The essentiality of Greek life in my college career came to me as a surprise, as I imagine it has for many other women before me. However, there is a key difference between myself and some others. My white privilege made it effortless to join a chapter, whereas the absence of this privilege for WOC abolishes this unquestionable belonging which I felt, due to the unacceptable, systemic racism rooted in historically white fraternities and sororities (HWFS).
I am passionate about the sorority experience, including but not limited to, the network of amazing women and lifelong friends with which it has provided me, the ability to partake in dozens of irreplaceable philanthropy services and fundraising, and the opportunities for growth it has graciously planted on my path thus far. Thus, it is our essential duty as passionate sorority women to recognize and fix our flaws so that every woman may follow the ever-winding, yet blooming road that Panhellenic involvement fosters.
What's the basic problem?
The Greek life we know and love reflects the prosperous population present during its establishment. Because those attending college, and thus founding Greek Organizations, were white Anglo-Saxon protestant men, and later eventually white women, it is to no surprise that Greek life is molded around them. In fact, as a proud Jewish woman, I would not have been accepted into the Panhellenic community until the 1960s. I am grateful for my acceptance into this community, and the things I am able to both teach and learn from other women. I am privileged to never feel uncomfortable in my own skin while on campus. Unfortunately, many of us are blind to the fact that we do not do the same for WOC, specifically black women.
Do I play a role in the lack of diversity and inclusion of the Panhellenic community?
I know what you’re thinking: in the year 2020, there is no way that I, an educated college woman, partake in such behaviors that could lead to the exclusion and discrimination of black women. Wrong. If you are a white woman, you have probably done it unconsciously. If you are a woman of color, you probably continue to wonder how white women fail to grasp our daily wrongdoings. Follow me to a day in the life of a sister to explore some of the microaggressions and ignorance we tend to unconsciously extend.
Fall Expo: Heat on hair
Problem: Requiring members to put heat on their hair in the form of curling or straightening not only takes away the natural beauty of each and every woman, but implies that white beauty is superior. Why do we try so hard to conform and cover our diversity?
Photoshoot: Full face of makeup
Problem: Requiring members to wear a full face of makeup for recruitment and other activities discounts that it is a privilege to walk up to the makeup counter and immediately find a color that matches your skin tone.
Recruitment: Potential new members must have a letter of recommendation & Potential new members who are legacy get priority
Problem: Requiring letters of recommendation and/or giving legacies priority for a bid favors white women who are more likely to have connections to past Greek life. These practices alienate WOC who are historically underrepresented, setting them up for initial failure the minute they click the “register for formal recruitment” button.
Greek Life Philanthropy Event: Wait, what’s an MGC?
Problem: Overlooking the presence of Multicultural and Black Greek Councils on campus is a key issue. They are just as much a part of Greek Life as we are, and their voices not only deserve to be heard and included but utilized.
How can I improve the Panhellenic system I love so much?
- Avoid Microaggressions: Microaggressions are brief statements or behaviors that, intentionally or not, put forth a negative, hostile, or hurtful message about a minority group
- Take the implicit bias test at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html and reflect on your unconscious biases
- Utilize diversity and inclusion modules for your chapter on a regular basis
- Provide your chapter with resources and the skills to seek them out individually
- Make recruitment more holistic and never stereotype when a woman enters a round
- Do not be color blind. In Mellody Hobson’s Ted Talk, Color Blind or Color Brave, she makes it clear that acknowledging color is not racist, but instead advancing diversity and inclusion efforts through embracing the differences and cultures of those around us
- Go out of your way to speak to someone of a different background (the magic happens outside of your comfort zone!)
Resources for further learning:
- About Race
- Pod For The Cause
- The Person You Mean to Be, Dolly Chugh
- The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
- How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi
- 13th, Ava Duvernay
- When They See Us, Ava Duvernay
- Dear White People, Justin Simon
- American Son, Kenny Leon
Empowered women empower women
As Brittney Cooper mentions in her book, Eloquent Rage, (which I highly recommend reading btw), feminism stands tall on the foundation of loving all women. We must deeply love all women, empower all women, and support all women; not just women who look like you. WOC are repelled from joining Greek life due to the systemic racism to which we are blind. Our society is too individualized. You are not the perfect image of a sorority woman. The perfect image of a sorority woman is someone who is confident in their skin and their ability to help and empower others.
The status quo is unacceptable. The immobility and toxicity of the status quo is lethal. I take Panhellenic pride seriously, and if you are here right now, I know you do too. So c’mon you beautiful ladies, let’s work harder and smarter to keep our pride the foundation of a mutually beneficial relationship for all womankind.
Xx, Lauren Whitman
University of Delaware, Delta Delta Delta