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Monday, October 26, 2020

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Greek Life Reform: Part Two

Impact of the Abolish Greek life movement and steps toward reform

<p>Old fraternity row sits unused as a result of the pandemic.</p>

Old fraternity row sits unused as a result of the pandemic.

In addition to an internal review of Greek life, Interfraternity and Panhellenic council organizations are responding to this year's forceful disruption of Greek life culture on the University of Richmond campus. 

In June, members of the University of Richmond community started making calls for the abolition of Greek life on social media. However, some of the Greek life organizations’ plans for reform began this summer before the Abolish Richmond Greek life Instagram account surfaced.

Diversity, Inclusivity and Inclusion

Sophomore Julia Loten, the chair of Tri Delta's diversity, equity and inclusion committee, said the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were the impetus for change in her chapter. The committee was created in response to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement over the summer, she said.

"We were kind of like, 'Why don't we have a committee that's here to address diversity issues and stuff like that?'" Loten said. "I think it's really important that [Tri Delta] as a group can kind of stay educated and, more importantly, stay motivated. I feel like that's kind of my job, to hold people accountable. And we kind of all are holding each other accountable to stay educated."

Junior India Patel, the current chair of Kappa Delta's executive committee and incoming chapter president, thinks collaboration is an important part of successfully reforming Greek life at UR, she said. KD's executive committee was created at the beginning of the Abolish Richmond Greek life movement to review all of the chapter's policies and practices through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion, Patel said.

"I think the best thing that we can do right now is create collaborations between Abolish [Richmond] Greek life and Greek life organizations," she said. "Change absolutely definitely needs to happen, but I think we should all be listening to each other and working together to create the campus that both parties want."

A diversity, equity and inclusion committee similar to those of Tri Delta and KD was created in response to the Abolish Richmond Greek life movement in Kappa Kappa Gamma as well, said senior Ellie Watson, president of Kappa.

Kappa Alpha Theta has also started a similar committee, said senior Lauren Halloran, president of Theta.

Senior Emma Hoholik, former Panhellenic Council vice president of recruitment and disaffiliated member of Delta Gamma, said DG had been accepting applications for a diversity and equity chair before she disaffiliated over the summer.

Pi Beta Phi also created a diversity and inclusion committee before the vast majority of its members disaffiliated in response to the Abolish Richmond Greek life movement, said senior Sophie Borchart, one of Pi Phi's former diversity and inclusion chairs. 

More than 100 members have either disaffiliated from Pi Phi or changed their membership to "Undergraduate Alumni Status," leaving just a couple of active members in the sorority, Borchart said.

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Diversity, equity and inclusion committees, task forces or training programs also exist on the national level for all of UR's Panhellenic Council sororities, according to their websites.

Something that's come out of the Abolish Richmond Greek life movement is that UR chapter presidents became better connected and committed to working together, senior Missy Carlson, the president of Tri Delt, said.

"Because obviously there's a lot of things that we can do internally," Carlson said, "but there's also a lot of things that we need to do as a Panhellenic community."

People have disaffiliated from Tri Delt in response to the abolition movement, Carlson said. The Collegian could not confirm how many members disaffiliated from this organization.

Tri Delt's diversity, equity and inclusion committee began a reading series in June during which members read "The Hate U Give" and had discussions about antiracism, Carlson said.

KD hosted weekly "Fireside Chats," during which members of the chapter would host discussions on topics related to diversity and inclusion and share educational resources, such as articles and podcasts, Patel said.

Some of the diversity committees are also working on policy changes within their chapters.

"We're going through our internal policies, financial policies, recruitment policies and community service/philanthropy policies and deciding what we want to stay and what we want to change," Patel said. 

About 40 members have disaffiliated from KD in response to the abolition movement, leaving about 50 active members, said senior Kara Cromwell, outgoing KD president. 

The process of Greek life recruitment, during which offers of membership are decided and extended, is the basis of many posts on the Abolish Richmond Greek life Instagram page. In submissions to the account, students described crying inconsolably and feeling worthless during recruitment.

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Recruitment has also been a main focus for many students in Greek life during conversations about reform.

"I think it's essential and really important that we promote diversity and inclusion, as well as equity, on campus and within certain institutions of our organizations, such as recruitment," said senior Nick Pacitto, interim IFC president and member of Lambda Chi Alpha. "I don't think we do a good enough job at being inclusive in recruitment and making sure that we recruit a diverse group of people with different mindsets, with different identities."

