It was a lesson that took approximately three years to learn, but I got there eventually!
Greek life needs to go.
Growing up, I never thought I would be interested in joining a sorority. In fact, when my older friends went off to college I was always disappointed upon seeing their bid day posts. I was confused, I thought they were better than to sell their soul to ~a sorority~
Speaking honestly, I believe that my judgement at the time was based on the sexist stereotypes I had heard about sorority girls from various popular sources. We all know the platitude: sorority girls are skinny, rich, white and not smart. As a high schooler whose parents hadn’t gone to a four-year college, why would I doubt this notion? I had no personal insight to disprove the image of the partying, male-obsessed sorority girl.
And then, I went off to college. Entering a large, unfamiliar, co-ed space after four years at an all-girls Catholic school, it was understandable why I would be drawn to an all female space. I was coaxed to go through sorority recruitment by the fact that women in Greek life had higher GPAs, held high positions in student government, and had access to frat guys (also known as the gatekeepers of campus’ social scene). I was told that empowered women empower women, and that sororities empower women to empower women – I don’t know dude, but “empower” was printed on everything, so much so that it lost its meaning.
So with the promise of a high GPA, a leadership position, and boys, I paid the $50 to go through sorority recruitment. Everyone has their own horror stories from recruitment, but as an extrovert I kinda thrived during recruitment. I am the queen of elevator pitches and short, memorable anecdotes. However, tears were shed when my “top choice” sorority dropped me after philanthropy night, but other than that, all went well until bid day.
Ah, bid day. Even though I was thrilled to be a part of my organization at the time, it was still a scary time. I have never seen so many pretty, skinny white women in such a high concentration. I, a short, chubby Latina, was shocked. I was fully cognizant that I was the only brown person in my 30-person new member class. To make matters worse, our bid day activity was roller skating. Other than my goth, roller-derbying cousin, I cannot think of a single Latino that skates. All-in-all, not the best time. But with every sisterhood event, retreat, and chapter meeting, I forgot that I was one of a very few people of color in my org, after all, I had been a part of PWIs my whole life– my parents even put me in a private preschool for crying out loud. Normalization came far too easy for me as an impressionable 18/19 year old.
It wasn’t until my semester abroad did I begin to think critically of my affiliation with a sorority. Despite my newfound criticisms of Greek life, my power hungry tendencies ultimately won out and I ran for panhel president. Now for you lay folks, “panhel president” is essentially in charge of the council that keeps all the (NPC) sororities in check. I was beat out by my best friend but I graciously accepted a vice president position. Great! I thought that I could sufficiently address my gripes with Greek life by being a VP. I set out to make panhel as gay and friendly as possible: the mission was to normalize gender-inclusive language and eliminate the disempowering language used between sororities. Easy.
Well, while in office I got to the point where I felt that there was no fixing the system. I could not radically change panhel and IFC culture while also executing the basic duties of VP Programming. Frankly, I gave up. I stopped going the extra mile and focused on making my supervisor proud of me by succeeding at my pre-assigned duties. I thought to myself, “it will all be over soon enough.” And look, I had fun, too. I love being privy to information from administration, knowing the dirty deets on other orgs, and having a fancy title to include in my email closing. I enjoyed riding around in a golf cart and befriending the pretty, popular women who did not know of my existence prior to me being VP. Regardless of the perks, I knew that the pros of Greek life (as an entity on the University of Richmond’s campus) could not outweigh the cons of a divided, segregated campus.
My term as VP Programming came to an end in mid-January. I was finally free!! To top it off, I went MIA from my own chapter, so I was free of all Greek life responsibilities. Bliss… that is until all shit hit the fan in late January. In late January, racist slurs were written on the doors of some students of color and international students in the residence halls. The campus culture shifted dramatically for the students who were attacked and the students who cared to listen. On top of class discussions on race, engaged students showed up and organized protests, open-mics, and community meetings. Many tears were shed as my peers shared their hurt, disgust and disappointment at the state of our community, the “community” that Richmond sells so well in their promotional materials.
Many students pointed fingers at white Greek life, and in that moment, I was done defending the system. Fuck the system. Regardless of what I wanted Greek life to be, it hurt people. It hurt people and divided campus in irreconcilable ways. For once in my life, I listened without simultaneously thinking of self-serving rebuttals. I listened and I believed. If these students, people I love, are saying that white Greek life makes them feel threatened, uncomfortable and unimportant, then who the fuck is anyone to discredit their experience? Greek life failed.
After serving as on exec, my takeaway is that system was built to fail. When sweet Conner Evans asked to interview for The Collegian, I told him what I had been keeping to myself for the better part of a year: Greek Life enables privilege to incubate, and once that incubation is there, the privileged feel comfortable and feel even more entitled from the safety of their fraternity/sorority bubbles. While this might not be true on an individual level, it is very true from a communal standpoint. At the end of the day, from a bird’s eye view, the dining hall is divided by castes: Greek life, athletes, and everyone else.
I am so tired of entertaining discussions of making Greek life more inclusive. I am so tired of them. I know how they go: someone will bring it up at a Greek retreat or recruitment meeting by asking, “how are we going to make Greek life more inclusive?” The group brainstorms for thirty minutes or so, but ultimately, no one knows how to solve racism in Greek life. Shocker.
So when is Richmond really going to get to the heart of the problem and dismantle its Greek life? Is Richmond really going to abolish Greek life when its wealthiest alumni are affiliated? Is Richmond really going to let go of Greek life when there are two full-time employees dedicated to its function and success?
I hope, despite all odds, that the answer is yes because the people have spoken. The people want white Greek life off of campus. Give the people what they want.