Greek life segregates based on class, race and gender.
I must preface this piece by admitting my bias. I am someone who is bitter about never getting to go to a darty, never being invited to a social and who generally feels left out of the University of Richmond's elite social scene. But I’m not the only one.
Entire communities – such as low-income students, people of color and queer folks – may feel alienated from the 50% of women and 35% of men who participate in Greek life at UR. Of course, I do not speak for everyone.
Students who may be interested in Greek life can be affected by their financial situations. I could not afford to join a sorority and take advantage of its social benefits. The recruitment fee alone costs $65, while dues for each organization can cost hundreds of dollars per semester. Additional financial commitments include gifts between sisters and purchasing matching apparel and supplies for social events.
National Greek life organizations also have controversial racial histories. Many of these groups having been overwhelmingly white throughout their histories: Following the end of World War II, black college students faced widespread resistance during efforts to integrate all-white fraternities. The University of Alabama didn’t officially ban racial segregation policies in its Greek organizations until 2014.
I must add a caveat here to express my support for the National Panhellenic Council (NPHC) organizations as spaces for black students to thrive, which stand parallel to those historically white groups originally bent on keeping black students out.
Racial controversies concerning Greek life carry over to UR as well. When looking through copies of The Web, UR's yearbook, one can see that the university's fraternities have a controversial history regarding white supremacism. These include Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Kappa Alpha Order, Kappa Sigma, Lambda Chi Alpha and Theta Chi.
Confederate images and symbols have often been used as decorations and rallying points, and on-campus Greek parties' themes included “Civil ‘Drinking’ War” and “North vs. South.” I would highly suggest watching senior Abby Muthoni’s documentary “DivURse: A Black Student Experience” to understand more of UR’s and Greek life’s racist histories.
This is not to claim that today’s fraternities or its members are racist, but that the foundations of many Greek organizations on campus and across the nation are intertwined with a white supremacist history.
It is not surprising, then, that some women of color do not feel safe or welcome in fraternity lodges and that some men of color would choose to pledge an NPHC fraternity rather than a historically white fraternity.
My friend, a black woman, expressed her discomfort at the lack of people of color at lodge parties during a discussion in a leadership class in 2015. Fraternity brothers in her class responded by saying that the lodges “were accepting of everyone,” effectively erasing her perspective on the racial disparities she noticed. She felt overwhelmed by their comments, just as she had felt overwhelmed by the whiteness at the lodges.
Just by looking at the racial makeup of photographs of individual UR fraternities and sororities on the UR Greek life web page, one can argue that the legacy of racial segregation in Greek life hasn’t been totally left behind. Though I emailed UR’s assistant director for Greek life, Meg Pevarski, to ask for racial demographics specific to this university, she wrote that she was not given access to those statistics.
Sororities and fraternities' legacies of perpetuating harmful gender roles and gender-based violence also permeate popular understandings of Greek life today. UR Greek life has struggled to promote respect for women and create safe social events.
Remember the Kappa Alpha email from 2016? Lodge parties dominate the on-campus social scene. As someone who had attended lodge parties, I felt my safety was threatened after that email. It’s difficult to create inclusive social environments, and I wonder if the new lodge policies are making the lodges safer for everyone.
Students at Swarthmore College recently hosted a sit-in at their fraternity houses as a response to a document joking about a “rape attic," and demanded that the fraternity, Phi Psi, be disbanded. In response, both Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon unanimously voted in favor of disbanding the organizations. Student activism aimed at stopping the violence faced at fraternity houses has proven effective at disrupting those organizations which are causing the harm.
Though there is something to be said for gender-exclusive organizations as spaces for support and growth, (such as WILL*, which fosters a space for people of marginalized genders to learn and lead without any gender-based challenges), single-gender groups may promote a bifurcated social scene or an unsafe dependence on one another.
The binary system of sororities and fraternities alienates trans and gender non-conforming people. For trans students, pledging as a way to fit in with UR’s dominant social scene is obstructed by the gendered understanding of those organizations. Since Greek life policies are separate from those of other UR student organizations, it is ultimately up to each chapter to address the inclusion of trans students and promote their inclusion.
I want to challenge every person involved in UR Greek life, whether as a brother, sister, administrator or alumni donor, to consider the history and exclusionary state of Greek life in the past and present.
In order to create a campus where all students have equal opportunities for social life, there must be a commitment to create opportunities for social activities and community-building for the rest of the student body.
Contact contributor Kylie Britt at firstname.lastname@example.org.