DIANE SPATZ – renowned researcher, breastfeeding expert and passionate advocate for newborn babies’ health, not to mention one of Phi Sigma Sigma's most devoted volunteers – you understand within minutes that what you see is definitely what you get.

She’s direct, yet warm, and sharp as a tack. She listens closely to what you have to say (not surprising for one of the world’s most accomplished and published nurses) and then tells you what she’s thinking – not with the goal of challenging whether you’re right or wrong, but of educating you about the wisdom of her eminently logical viewpoint, crafted with your well-being in mind, of course.

And there’s no mistaking the three things she cares about most in life:
  • She thrives on helping babies and “pregnant people,” as she calls them, and could fill volumes (indeed, has filled volumes) with what she knows about breastfeeding and lactation, their beneficial impact on complicated births, and the critical role mother’s milk plays in the health of newborns.

  • She works hard to make a difference. When she isn’t advocating for stronger national policies to support breastfeeding, analyzing research for her latest study, educating neophyte nurses and new moms about lactation, teaching college courses, or traveling the world to share her expertise, she can be found advising one of Phi Sig’s largest and most historic chapters at Temple University.

  • She loves Phi Sigma Sigma – and has become one of our best, most vocal ambassadors. Whether she’s meeting with U.S. lawmakers or health officials worldwide, she tells everyone who will hear: not only is she affiliated with our international organization, not only are our women the best of the best…. She states unabashedly and with the greatest pride, “I am a Phi Sigma Sigma” – promoting her lifetime membership and crediting our sorority with making her the woman she is today.
If you never read another word about Diane, that’s everything you need to know. But then, you’d be depriving yourself of a truly inspirational story about this remarkable sister who, if recent news is any indication, has only just begun to make her mark on the world.

Changed for life

Diane was born in Pottstown, Pa., a small industrial city northwest of Philadelphia. Her hard-working family believed firmly in the American dream and had already sent three children to college when she was born. Still, they may not have been entirely sure what to do with their youngest, a wunderkind destined for an Ivy League education and her own brand of greatness.

Before she’d even graduated from high school, based on academic performance alone, Diane was being recruited by the University of Pennsylvania – which promised significant grants and scholarships enabling her to attend Penn’s top-ranked School of Nursing. But when she finally arrived – heavens to Betsy! – she hated it.

“I had such a hard time adjusting,” Diane explains, echoing the sentiments of many freshmen women when they first go to college. “I was making friends, but we didn’t ‘click,’ you know? And on such a big campus, I wasn’t sure how I’d ever find women like me.” Specifically: intelligent, hard-working, passionate, values-driven students who, while they loved to have fun, were equally serious about success and making a difference. (Sound familiar?)

Everything changed in her sophomore year, when two nursing students invited Diane to join them during sorority recruitment events on Penn’s campus, home to a massive Greek system and our Nu Chapter.

“I fell in love with Phi Sigma Sigma and my entire college experience,” Diane says. “Here was a diverse group of women I could relate to… a sorority that included everyone: not just wealthy girls (one of our sisters was from a royal family in India), not just girls who looked a certain way or had specific religious or social backgrounds – but all kinds of girls who loved to work hard and play hard like me, and who understood what sisterhood really meant.”

Devoted sister

Diane embraced Phi Sig from day one. She wasted no time becoming what was then known as “Pledge Class President,” ultimately being elected Vice Archon twice and helping Nu earn honors as the No. 1 sorority on campus when she graduated in 1989.

Almost immediately afterward – relying on Nu’s long-time and much beloved advisor Helen Berkowitz as a mentor and role model – Diane agreed to assume that same role at Temple’s Xi Chapter. Thus began a nearly 25-year love affair with volunteering that makes her one of our most veteran chapter advisors – and the only one with such strong ties to both of Phi Sig’s historic single-letter chapters in Philadelphia.

“What I learned from Helen is the same advice I give CKAs (chapter key advisors) today,” Diane says. “Be a rock for the women – their guide; but let them make their own mistakes when it’s appropriate. That’s how they learn and grow, and it’s part of the value of the sorority experience.”

Over the years, Diane has helped shape Xi into the No. 1 sorority at Temple and one of our top 3 chapters overall renowned for perennially winning awards on and off campus, its cozy house in the heart of Owl country, and a close-knit clan of alumnae who affectionately call her “Spatz.” (Not that her nursing students ever would. Sisterhood has its privileges, after all.)

Accidental expert

Outside of Phi Sig, however, what “Dr. Spatz” is called is no less than an expert in her field. She didn’t set out to become one, she says. She simply followed her passion – and refused to accept the status quo.

It all started when she was a new nurse working with high-risk mothers and babies in a downtown hospital. She quickly realized that, despite her stellar education and credentials, she knew almost nothing about breastfeeding and lactation. The problem was, new moms had questions. Lots of them.

“I wasn’t at all comfortable with what I didn’t know,” she admits. “Here I was, a Penn grad, and I’d never been educated about these things. No one was, back then. Plus, it’s not something people talked about – even among women. So I started learning everything I could.”

It became the central focus of her master’s degree in nursing, then her doctorate. Since that time, her research has been published in hundreds of medical journals – demonstrating time and again that breastfeeding has a beneficial impact on the health of newborns and, further, that educating women about lactation has a similar effect.

This is ground-breaking, often controversial work, in part due to the taboo nature of the topic of breastfeeding and the fact that, in our culture, breasts are objectified “to sell bikinis and cars,” she says, adding: “Biologically, we need to remember this is why women have breasts: to produce milk for our babies!”

Despite taboos or our society’s ironic discomfort with breastfeeding, Diane forges on – regularly giving testimony on Capitol Hill and traveling the world to share her expertise with others. Her efforts are finally starting to pay off: She has partnered with U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, the American Academy of Nursing and other stakeholders to promote a national agenda for breastfeeding that recently won new rights for women in the workplace and is fostering greater support for breastfeeding in public.

“We’re far from done,” Diane says. “But we’re definitely on the right track.”

Passionate advocate

What’s next for Dr. Diane? Even she’s not completely sure – stating that “every achievement leads to another goal.”

One thing is clear: wherever she’s going, and whatever she’ll be doing in the years ahead, she’s taking her Phi Sigma Sigma sisters along for the ride.

“I love this organization. It made me who I am today and influenced everything about the person I’ve become – and everyone who knows me knows that’s how I feel,” she says. “I can’t envision life without my sorority. To me, there’s no distinction between the two. And there never will be.”

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