University sororities recognize need for greater inclusivity of BIPOC

Kendal Neel, Business Manager

As the first day of classes approaches, students might face the struggle of deciding which of the University’s extensive on-campus activities to join. Many are often attracted to Panhellenic organizations because they are considered comforting environments that promote a “home away from home” for its members. However, recent conversations surrounding the University’s early inefficient response to racist behavior within the administration and student organizations have brought attention to Sigma Delta Tau, Kappa Delta and Phi Mu—three sororities who have been at the center of several complaints regarding lack of diversity, racism and microaggressions from leadership.

In early June, Sigma Delta Tau was met with severe retaliation from its members due to the lack of a statement following the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement. A wave of members chose to show their support for their Black sisters by stripping themselves of their official letters and cutting all affiliation with the organization until a statement was issued and proper changes were put into effect.

University sophomore and Sigma Delta Tau initiate Vicky Navarro said, “Nationals definitely wasn’t doing enough, which is why we called them out on social media. We have sisters who have been silenced for too long, so it’s a good thing that the issue is being addressed.” Navarro is among many others who are disappointed with the disconnect between what the sorority supposedly stands for and how the organization is actually treating members.

Once members began denouncing the national chapter, the University’s on-campus leadership made the decision to come forward with a statement noting the changes that would be made to the sorority during the upcoming year. These changes include: mandating that every sister must sign an anti-racism contract, providing sisters of color a space to elevate their voices on a weekly basis, creating events and fundraisers centered around diversity and inclusion and writing in by-laws that not only ensure these policies, but also hold the organization accountable for any contract failures.

Navarro later added, “There’s a lot of change coming. We created a Vice President of Diversity position on council and they’re going to have to dedicate themselves to racism prevention and education throughout the chapter.”

When asked what she and several of her fellow sisters would like to see change, Navarro replied, “I really want to see more emphasis on learning about ethnicities and cultures besides just having one person give an ‘informative’ presentation once in a while.”

Kappa Delta was also under fire for allegations of racism within the sorority.  Although the national and local organizations were quick to make a statement showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, many sisters still feel that there is a lack of diversity and inclusivity within their chapter.

University sophomore and Kappa Delta sister Elizabeth Bangura said, “In my experience, I don’t remember Kappa Delta ever bringing up race. We talk about sisterhood, of course, and uplifting all our sisters, but race has never been addressed. I think this is due to the fact that there aren’t many Black people included in Kappa Delta.”

Bangura suggests that making Kappa Delta more diverse starts with actively trying to include sisters of color and making the recruitment atmosphere more inclusive. Bangura later said, “When I joined Kappa Delta, I was one of three Black women, now I am the only one. I know I felt intimidated by recruitment because I felt out of place and was surrounded by people who all mirrored each other.”.

While the issues being mentioned are accounts from what is happening on the University’s campus, some feel that these problems are not specific to one school. When asked about Kappa Delta’s overall activism surrounding anti-racism, Bangura said “I think the situation is definitely bigger than Kappa Delta, and rather lies in sororities as a whole.”

Speaking from her own experience during the Big/Little mentorship process, Bangura recalls, “I remember having a list of girls that I wanted to “pick” me as their little because I had formed mini relationships with them. Some of them did reach out, but I also remember I got a text from a girl I didn’t know. I looked her up and found that she was the only other Black girl that was looking for a little. I remember feeling kind of defeated because I didn’t know her at all, but we were paired together and I couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t an accident.”

While Bangura has much love in her heart for her sisters and her sorority, she believes it’s time for Kappa Delta to stop focusing on looks and aesthetic and more on personality.

Although Phi Mu is the newest Panhellenic organization on campus with their first recruitment season taking place during the spring of 2019, they too have been met with complaints of racist behavior. Much like Sigma Delta Tau and Kappa Delta, many Phi Mu members believe that their sorority doesn’t do enough when it comes to education, activism, and prevention within the organization.

University sophomore and former Public Relations committee member Becca Gugliotta said “I get the feeling they tiptoe over a lot of important topics because they don’t want to be controversial. We have so many sisterhood talks about important topics, but never anything about racism.”

She further explains that Phi Mu prides itself on being an organization that is all about lifting girls up, but never about ways that the organization and the girls within the sorority can be better allies.

When thinking about what she would like to see change in her sorority moving forward, Gugliotta said, “I want our leadership to do more to create an open atmosphere that truly encourages education on topics that are important to our sisters and to society.”

Many sisters in the Phi Mu community believe that change within the sorority begins with social media. The Panhellenic delegation relies on social media to amass interest in the Greek community, but some feel that the sorority doesn’t allot any online space for their sisters of color.

University senior and Phi Mu member Karina Mbulo said,  “I think that going forward, we need to do more to represent all kinds of members on social media and in leadership and give all of our sisters a place to voice the things we love about the chapter and things we think need to be changed.”

Mbulo also believes that this is the best way to increase recruitment numbers, “I definitely think there needs to be more inclusivity when tabling across all three organizations to get more girls to come out to recruitment as well as recruiting more women of color. This includes making Panhel a place where women of color feel welcomed and like they will “fit in.” Many WOC don’t join a sorority because they think they’re not the “sorority type” based on what we see in movies or at bigger schools.”

Despite the changes Phi Mu members would like to see on the local level, many sisters expressed their approval of the national organization during this time as they have made positive and active strides to address their history and move forward in an inclusive way.

However, in order to make sisters of color feel more included, it is not enough for the sororities to be “not racist.” They must actively be anti-racist, which includes condemning any and all actions that enable prejudiced behaviors and patterns. And despite Phi Mu’s insistence that they do not tolerate any discriminatory practices, some sisters feel that they have not been true to their word.

University junior and Phi Mu alumni member Myra Rivers recalled several moments when she and her fellow sisters of color personally experienced whitewashing and other bigoted gestures made by members who were in leadership positions.

She described an experience where she and other sisters of color were the targets of bullying at the hands of a student serving in an Executive Board position, “I asked for an investigation to be opened up and to have her position revoked because of how she was treating me and the other girls. She basically got a slap on the wrist and it was water under the bridge.”

Rivers and several other chapter sisters advocated to re-elect better-suited members for the Executive Board, but their requests were unfortunately denied by the chapter director.

“We started our chapter with over 120 girls and then went down to 55 active members because of how toxic and mean these girls were,” Rivers continued.

Despite the experiences that lead Rivers to leave the chapter as an active member and become an alumni, she and other members hope that the University’s Phi Mu chapter will truly start listening and valuing the voices of their sisters of color going forward in order for future members to be able to look back on their time in Greek life with enriching and inclusive memories.

While the history of sororities like Sigma Delta Tau, Kappa Delta and Phi Mu is steeped in racist traditions and perspectives, the sisters of the Panhellenic delegations believe that it is time to shed the exclusivity of the past and create a more diverse and equitable environment for sisters of color.

Over the last three months, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained significant momentum, but as the weeks continue on many think the initiative is slowly transitioning from a serious international conversation for real change into a performative trend for those who want to appear socially conscious.

The Panhellenic Delegation has a duty to make sure that the voices of their sisters of color are not just heard and valued when they are called out, but every single day; with the semester drawing close, now is the time for sororities to start taking positive and permanent strides toward justice, equality and inclusivity.