Pacitto recognizes that racial and class discrimination plays a role in the recruitment process but thinks there are tangible ways to improve it, he said.

"There's definitely race involved, as well as -- these are single-gender organizations, so they're going to be inherently exclusive," he said. "And then on top of that, there's certain barriers to entry like financial restrictions. We've been trying to work with the university to organize a scholarship fund that would make it easier for low-income students to join fraternities and have their dues subsidized at the very least.

"The plan is already set out there and is at the administrative level. They're just trying to see how it would fit with financial aid, but they have the ball rolling."

Implementing new standards of recruitment has to be a priority, senior Andrew McCollough, president of Lambda Chi, agreed.

"I think that the standards that we have for [first-years] need to change to reflect the standards of society, in regards to perpetuating racist or homophobic behavior," he said.

About nine members have disaffiliated from Lambda Chi, with about 50 active members remaining, McCollough said.

The Panhellenic Council chapter presidents have discussed critically the classism and sexism involved in the recruitment process, Halloran said. Specifically, they have discussed how recruitment puts financial pressure on potential new members to spend money on clothes and how the process is based on short conversations, she said.

"The process is going to be changed to be more meaningful so that every woman going through has a positive experience that allows them to embrace who they are completely and unapologetically," she wrote in an email to The Collegian.

On a national level, Theta, KD and Tri Delt have changed their legacy policies to no longer place priority during recruitment on potential new members who have had a relative in the sorority, their UR chapter presidents said. DG also changed its legacy policy, according to its website.

The legacy policy still stands for Kappa Kappa Gamma, but Watson said the national policy was an outdated and exclusive custom that UR's chapter and many other Kappa chapters were working to eliminate.

Watson said people have disaffiliated from Kappa in response to the Abolish Greek life movement. The Collegian could not confirm how many members disaffiliated from this organization.

In Pi Phi, the national legacy policy has become more flexible. Specific chapters can decide if they will follow existing legacy procedures fully, partially or eliminate them altogether, according to Pi Phi's website.

Some former Pi Phi members, however, are not convinced that these reforms are enough to fix recruitment. Borchart, who disaffiliated from Pi Phi after serving as its diversity and inclusion chair July 5-28, said the recruitment process was not made to be changed.

"Over time, it kind of became apparent to me that, like, no matter what we do, just the rush process in general is meant to automatically exclude people," she said. "Our inherent biases kind of lead that to be people of color or people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and that was just something that I personally wasn't okay with being a part of anymore."

Hoholik said efforts had been made to improve recruitment in the past that did not work.

"They've been talking about a values-based recruitment for years," she said. "But it's really hard to actually recruit in a way that is values-based when you have 15-minute conversations with a bunch of different girls. Like, it's not a way to build a genuine connection most of the time. 

"I feel like there have been so many different opportunities to fix the system, like trying to be more inclusive with rush -- just stuff like that. We've had the opportunity to do that, and it was not taken seriously, and so I don't really think there's true desire there to reform anything."

Hoholik disaffiliated from DG in July, she said. Out of the about 100 members who were in the chapter before the abolition movement began, there are now probably 20 to 30 active members left, she estimated.

In response to the abolition movement, Kappa Sigma is rewriting its bylaws to include mandatory sexual assault training for members and is creating plans for increased risk presence at events, said senior Ethan Libo, president of Kap Sig.

In terms of inclusion, efforts to reduce financial barriers are important but not enough, Libo said.

"It has to go further than that," he said. "Because you can't just say ‘Okay, if we reduce socioeconomic barriers, then all of a sudden we're inclusive.’"

For Kap Sig, that has meant electing a multicultural outreach chair, Libo said.

"You also have to go out there and kind of bridge that gap," Libo said. "Last year, we were obviously rated fourth as the most segregated campus in the country [by the Princeton Review]. We have to understand that there's extenuating circumstances here that make it even more important to have to find ways to reach out other than just reducing barriers."

No Rush on Recruitment

It is still unknown whether IFC fraternities or Panhellenic Council sororities will have spring recruitment. According to a statement that CSI sent to The Collegian. The internal review of Greek life, organized by Vice President of Student Development Steve Bisese and the Center for Student Involvement, will conclude during the spring semester. 

Bisese said he hoped the internal review would result in improvements to the recruitment process for IFC and Panhellenic Council organizations.

If recruitment does occur in the spring semester, it will have to be different, Watson said.

