Greek life confronts questions about diversity, inclusion after racist Snapchat

Media Credit: Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor

Panhellenic President Elizabeth Jessup said last week that Panhel would implement diversity training for all members of its sororities.

A racist Snapchat involving three sorority members has once again put GW’s Greek community in the spotlight and raised long-held questions about inclusion.

Backlash from the post – which featured two sorority members, a banana peel and a racist caption – has resulted in more than the sorority members’ expulsion from their chapter Alpha Phi: It’s started a broader conversation around diversity and inclusion in GW’s sororities and fraternities. Experts said these organizations, which have traditionally catered to elite groups of students, have consistently struggled with questions about representation.

While chapters have faced scrutiny in recent years for issues like sexual assault and hazing, the incident has brought the lack of diversity in many chapters to the forefront of conversations about Greek life.

University President Thomas LeBlanc announced Wednesday that the University would require diversity training for all recruitment chairs and new member educators within the Greek community. Officials said they would also work with the Multicultural Greek Council to identify opportunities for on-campus Greek housing as part of a broader set of initiatives to address the racial climate on campus.

The leaders of both the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Association – which oversee fraternities and sororities – have pledged to implement diversity training for their entire memberships after the incident.

Administrators address student concerns
LeBlanc said in an interview last week that the post and the backlash that followed it would bring greater scrutiny to Greek life. He said officials would examine the role Greek chapters play in GW’s social scene as part of an effort to improve campus life.

“I know on most campuses it does play a role,” LeBlanc said of Greek life. “The question is: ‘is it a constructive role?’ That’s always the question with Greek life.”

Part of that effort would include analyzing the “values” that drive chapters and whether or not they are excluding minority students, LeBlanc said.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar declined say how the University’s examination of Greek life would be conducted.

“What the Snapchat incident demonstrated is that we have a long way to go to building the sort of community that the University and its students deserve and expect,” she said in an email. “The University has no place for student organizations that promote or encourage harmful or discriminatory behavior towards members of our community.”

Csellar declined to say how the University would work with the Multicultural Greek Council to address concerns regarding recruitment and housing opportunities. She said the University is working with Alpha Phi’s national organization on the investigation and conducting its own “fact finding” inquiry.

It’s still unclear what sanctions the chapter as a whole will face. GW’s chapter of Alpha Phi and the Alpha Phi national organization have not returned multiple requests to comment on the Snapchat incident.

Greek leaders have said the University has already been exercising more control over chapters in recent years after five chapters were kicked off campus facing drug, sexual assault and hazing allegations.

The Snapchat incident is not the first time GW’s Greek community has been under fire for offensive behavior.

Hacked emails from a listserv of Pi Kappa Phi revealed members referring to pledges as “slaves” and calling other members “Jewish” or “Jews” for not participating in philanthropy events. The chapter was later suspended from campus.

Panhel President Elizabeth Jessup said LeBlanc’s diversity measures will be “incredibly beneficial” to GW and that she has been in communication with the Multicultural Greek Council, having already worked with MGC President Jocelyn Lobos throughout this academic year.

“Increased council collaboration is a goal of all three GW Greek councils, and we’ve talked in-depth about strategies to accomplish that goal,” she said in an email.

Jessup said last week that Panhel would implement diversity training for all members of its sororities. She declined to comment on diversity in Greek life as a whole.

Multicultural Greek Council voices concerns
Since University leaders rolled out plans to address racism on campus, MGC leaders said the efforts are a start to assuage long-running concerns about exclusion in IFC and Panhel chapters.

The SA Senate unanimously passed a resolution last week that called on the University to offer vacant Greek townhouses to Multicultural Greek organizations next academic year in addition to other diversity measures. At the meeting, many students and senators blasted Panhel chapters for using white beauty standards to pick chapter memberships.

Rayhaan Rasheed, a senior in Iota Nu Delta, said MGC organizations are treated as separate from the rest of Greek life, with housing preferences geared toward Panhel and IFC chapters. He said MGC chapters are often left out of major events and neglected in the recruitment process.

“To IFC and Panhel, we are not considered proper Greeks because yes, we don’t have 40 or 50 members in our organizations and we don’t get chosen for housing,” Rasheed said. “It is our job to make us present and raise our voices because we don’t get the benefits IFC and Panhel do.”

The lower membership of MGC chapters, which typically have only a handful of members in each chapter, reflects the University’s underrepresentation of black and Hispanic students, leaders said.

Cydney Solomon, the president of Alpha Kappa Alpha’s Mu Delta Chapter, a sorority within the MGC, said the aftermath of the Alpha Phi controversy opened up a conversation of “what we’ve always known” – that the University is not holding people accountable for engaging in racially insensitive behavior.

“It doesn’t make sense to me that no multicultural organizations on campus, or that I know of right now, have a house,” Solomon said. “It’s just unfair, that just means that we’re not represented in the same way or we’re not supported in the same way as other Greeks are.”

IFC President Jacob Schafer said he plans to host more events with MGC and encourage other chapter presidents to educate their members on diversity issues.

“The IFC will stretch beyond the bounds of our own council and make a genuine effort to amalgamate into one cohesive Greek community rather than three separate communities,” Schafer said in an email.

Following the Snapchat incident, Schafer said IFC’s executive board amended its constitution to require all new and existing members of IFC fraternities to attend diversity training or face sanctions from IFC’s judicial board.

Part of a national conversation
Experts said Greek organizations lack diversity on a national level, a long-standing issue that is difficult to change since groups have historically been predominantly white.

Hank Nuwer, an author of multiple books pertaining to hazing among Greek organizations and professor at Franklin College in Indiana, said fraternities and sororities have a reputation that being a part of one of their chapters means having an “elitist” status. He said major incidents like the Snapchat often start a slow process to change the racial climate.

“It takes time but once there’s a start, it will trickle in,” Nuwer said. “You’ll never see a landslide, but you’ll see a trickling and an increase, I believe, as a result of this awareness.”

The discussion on diversity on GW’s campus comes after several racially-charged incidents involving Greek life nationally. Last spring, a noose was found outside University of Maryland’s Phi Kappa Tau chapter townhouse. In January, a woman in University of Alabama’s chapter of Alpha Phi was expelled for using a racial slur.

Peter Lake, the director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, said Greek chapters are similar to a hospitality service that offers housing and social events. If they are called out for engaging in hazing and “persistent multicultural problems,” their reputation will suffer, he said.

“It’s very hard to get people to think differently about the Greeks, but that’s what we’re going to have to do and whether they like it or not this change is coming,” Lake said.

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