Panhel sororities should see ban as more than a timeout

Panhellenic Association sororities are grounded this semester after the second racist Snapchat post emerged in less than two years.

Chapters cannot participate in informal fall recruitment or host social events this semester after administrators learned about a racist image from the Snapchat account of former Phi Sigma Sigma President Alison Janega. The ban will include mandatory training on values and diversity for all Panhel chapters, but the details of the trainings have not been spelled out yet.

The recent event is at least the second incident in which a sorority member has posted racist content online. In 2018, members of Alpha Phi posted a Snapchat with a racist caption, prompting a strong response from administrators. But GW’s response is not guaranteed to work, and it is unclear that sororities have learned their lesson after the first incident. Officials’ pause on Panhel social life is a chance for sororities to do better, but the ban will only be effective if the University outlines tangible tasks sororities should do to make the time off worthwhile.

Sororities should not think of the ban as a consequence. They should consider it an opportunity to repair systemic problems within Panhel that are apparent in chapters across the nation. Sororities can use the semester to reflect on the damage caused by the most recent racist post and develop ways to create a more inclusive environment in Panhel.

Although sorority members might be disappointed by the ban, the University made the right decision. The two incidents represent visible acts of racism within Panhel sororities, and it is likely that bigotry transcends across chapters. The first incident sparked a conversation about inclusivity in sororities, but GW’s actions did not do enough to solve the broader cultural issue that led to these racist incidents. Student forums and discussions highlighted the problem, but it did not go away.

If sororities take the ban as a punishment, they will miss the purpose. The ban and success of the required diversity education and programming hinges on sorority members’ willingness to participate. Although members might think their dues and social lives are going to waste, they should know that this semester is their chance to implement institutional changes that should outlive their time at GW.

But the ban is a two-way street between officials and sororities. The University made a vague statement last week saying Panhel chapters should engage in meaningful workshops, then entrusted sororities to figure out the semester on their own. The University should clearly outline a plan for the semester to help sororities make the most out of the timeout. Panhel chapters could have individualized diversity and inclusion trainings from organizations outside of GW, and officials could help point them to useful resources. Panhel chapters should not be left to their own devices but look to the University as a resource for where to go this fall.

On the sororities’ end, the diversity and inclusivity chair in each chapter should be trained to handle sensitive issues like conflicts between members and incidents of racism. The chair could get a pulse of the sentiments of their peers with one-on-one meetings in which members can share their experiences and concerns about the culture of the sorority. Each chair can take the feedback to the University or their national organization and map out an action plan that fits their chapter’s needs.

If sorority members back out of diversity trainings or meetings with their chapters’ diversity chairs, national chapters should not be afraid to reprimand. National organizations could levy fines, and the University could cancel social programming when members do not attend. The trainings and meetings should also go beyond the semester – every chapter should engrain these one-on-one conversations with diversity chairs and trainings into the culture of the sorority.

Sororities should not look at the ban as a slap on the wrist or as a timeout. Chapters must use this time wisely to improve their chapters and assess what in their chapters creates a noninclusive space. The University should be ready to jump in, especially because officials instituted the ban in the first place.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah and contributing opinions editor Hannah Thacker based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing director Leah Potter, contributing design editor Olivia Columbus and sports editor Emily Maise.

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