"While I want to be able to give [first-years] the opportunity to be involved in Greek life, I don't want to do it unless we're making sure that we're pursuing it in a way that everyone feels involved and included and welcomed," Watson said. "And that means if recruitment is going to happen, I think it means having a recruitment that's very, incredibly different from the past structure."

The time it takes to change the recruitment process will be a factor in whether it is held this spring for KD, Patel said.

"We don't want to rush it," Patel said. "We want [the next recruitment] to be able to stand for a long period of time and really reflect all of our values and everything that we want recruitment to be like. We don't wanna rush it just to have it ready for the spring."

For Patel, the incoming KD president, Greek life is worth promoting because of other benefits it offers, such as opportunities for confidence building.

"Coming into college, I wasn't the most confident person," Patel said. "But I think that once I got into KD, having the opportunity to take on leadership roles, even if they were small, really made me think of myself as more confident and give myself the opportunity to speak up more and voice my opinions more.

"One of the main reasons I wanted to stay [in KD is], being a first-generation college student, I haven't felt affected by the system. I haven't ever felt differently because of who I am or what my past experiences are. And I understand that people do feel that way, but I personally haven't felt that way, and so that was one of the major reasons that I really want to stay and promote KD and the Greek life system because I believe in it."

Keeping Accountable

One of Bisese's concerns about the abolition of Greek life organizations is that it could result in underground groups forming that do not have responsibilities to a national organization and do not follow UR policies, he wrote in a statement to The Collegian on Sept. 14.

Pacitto, the interim IFC president, shares Bisese's concern of unregulated social organizations becoming an alternative to school-sponsored Greek life.

"I think there's a void in the social culture if on-campus Greek life were to be abolished, and that off-campus groups, whether it be existing or future groups, would fill the place [of abolished organizations]," Pacitto said.

For Pacitto, the idea of unregulated off-campus organizations is not simply hypothetical. Current off-campus fraternities are examples of what could happen if all Greek life organizations were abolished, he said.

"The fraternities formerly known as Sigma Chi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon are not being exposed to these conversations," he said. "They do not care. They have no skin in the game and, unfortunately, the broader community doesn't realize that they are not accountable to any of the same standards."

Senior Maggie Castelli, former Panhellenic president and former member of Pi Phi, thinks the concern of underground organizations is valid, she said. However, she said she believed there was a way to abolish Greek life and prevent underground organizations surfacing.

"My sort of thought process is I think there could be a way to sort of phase [Greek life] out and I think that the official structure of fraternities really [plays] into the ability of those underground organizations to continue to exist.

"I also understand that [Bisese is] the person who [the responsibility of underground organizations] comes down on," she said. "If something bad happens, he's the person who gets the phone call in the middle of the night, and I can't imagine the burden that that puts on him and, you know, the different perspective that gives him in going through this."

Carlson thinks a strength of Greek life organizations is their ability to hold members accountable through conduct boards, she said.

"I'm in a couple other clubs on campus, and they don't have, like, a standards board that's going to sit down and meet with you if your actions don't represent the values of the organization," Carlson said. "I think that something that we've kind of come to realize -- is that Tri Delta is a great place to keep each other accountable. So I think it's in a really unique space."

In response to the Abolish Richmond Greek life movement, several Panhellenic Council and IFC Greek life chapters released statements on their Instagram accounts presenting their perspectives on the movement and outlining reform plans.

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A letter released by KD on Aug. 8 was called insensitive, dismissive and tone-deaf on the Abolish Richmond Greek life page. The letter outlined KD's position for reform as a way to fix systemic problems in Greek life and listed the reforms made by Kappa Delta's national headquarters and by UR's Theta Mu chapter.

The letter was originally signed by all then-active members of KD but was later changed to a second version signed with the chapter's name instead of individual names.

Cromwell, the outgoing KD president, said she had wanted to give an honest and sincere acknowledgment of the community's response to KD's open letter but thought another Instagram post or message did not seem right at the time.

"We definitely recognize that [the letter] was flawed," she said. "We assure that we are committed to change and also that we're learning the right way to go about it, and we know we won't always get it right, but we're trying."

The Abolish Richmond Greek life movement has made Libo re-examine his role as a member of Greek life on UR's campus.

"If you focus on every little detail of these posts and you know, what's exactly true and what's not, you're missing the point because generally, there's truth," Libo said. 

"We're not the victims here, and we have to understand that while we have done good things in the past, there have also been some things that we've missed, and we haven't been perfect. And we have to fix those places where we haven't been perfect."

Contact multimedia editor Nina Joss at nina.joss@richmond.edu.

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