Sororities must revisit their racist past to address their present

Less than two years after a racist Snapchat post involving members of Alpha Phi shook campus, students have needed to reopen the wounds of another incident inflicted by a different sorority.

The then Phi Sigma Sigma president posted an insensitive photo to her Snapchat account this summer showing the front of a plantation gift store with the caption “‘I wonder if they sell slaves.’” The chapter’s national organization knew about the post around the time it was taken in August, but officials only learned of the image last week. The recent event felt like a repeat of a similar incident in February 2018, and it would not be surprising if it happened again, but racism among sororities was once much worse.

Decades ago, images of blackface and other racially insensitive images appeared in Cherry Tree yearbooks. Although the Panhellenic Association and all of its chapters have worked to address issues of racial insensitivities in recent years, there is clearly more work to be done. The organization’s dark past has trickled into its present, and it might take more than new diversity pushes to address the situation.

Sororities have come a long way since racist images and events were commonplace, but it does not hurt to revisit and learn about that dark time of the institution’s past to move forward.

Panhel is trying to be proactive in improving diversity and inclusion efforts. The organization created a board dedicated to addressing issues of diversity and inclusivity last spring, and every chapter now has a diversity chair. Panhel also changed a policy during recruitment this spring to allow students with disabilities and those who are not involved with recruitment to use elevators.

But increasing racial diversity in sororities is like a double-edged sword. Sorority members could face trouble recruiting students from different racial backgrounds because chapters may not be seen as welcoming or diverse. On the other hand, the only way to become more diverse is to recruit members from all walks of life. Posting a racist image on social media does not make the situation any better, especially as Panhel tries to improve.

Sororities have also historically been considered insulated communities that allow like-minded people to come together and socialize. Having been around for more than a century, the nature of sororities could be resistant to change. Although the organization is seeking more diversity in all of its chapters, Panhel sororities will always be known as historically white institutions, setting up a constant barrier for improving inclusivity efforts.

Sororities across the United States have struggled to move past their problematic histories and make themselves known as welcoming and inclusive. So far this year, at least two racist events involving sororities have been documented. A chapter of Alpha Phi at Old Dominion University was called out for showing racist behavior at an event, prompting officials to launch an investigation and temporarily prohibit chapter events. At the University of Oklahoma, a member of the Delta Delta Delta chapter was recorded in blackface saying racial slurs. The woman in the video then left both the school and sorority.

All that said, sororities drop the ball on diversity pushes when another racist incident pops up. This time around, Panhel should change the conversation about how racial insensitivities are handled in chapters. Sorority members should educate themselves about the racist past of their institutions and instill in one another an obligation to not repeat history. Chapters could take a day of reflection every year to open up about the discomfort that sororities’ racist histories induce. New and potential new members could be educated on issues of inclusion that Panhel sororities face to understand what not to do if and when they join.

As painful as it may be, sororities should not be afraid to acknowledge and discuss insensitive events that occurred decades ago. It should not take a slew of news reports to force sororities to confront their problematic pasts, and it should not take a recent racist event for sororities to implement diversity measures.

Hannah Thacker, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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