Kay and Ashley

The WOC Experience in Greek Life at a PWI

Women of color often face historical and systemic inequality when rushing or affiliating with Greek life at predominantly white institutions. Her Campus had the opportunity to discuss with three college women involved or previously engaged in Greek life at their respective universities. Ashley, of Florida State University, Kay of DePaul University and an anonymous Greek life member of Florida State University. Our interview started with one phrase, “Tell us your story.”

Ashley, Florida State University

Ashley in Greece Photo by Ashley-Marie Poitevien

"Coming to college, I was excited to join a sorority, meet other women, get involved, make friends, etc. I decided to go through Panhellenic recruitment. While going through recruitment with over 2,000 women, I saw only a small handful of black women. Some sororities would pair me with their few token black women to speak to during recruitment, which felt pretty strategic. 

I’ve heard ample amounts of microaggressions and careless statements from some women and consistently brushed them off or ignored them altogether. The issue with many of these predominantly white organizations is that they are not privy to the struggle of Black people. Whether intentional or not, there is a lack of awareness, understanding and empathy for the experiences of BIPOC. 

I would find myself in situations where I’m overthinking and wondering, “was that racist? or “is there a certain double standard being perpetrated against me because of my race?” I feel like Black women struggle with self-doubt and speaking out of fear of being accused of “pulling the race card.” I would find myself thinking “is it because I’m black? Or is it something else? Am I crazy? Or are people treating me differently because I’m black?” 

For my entire time here, there was never really a platform for exploring allyship, activism or race relations until the death of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. Everyone wanted to “learn and understand” and reach out to Black women in June, but no one really thought about that before. My sorority’s national headquarters released a statement over the summer condemning racism and bigotry and encouraged members to speak out against those things. It’s comforting knowing that they released that statement. I am proud of the women in my chapter who have been and continue to do the work and implement that in their language and actions in real life.

While I love that my sorority and my sisters are standing in solidarity with BIPOC people, they need to understand that after they make that post, that infographic and the energy of the movement dies down, people like me have to live with the weight of being Black every single day. The fight doesn’t stop for me. I can’t “take a break.”

This is why it is so important to have BIPOC and true allies in positions of power in these organizations. To actively create an environment of open-mindedness and diversity to make people like me and other women of color feel comfortable being members of Panhellenic sororities."

Kay Smith, DePaul University

Kay Smith Photo by Kay Smith

“I joined Phi Mu my Junior year. My roommate pledged freshman year, so I knew what I was getting into. I knew what words to say to make sure we would become not only roommates but sisters. I pushed my own thoughts and expressions about me never being a sorority girl away. I am black. I know that, but I wanted the same experiences that they had. The career benefits and support. I didn’t know when I was pledging; the terms didn’t extend to me.

The murder of Minnesota native George Floyd shook me to my core. I lived in the epicenter of this current Civil rights movement, 20 minutes away from where Derek Chauvin took George Floyd’s life. My chapter hadn’t spoken a single meaningful word on the matter or the movement. I felt disrespected. I’m still confused on why Phi Mu thought it was the best idea only to repost some b*llsh*t headquarters response on our Instagram story and a quote saying, “in a world where you can be anything you should be kind” and call it quits, I was speechless.

I reached out to who I thought could make things happen. I wrote a statement about the injustices that were filling the news feeds, brought awareness to where their education level might be on this subject and suggested that we reach out to our POC members and friends. They posted it on their story. Which got me thinking, after she asked, “do you think it should be a post or story?” had I labeled my voice to only be good enough to be heard for 24 hours? Still, this thought would prove redundant after anything posted about BLM would soon be deleted. I watched my sister’s social media fill with black screens, repetitive posts and make performative activism work for its namesake. I then suggested fundraisers, donations boards, matching with another chapter who reached out to me, a Diversity chair. I offered up MYSELF to even do the work; I still wasn’t loud enough.

Days passed without any real impact. They posted a black screen, which, in my opinion, served no real purpose and drew attention from the movement. To put it frankly, it is another display of dominance, an effortless way out for white people to show their support and remove it at their will. They finally came out with a Black Lives Matter (BLM) post. Which felt like a stab in the back because I had to call them out recently for deleting the Blackout post – while I disagree with it, it was our only display of solidarity. I don’t know what it was. Maybe my oppression didn’t match their feed?

