The #HearHerHarvard campaign has garnered strong support from National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) sororities and their partners.
The major issue affecting men’s and women’s groups at Harvard University is the university administration’s policy to relegate students joining single-gender organizations to a sort of second class Harvard enrollment – one which bars such students from receiving certain scholarships or from being eligible for certain leadership positions.
It’s a ludicrous policy, both for male and female students, and the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) can play the essential role in moving the fraternity/sorority community forward without compromising the single-gender nature of many of its organizations. Here’s why:
1) The NIC & NPC Are The Only “Single-Gender” Umbrella Groups
Of all fraternity/sorority umbrella groups, only those founded by historically white organizations remain single-gender in terms of which organizations are members.
Men’s & women’s fraternities and women’s sororities jointly make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC – historically black organizations), the National APIA Panhellenic Association (NAPA – Asian Greek-letter organizations), the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations (NALFO), the National Multicultural Greek Council (NMGC) as well as other associations not specialized to social fraternities and sororities.
2) It’s Clear That We Want To Protect Women’s Organizations
In defense of the NPC remaining single-gender – that simply seems to be something the majority of fraternity/sorority professionals and higher education professionals can agree upon. There’s really no need to force change within the NPC unless its member groups decide to pursue such change.
We can assume; however, that many would support if not expect the NIC to make the move toward co-ed inclusion at some point. Many might oppose the politics behind this statement, but we have little to lose. The NIC would simply be providing an additional outlet for women to be heard and to create modern, less top-heavy sororities.
It would further serve to protect the rights of men’s fraternities to have women’s organizations rooting for them from within the NIC. I’m not certain how it could hurt, anyway.
3) Between The Two:The NIC Is Already Larger & More Diverse
Within the NIC are organizations from some of the aforementioned associations. Several historically black and culturally-based organizations are already members of the NIC, as are fraternities established as recently as the turn of the millennium.
There are 66 member organizations of the NIC compared to just 26 NPC sororities – all of which are historically white, all of which were founded prior to World War I, and none of which have joined the NPC since 1951. Between the two, the NIC is in a better position to broaden its membership because it is already balancing a larger number and wider variety of organizations.
At least one NIC fraternity already initiates women. That does not challenge the fact that the vast majority of NIC groups are men’s fraternities. Nor would adding women’s fraternities challenge the NIC’s stance on protecting single-gender organizations’ right to exist. Rather, it opens up the NIC to represent more students. Do we benefit from having several, “separate but equal,” umbrella associations divided primarily on lines of gender or ethnicity? Is that how we make the case that desegregation worked and that fraternities are relevant in the 21st Century?
5) The NIC Isn’t Perfect, But At Least It Welcomes New Organizations
With the NIC’s existing variety comes a more relaxed governing structure. The NPC, by comparison, has not added a new sorority since 1951, and no NPC sorority was founded after 1917.
The result of that monopolistic control is clear: It is nearly impossible for a group of women to build a new, modern, national sorority to fit within the NPC’s structure. Could a group of mostly white women effectively start a sorority within any of the other umbrella associations? Probably not without a specific cultural connection.
The NIC, by comparison, supports an open expansion model ]in theory] which would allow a women’s group to easily proliferate. Fraternity life is in many ways a means to create opportunity for young adults. We could create new avenues of opportunity for college women. . . “enable others to act,” if you will.
6) Fraternities Hire Many Women/Sorority Women as is.
A woman was just named CEO/Executive Director of Phi Kappa Sigma and others serve as COO’s, Directors and dozens of other positions at many men’s fraternities. Women have a growing presence within NIC fraternity staffs.
That speaks to the openness of NIC organizations to welcome and seek out qualified women to join their ranks. Opening our arms to women’s organizations may result in more NPHC, NAPA, NALFO, or NMGC organizations joining the NIC (in addition to their existing affiliations), and may even result in some NPC organizations seeking some level of membership. That would serve the interest of all Greek-letter organizations – we may even see more crossover between staff teams, which may lead to a better distribution of best practices.
There are clear signals from the public that the status quo cannot hold. I don’t mean this post to rag on the NPC, but we must get beyond the 20th Century tradition that the NIC is for the white men and the NPC is for the white women. Regardless of our organization’s statements about diversity, that tends to be the reality.
The NIC has a golden opportunity to lead. We can use the advantages of the NIC’s flexible structure and oversight of its member groups to further broaden and diversify its membership. College women should be free to create and build something for themselves just like their male counterparts, maybe even in the same umbrella group.