Whenever someone asks me what the single most unexpected thing I did as an undergraduate was, I always say, “I became a member of a sorority.”
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Coming into college, I had a lot of impressions of Greek life, some of them negative. But I joined because I felt it was a chance to grow outside of my comfort zone and take part in something new. I had an amazingly positive experience and received so much more from the organization than I ever imagined. Through my sorority, I’ve maintained friendships from college and continue to meet new people through the alumni network and recruitment. I’ve become involved and knowledgeable in causes I would have never heard about. Most importantly, my time in the sorority as an active sister accelerated and better defined my own self-identity, which was invaluable to me as I was navigating my years as an undergraduate.
However, despite all the ongoing amazing opportunities and relationships my organization provided, I continue to see prevailing issues with the Greek organization, particularly through my interactions with those associated with it. I have seen people ultimately turn away from Greek life for one major issue — one that also made me uncomfortable initially. Time and again, I see Greek organizations failing the communities that I cared about the most: the LGBTQ+/queer communities.
I identify as queer. I know that I’m not, and never was, the only queer-identifying individual in my specific Greek organization, and I thank others in my organization for being incredibly supportive of my identity. However, I recognized many issues that prevented the LGBTQ+/queer communities from partaking in Greek life.
Historically, Greek organizations were created on the basis of gender binaries, and sororities specifically were formed in response to sexist exclusion from fraternities. Consequently, Greek life often isn’t perceived to be — and sometimes truly isn’t — welcome to those that are genderfluid, genderqueer, or transgender. Even for organizations like my own that have explicit policies promoting the inclusion of gender minorities and/or those in transition, there still needs to be effort from local chapters to be aware of and correct transphobic language and gender-conforming messaging. Further, many traditions and events that are staples of Greek life — such as mixers, date nights, formals, and a whole host of socials — derive from heteronormative interests. Even when organizations proclaim to be LGBTQ+ friendly, there are often no mechanisms in place to support individuals that do not identify as cisgender and/or heteronormative.
I recognize that many of these matters are not just found in Greek life, but also manifest in society. The reality is that Greek life is incredibly exclusive already, so as members of our own organizations, we have the utmost responsibility to ensure inclusivity. Not only should we be cognizant of needs we are not meeting, but we should also continue to work on these internal problems.
There are many solutions that have been described in a variety of thought columns and written into Greek life leadership resources — active recruitment, explicit engagement, empowerment, and education. The University of California, San Diego, launched GUIDE, a student-led initiative that brings together all campus community centers to open dialogue and action plans on program inclusivity. The Lambda 10 Project offers educational resources and educational materials related to sexual orientation and gender identity/expressions for Greek life members. While establishing solutions like these are not simple, they help us develop a culture open to adaptive changes, not just based on status quo ideologies.
Undoubtedly, our society will continue to recognize new disparities and inequities. Even if we somehow magically solve all the problems that exist overnight, we will still make mistakes and need to change to better meet the needs of our members. By ensuring we can grow to meet these upcoming challenges, we will be able to keep Greek life relevant and worth joining — not just for the underrepresented at present — but for all future generations.