Bucknell’s Panhellenic Council is a collection of Bucknell sorority members who govern and oversee the activities of the sorority chapters present on campus. Growing criticism of Greek organizations, whose foundations have been built on a history of exclusivity, has led Bucknell sororities to increase and improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives within their chapters in order to make Panhellenic Greek life a welcoming place for all women at Bucknell.
The position of VP of Education, Advocacy, and Activism is a fairly new position introduced a few years ago to Bucknell’s Panhellenic Council and consists of a two-semester term for those who applied and were accepted into the position. The responsibilities of this position are emphasizing education and advocacy by bringing speakers onto campus and figuring out how to get not just Greek life, but all of Bucknell’s community more engaged in topics of diversity. This week, I was given the opportunity to interview Noelia Vargas, a sophomore in Alpha Chi Omega who holds this position of VP of Education, Advocacy, and Activism on Bucknell’s Panhellenic Council. I met Noelia through my role as a DEI chair for my sorority, Delta Gamma, and felt that it was important for the Bucknell community to learn more about Noelia’s goals and mission for this Panhellenic Council position.
Noelia Vargas is a sophomore in Alpha Chi Omega who is double majoring in Spanish and Markets, Innovation & Design. Coming to Bucknell in 2020 during the peaks of COVID-19 made it difficult for her to get involved on campus her freshman year, so she made it her goal to become more involved in her sophomore year. After joining Alpha Chi Omega, she decided to apply to Panhellenic Council to further her involvement in Greek life on campus. Noelia has always been passionate about diversity work. She has two first-generation parents: her mother, whose parents immigrated from Spain, and her father, whose father immigrated from Ecuador and mother moved to the United States from Puerto Rico. Noelia grew up in predominantly white communities and had trouble embracing her identity, at one point refusing to speak Spanish: “It wasn’t something I was always proud and passionate of and throughout high school, I learned to love where I come from and my culture.” She emphasized how important it is to her that this position would give her the opportunity to influence positive change across campus and make it a more inclusive and diverse place.
Noelia strongly believes that diversity is key for successful communication and is vital for a safe campus environment. She was especially inspired by Director of Multicultural Student Services Marcus Scales, who told Noelia that diversity cannot be forced and if you make a space like Greek life more inclusive, diversity will follow. Noelia says that it is important that marginalized groups are not held responsible for educating allies and recognizes the importance of self-education, mentioning that self-educating is at the core of creating inclusive spaces.
When asked about what the most pressing diversity issue facing Bucknell sororities is, Noelia was quick to respond that while not wanting to speak on behalf of all women of color at Bucknell, many women of color do not feel comfortable going through the sorority recruitment process. She mentioned that there is a general campus sentiment that sororities at Bucknell are not welcoming spaces for women of color. Noelia hopes that by including not just sororities, but all female Bucknell students at Panhellenic events, campus culture will shift towards a more unified campus.
Sororities, and Greek life in general, are historically racist and exclusive of people who are not straight, white, wealthy, biologically-born women. I asked Noelia what initiatives she is taking to make sorority life a more inclusive place for all women at Bucknell. Her response? Conversations. She says that uncomfortable conversations are crucial to making sororities a more inclusive space and that the safety of women from marginalized communities in Greek life begins with sorority chapters recognizing their faults. Noelia emphasizes that change cannot be forced and that influencing positive change across Greek life on campus requires the cooperation of fraternities as well, which is an issue in itself that needs reform.
Given the lack of diversity that is present in sororities at Bucknell, I felt that it was important to acknowledge the presence of performative activism in the sorority community in our interview. Noelia brought up a conversation she had with Director of Gender and Sexuality Resources Bill McCoy, who told Noelia that by looking through an intersectional lense and continually showing up for others, actions will come through genuinely. Noelia emphasizes that while it is difficult to navigate the grey area of performative activism, the most important thing is backing what you say with actions. She says, “I don’t want this to be a show for social media, or a show for Greek life, or trying to make the Panhellenic Council look good…it’s not the point at all and I really hope that everything I do in this position and out of this position is seen as genuine.”
In our first DEI chair meeting, Noelia mentioned continuing the DEI blog that was started by the previous VP of Education, Advocacy, and Activism, Zoe Macuto of the Alpha Xi Delta sorority. This blog is currently being restructured to be more accessible and can currently be found on the Panhellenic Council’s Instagram profile Linktree. Noelia’s biggest hope for the blog is that it can be a collaborative platform for all Panhellenic sororities at Bucknell that provides a space dedicated to amplifying marginalized voices in the Panhellenic community. The blog will also have a page dedicated to DEI events happening on campus.
With Women’s History Month approaching quickly, I asked Noelia if she has any events to promote for this upcoming March. She is currently planning an event with Transitions, a local crisis center that provides advocacy, empowerment, and education to victims, survivors, families, and communities to end patterns of violence and abuse. Though sexual assault and harrassment are prevalent on Bucknell’s campus, not all students are comfortable seeking the assistance of Title IX. Transitions is not part of Bucknell and Noelia wants to showcase this local organization that is a great resource for Bucknell students.
Noelia is also planning on highlighting a diverse collection of important female historical figures on the Bucknell Panhellenic Council Instagram stories throughout the month of March. Noelia mentioned that for these stories, she is figuring out a way to avoid idolizing individuals who did not pave the way for all women while also acknowledging the progress that these individuals have made.