In light of the recent Black Lives Matter movement, American college students have been voicing their experiences with racism at their universities, specifically with campus Greek life organizations. Such students are exposing sorority and fraternity members at their institutions for racist acts through Instagram accounts of the likes of @dearpwi.
Recently, a video was posted of a white Vanderbilt sorority member wearing a durag, laughing while a white fraternity member exclaimed racial slurs. Members of Vanderbilt ADPI mocked a Black member and stated that she didn’t belong in the sorority and it “wasn’t her place.” At Washington University in St. Louis, a white member of Chi Omega was accused of using racial slurs frequently and fetishizing Black men. Despite reports, the sorority did nothing to reprimand her. Additionally, sorority members at American University in Washington, D.C. outwardly tokenize their POC members. Alpha Sig, a fraternity at American University, has also been exposed for throwing civil war themed parties while chanting racial slurs. Fraternity members at California Polytechnical School were photographed wearing Blackface.
These racist incidents are only snippets of the hundreds reported. Meanwhile, Greek life members are advocating for reform and for more discussions on diversity, claiming that these are isolated events unrelated to the structures of fraternities and sororities.
Students across different campuses are calling for the abolition of Greek Life. In 2019, student activists at Swarthmore College led a four-day sit-in in protest of Greek life after racist, homophobic, and sexist documents were leaked. Swarthmore then proceeded to formally ban all sororities and fraternities. This past month, students at American University created a petition asking for Greek life to be abolished on campus. On Instagram, students from Washington University in St. Louis, American University, and the University of Southern California, among other prominent schools are documenting their horrific experiences with sororities and fraternities on campus.
However, this is not new. Greek life has a long history of being racist and exclusive. Phi Beta Kappa, the first U.S. Greek-letter fraternity was founded at William & Mary University in 1776. As sororities and fraternities grew more popular and gained traction in the 1800s, they were then organized and further separated by sex, religion, and race. Soon these organizations began to largely reflect the demographics of their predominantly white campuses: wealthy white, Angolo-Saxon, and protestant men (WASPs). There was very little, if any, diversity among the organizations. Even as more Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) were admitted into educational institutions, historically white fraternities and sororities continued to exclude them. In fact, Greek letter organizations included racial bans in their constitutions well into the 1960s.
Continued segregation in Greek life throughout the early 20th century inevitably became a social and professional detriment to students of color. College campuses provided special housing and buildings for Greek affiliated organizations, yet none for cultural organizations or multicultural fraternities and sororities. White sororities and fraternities led, and continue to lead to powerful alumni networks and career opportunities. Spots are even held in student government positions for certain all-white Greek life members at schools such as the University of Alabama — an institution that accepted it’s first Black sorority member in 2003.
In response to the segregation they faced, Black students began to create their own Greek organizations, against university pushback. Alpha Phi Alpha, the first historically Black fraternity, was founded in 1906 at Cornell University. Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first historically Black sorority, was founded in 1908 at Howard University, an HBCU dominated by men. Black fraternities and sororities served as a social and intellectual relief and safe haven for Black students – however, they still were not fully accepted by their universities. Black Greek organizations were still not granted campus buildings for meetings or housing. Not to mention that Black students, in general, were not permitted to run for certain student government positions, or play for athletics teams until the 1940s.
Despite integration today, Black students remain hardly represented in Greek life. A research study shows that 95% of historically white fraternity and sorority members are white. Greek life members are more inclined to accept members who resemble their own experiences despite calls for action or progressive initiatives. They do not value diversity and seek to create an environment in which everyone is similar. If potential new members don’t “fit in,” or “aren’t cool,” they are denied membership, which further perpetuates whiteness and classism within Greek organizations.
It’s time for Greek life to be dismantled at all universities. A system built upon racism can not possibly be reformed — it should be abolished. Historically white fraternities and sororities are fundamentally rooted in the segregationist values of white supremacy. Plus, the recently revealed racist actions of members demonstrate that not much within the Greek system has actually changed. Their racist behavior is encouraged by and stems directly from Greek life’s lack of diversity and long history of elitist exclusion.
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