Panhel leaders silent about sorority diversity trainings

Media Credit: Lillian Bautista | Contributing Photo Editor

Panhellenic Association leaders declined to talk about conversation surrounding diversity and inclusion sessions mandated by the University earlier this semester.

Updated: Nov. 25, 2019 at 3:37 p.m.

A semester after Panhellenic Association social events were put on hold for mandated diversity and inclusion programming, leaders and officials will not discuss details of the sessions.

After a racist Snapchat post from a then-sorority president’s account surfaced in September, officials suspended Panhel sororities from participating in informal fall recruitment and social events and required chapters to attend diversity discussion sessions. But after a semester’s worth of trainings, Panhel leaders have remained tight-lipped about the content of the sessions, and officials will not disclose who was involved with program planning.

Colette Coleman, the associate dean of students, said Fraternity and Sorority Life officials worked with University “partners” from late September to early November to hold community cultural trainings for Panhel members. She did not specify who the University partners are.

Coleman said sorority members spent time “reflecting on both their positive and negative histories” in the sessions. She said the programming included but was not limited to 13 sessions on subjects like restorative justice and understanding microaggressions.

Members also participated in a day of service and attended the University’s annual diversity summit, she said.

“They also engaged in meaningful discussions about how to address the experiences of their members and the larger GW community,” she said in an email.

She said Panhel brought experts in to facilitate conversations among sorority members about diversity problems that are pervasive on a “broader level” than on-campus issues.

“We feel that members of the community met and exceeded the requirements asked of them, and engaged in meaningful dialogue,” she said.

Coleman declined to say the minimum number of educational sessions sorority members were required to attend this semester or how many members from each chapter needed to attend sessions. She also declined to say what repercussions a sorority would face if the chapter did not meet the minimum requirements for how many women attended sessions or the number of sessions members attended.

She declined to say what, if any, requirements for diversity trainings chapters will have to complete next semester.

In an email sent to sorority members earlier this semester, officials said chapters must participate in diversity and inclusion events, like a presentation and conference on “what is and is not appropriate to wear and say in preparation for Halloween” during Greek Week last month.

“Greek Week is finally here!” the email states. “We are very excited for all four councils to come together to celebrate diversity, scholarship, service and fun!”

Eight Panhel chapter presidents did not return multiple requests for comment. Kerri Corcoran, the president of Chi Omega and a former Hatchet editor, and Alexa Saberito, the president of Sigma Delta Tau, declined to comment.

Panhel President Sarah Sem, who stepped into her role last month after the former president resigned to take a leave of absence, did not return multiple requests for comment. Nine executive board members listed on the Fraternity and Sorority Life website did not return requests for comment, and one delegate listed on the website said she graduated in May.

Of the 11 Panhel delegates listed on the website, nine did not return requests for comment, one said she left her post to study abroad this semester and one said she stepped down from her position in the spring.

The National Panhellenic Conference, the umbrella organization for 26 national sororities, did not return a request for comment.

Peter Lake, the chair and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, said requiring student groups to hold mandatory trainings about “equal opportunity issues” is becoming common among student organizations. He said schools generally offer new trainings during the semester, rather than before the semester begins, as a response to a specific incident.

Lake said a national growing focus on diversity trainings could be a result of growing Title IX policies, which “paved the way” for large-scale trainings and a more in-depth approach to addressing diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism on campuses. He said diversity trainings have also increased conversations around topics like bias response teams, which document bias incidents.

Officials implemented a University bias incident reporting system in February 2019, almost a year after a racist Snapchat featuring two members of Alpha Phi spread across campus.

“The feeling is that you want to get as in front of this as you can to avoid things blowing up into major issues,” he said. “Social justice is driving the conversation on campus this year in a way that I haven’t seen probably since the 1960s.”

Jared Gans and Shannon Mallard contributed reporting.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.