The post was pathetic. It was the perfect half-*ssed regurgitation that you could spit out after reading three or four Instagram stories, politically correct and the right amount of NO personalization and compassion. After this, I felt as if our executive board did not take me seriously. I had told them there needed to be change. This task should have been presented to the entire e-board and, ultimately, the whole chapter. All of us are the ones who bear the responsibility. Madam president herself assured me that she was trying her best to convey the importance of our conversation to the rest of the e-board, and no one cared enough to help. The closest they came was trying to get a fundraiser started and asking for ideas. Nothing came of it. 

I was one out of two black girls in our chapter, and now I was dropping out of this chapter. I told them our diversity was embarrassing, and this is why multicultural sororities don’t like panhellenic, that they are dropping the ball and showed no indication of change or action. That this chapter may not be overtly racist, but they sure as hell aren’t anti-racist. So, I told the whole chapter that I am dropping, sent in my letter of drop and this finally started the conversation that I’ve been having, but on a larger scale.

The people who supported me showed up and spoke out. I needed and appreciated that from them. But, after my message of dropping in our group-chat, our President came out with a synonymous message to the one she had sent me. The usual “we are working to do better” gibberish. Giving my ideas as supplements for them to feel better, accomplished. I explained why I had sent this. I gave them context. I told them all of the flaming hoops I was jumping through, that maybe there is a disconnect across the e-board. Some heard me, and some missed the point. Saying that they hadn’t heard any solutions, and what my suggestions are. The problem was I screamed in the best way that I could. I changed my pitch for it to register at their frequency. But, I didn’t realize it became increasingly more difficult for them to hear me when their white fragility was in the way.

Girls went on to completely invalidate me. They gaslit me. They said that everyone was doing their part individually. I hadn’t said that. I wanted us to use our platform as one and show our support for the members affected. After all of the work, the tears and the energy that I put into this, it was easily agreed that a white woman’s word on my life was more important than mine."

Anonymous, Florida State University

"I went through Panhellenic Recruitment in the fall of 2017. I went into recruitment not knowing very much about Greek life other than that's what everybody from back home did once you came to college. With my parents being from the Caribbean, they also didn't know much about the recruitment process or Greek life. I would say that I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go through this process really, not knowing what everyone else thought and having a bunch of preconceived notions.

I was able to go through my process driven by my conversations and by the women I met. I met my big in round two of recruitment, and I remember feeling so comfortable speaking to her and very willing to become vulnerable with her. After joining my chapter, I knew I wanted to get involved and that I wanted to contribute to the community that welcomed me with open arms, so I ran for a position on my chapters executive board and won. 

Having the opportunity to serve on that executive board taught me so much about myself and allowed me to gain my footing within this community. From there, I served as a recruitment counselor; through that experience, I was given the opportunity to work closely with other women in this community and broaden my horizons by learning about other chapters and hearing different perspectives. I am thankful that I was able to serve as a recruitment counselor and have these experiences as I was able to learn so much about myself, my community and how we can be better. After serving as a recruitment counselor, I have continued to become more involved in the Panhellenic community. Within my chapter and I've spent the last two years at my university really getting to work alongside some of the most incredible women. 

In regard to being a woman of color in a Panhellenic chapter, I am very grateful that I have been able to have such a positive experience and recognize that my experience is in no way synonymous with other WOC's. I'm not able to recall a time when I felt like I was being treated differently because of the color of my skin, or because of the religion that I practiced, or because of where my family was from, and so I'm very thankful for that because I know how lucky I am to be able to say that, as that is not the case for so many other women.

I think a large reason that I can say this is because of the chapter that I joined. I believe that we put a lot of emphasis on embracing each other's differences and on remembering that we were all chosen to be in this chapter because someone saw something in you that shined brighter than anything else and so we're all here for a reason, you are a part of this sisterhood for a reason and nothing will change that and certainly not the color of my skin. With that being said, I am still incredibly conscious of the limited representation there is in this community and of the challenges other women of color have faced when a part of a Panhellenic chapter, and so my only hope is that with time comes education, and with that knowledge comes change and growth."

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