Panel addresses intersection of marginalized identities with WU sorority experience

| News Editor

Read a letter from our editor, Sam Seekings, about this piece here.

Sisters of Color, an affinity group for women of color in the Panhellenic Greek community, and Lambda Q, a group which advocates for LGBTQIA* students in fraternities and sororities, co-hosted a panel on the experiences of marginalized identities within the Greek system at Washington University Saturday.

The panelists discussed how the intersectionality of their identities interacted with the understood Greek social life experience, safety concerns, respective financial situations and the recruitment process at the University.

“It’s also really hard to navigate fraternity structures while being a sorority woman,” Lambda Q President and Pi Beta Phi member Kat Wood said. “I think that’s the biggest balancing act there is in the Greek life community.”

Panelists addressed how affinity or advocacy groups had been established, and the changes in the Greek community as a result.

President of Sisters of Color and Chi Omega member junior Olivia Williams said she found the fact that these groups had to be established by those with marginalized identities to be significant.

“It’s kind of annoying that you create these spaces…just to make yourself feel comfortable in a space that you should really just should feel comfortable in,” Williams said.

In reference to feeling safe at social events, the new social policies introduced by Campus Life this semester were mentioned. The implementation of security at parties was a point of concern for many panelists.

“I feel like it wasn’t until very recently that I started realizing that my white sisters weren’t really experiencing the kind of anxiety that I was with regards to the security guards at the door and the surveillance we were being put under,” Kappa Delta junior Amelle Zeroug said.

Fears about sexual harassment and assault were also voiced.

“I feel like everything that’s been happening with Title IX and everything last year, I’m really thankful it came out and people were able to share their stories and make it more of a discussion, but I definitely think it’s still lacking,” Alpha Phi member and junior Arantxa Martinez said.

Williams said that she found it interesting when looking at “who has to complain” to raise awareness of an issue.

“I’m so grateful for the people who started the Campus Climate survey that released the Student Life article, but if you look at their identities, they’re both white women. That’s only from their salient identity, I don’t know if they’re queer or not, but would that have been as supported by all the chapters if that was written about only black women’s experiences or only marginalized communities’ experiences?” Williams said. “Based on the way this campus operates, I think…an educated answer would be no.”

Senior Eleni Andris pointed to the lack of diversity within fraternities as another facet of the problem of sexual violence against marginalized communities.

“I think it’s really hard because so much of that requires a cultural change,” Andris said. “It’s extra hard when so many of the fraternities on this campus are not very diverse and don’t have a lot of representation of marginalized identities and voices on the inside talking about the necessary cultural changes that need to happen to make sure marginalized identities aren’t extra vulnerable to these events.”

The question of financial access was also addressed. Pi Beta Phi sophomore Olivia Arias said that she had to work, and that part of her paycheck was to pay for Greek-related fees like chapter dues. Arias characterized Greek life as an “investment.”

“I don’t know sometimes whether or not if I should be putting more towards my room and board than I should put for Pi Phi,” Arias said. “Then I realized that I’ve created such an awesome community with my [pledge class] and I don’t want to give that up. It’s always a battle within myself of ‘What is the real point?’”

The panelists noted that while there were more transparent costs, like dues, that one incurs when joining a sorority, there are also “hidden costs” which are often socially driven. Wood said that there should be a way for the Greek community to exist without placing a financial burden on those who participate.

“When I joined Greek life I didn’t want to shell out the extra money…but then I felt isolated from the rest of my chapter,” Wood said. “I think it’s hard because, in theory, they’re like, ‘Oh, you don’t have to do this. You can do Greek life differently, you can pinch and save here and there,’ but then you don’t feel a part of the overall community and I think that’s the biggest problem.”

Panelists also touched on their experiences going through recruitment. Zeroug said that she felt as though she had to whitewash herself.

“I certainly felt during my recruitment this pressure to whitewash myself and to fit into what the sorority girl looks like during the process of recruitment,” Zeroug said.

Wood said her recruitment process was “disheartening.”

“I really wanted to be what I thought other girls were supposed to be like in sorority life, so like wearing dresses and appearing more feminine…” Wood said. “I remember someone during recruitment asked me if I had a boyfriend and I didn’t know what to do in the moment and I just said no because I was like, ‘That’s truthful.’”

The panel concluded with the question of whether the panelists’ participation in Greek life conflicted with their respective identities. Andris said the problems addressed at the panel aren’t insulated to the Greek community.

“If we want buy-in from the entire University, we also need to show that as a Greek community we care about events and issues that other student groups that aren’t in Greek life are putting on [and] speaking about,” Andris said. “We need to show up for them if we expect them to show up for us.”

Read a letter from our editor, Sam Seekings, about this piece here.