Can Greek Life be More Diverse & More Inclusive if it’s Less Accessible?

posted in: Current Top Posts, Nik Koulogeoge | 1

Here is a situation: It’s the summer of 2020. The death of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, and others at the hands of law enforcement are fresh on our minds. Public figures and corporations are doing everything they possibly can to gain the moral high ground during an election year. Some students at some colleges are threatening to abandon [IFC/PHC] Greek Life for their contribution to racial inequity. [1]

Facing renewed criticism from the public and Fraternity/Sorority professionals/insiders, your ghost-white fraternity assembles a team of people with under-privileged identities to make things right. This committee/task force, they say, will address your organization’s issue with race. It will right the wrongs of a past few if any fraternity leaders willingly discuss or explore in detail. [2] Big announcements are made. The Fraternity/Sorority professional crowd cheers. Everything will be better now, right?

One post on Fraternity Man suggests that historically-white fraternities maintained a covert form of segregation even after it was written out of their membership standards and ritual ceremonies. [3] Fraternities simply replaced objective, segregationist standards of membership with abstract, convoluted values and “standards of excellence” to maintain their homogeneity. It’s not a wild or unique hypothesis. Research by Matthew W. Hughey suggests that historically-white organizations maintain homogeneity through practices which discourage true racial integration.

The question we, and your fraternity’s Diversity & Inclusion (& sometimes “Equity,” too) task force, must answer is:

Which practices need to change?

So far, the committees and task forces are recommending a few common solutions to our race problem:

  • Diversity & Inclusion educational programming for student members (and possibly volunteers)
  • Permanent professional, volunteer, and/or chapter positions to monitor diversity and inclusion within an organization or campus community
  • Statements demanding diversity and inclusion enshrined into governing documents
  • Changes to how (mostly NPC) organizations treat legacy members

So – as usual – Greek Life’s problem is attributed to the ignorance of general members, a lack of zero-tolerance policies, and a lack of professional advice. This is not surprising to anyone familiar with how fraternity/sorority leaders have historically handled publicity crises.[4][5] The aforementioned actions – new rules, more programs, extra professional help – will (temporarily) silence enough of the angry mob to get by until it hungers once again for urgent pacification.

That said, we should expect that typical fraternity responses will not result in more diverse or inclusive “historically-white” fraternities. They may even have the opposite effect. I am not alone in this observation. In an article on Psychology Today, David Rock points to studies of similar initiatives in the corporate space. Decreeing or lecturing a group of people to accept and celebrate a “different” group of people may exacerbate “us-them” tribalism.

How can we make historically-white Greek Life more inclusive? Worry less about being “better.”

I am not suggesting that your diversity and inclusion committee doesn’t have the best of intentions. I can’t say for sure that it will get everything wrong or that I am unquestionably correct. That being said, there is an obvious and simple way to make fraternities more inclusive: Make it easier for students to join, start, and lead fraternities.

  • Consider how your “Standards of Excellence” make it difficult (or impossible) for students with jobs, with families, who commute, or who attend community colleges to join your organizations.
  • Consider how new programs and positions affect the time and dollar commitment of your student members, and how that relates to the previous point.
  • Does adding another officer or chairman position to the list of required positions mean that the minimum size to be a “successful” chapter have increased? How might that affect recruitment standards? [6]
  • Will inter-fraternal organizations, councils, and leaders stop preventing students from creating new fraternity organizations? Are you addressing the fact that it’s easier to start a small business than a fraternity chapter? [7]
  • Do the expectations you set for members and chapters needlessly separate “Greek Life” from other student organizations on campus? How about having an entirely separate office within Student Affairs to ensure compliance with such expectations? [8]
  • Does your initiative tokenize non-white individuals to the extent that – as Hughey’s research indicates – they are seen as less legitimate members by themselves and others?
  • Are all members subjected to the new requirements? (Life-long, right?) Or, is it only applied to those you can coerce with a threat to revoke a charter or title?
  • Are your organization’s governing practices anti-democratic? Do they allow the oldest, most senior members to covertly control who and what are discussed at inter/national meetings?

The fact is that these programs and policies which make fraternities and the fraternity experience needlessly impractical – or downright unappealing – for college students may not even be on the radar of your diversity committee. Why? Here’s an experience-based guess: Fraternity leaders and campus professionals have no incentive to limit their role in your fraternity experience. As much as that role might contribute to the problem, “Big Fraternity” benefits from the way things work right now.

Letting students create competitive alternatives challenges the clout of existing organizations. Allowing members to democratically debate legislation or inter/national candidates diminishes the authority of current leaders and administrative staffs. Having fewer standards, programs, and rules to enforce all but eliminates the day-to-day work of most campus-based Fraternity/Sorority Life professionals and topical “experts.” [9]

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe some diversity and inclusion committees will actually consider recommending that fraternities do less. Perhaps one or two will even consider letting students call more of the shots. Let’s all stay tuned.

Fraternity Man articles referenced in this post

  1. Don’t Abolish Greek Life. Reclaim It
  2. My Fraternity Was Racist; Yours Probably Was Too.
  3. How Racial & Religious Desegregation Triggered “Big Fraternity”
  4. The Authoritarian Backlash Against Hazing
  5. Why Don’t We Prohibit Sex Like Hazing or Alcohol?
  6. Greek Life Is Recruiting For Manpower, Not Character Or Talent.
  7. It’s Easier To Start A Business Than A Fraternity Chapter
  8. “Greek Awards” Extract Fraternities From Campus Communities.
  9. Advisers, Advisors, Consultants, and their Future in Greek Life

  1. Tess Ailshire

    I’m convinced Nik is one of the clearest and wisest voices in Fraternity life today.