Dec 08, 2016


ALJASSAR: A new kind of Greek

Fraternities and sororities should implement policies to attract minority students

Rush is over, and I’m glad I paid the thirty dollars to participate. I made close friends, became closer to my friends and enjoyed great food. My experience, and those of other minorities, however, was diminished by a lack of diversity throughout the rush process.

As a non-white individual who attended public school, I struggled to connect with the white Woodberry or St. Christopher’s graduates I met at every fraternity. It wasn’t an issue of dislike or distaste, only of difference. But it was enough to make establishing rapport difficult. To my discomfort, I was often asked about my parents’ careers and whether or not I carry a legacy in the fraternity. Clad in Vineyard Vines and drinking a Keystone, the average fraternity brother or fellow rushee was someone to whom I could not relate.

Prior to rush, the Inter-Fraternity Council organized, for the first time, a mandatory meeting for all rushees. Seated in Newcomb Ballroom, I quickly noticed that I was one of few minorities among hundreds of first year men.

A Sigma Pi alumnus delivered a presentation in which he described his experiences as a brother at the University and following graduation. I listened intently as he began to discuss the diversity of his pledge class, hoping he would tell us about how inclusive and culturally different his brothers were. I was let down when I learned he was referring to the fact that many of them wound up becoming doctors, bankers, or lawyers.

I sought out the handful of minority brothers I spotted at rush events. They were people with whom I could immediately identify, at least on a superficial level. Unfortunately, they were few and far between.

I was not the only one whose rush experience was diminished by a lack of diversity. A friend commented to me that she considered leaving her sorority because, as one of the only minorities in her pledge class, she found few relatable sisters. Other friends remarked that an absence of diversity in the Greek system prevented them from registering for rush. Any first year student can rush, but experiences like mine effectively preclude a significant segment of the University population from participating in what is considered to be a first year tradition.

Why is this important? Because fraternities are large sources of institutional power on Grounds. Beyond their social presence, fraternities carry strong alumni and career networks. The Greek system’s exclusivity presents a problem in that it denies many students the social and networking opportunities available to more privileged students.

A radical proposal for rectifying the Greek system’s lack of diversity would involve mandating that each fraternity and sorority demonstrate an effort to create more culturally and socioeconomically diverse pledge classes, perhaps through quotas.

A more moderate proposal would require the Inter-Fraternity Council and Inter-Sorority Council to collect and publish data regarding the ethnic and socioeconomic composition of each Greek organization. Transparency would enable rushees to determine which fraternities and sororities are more inclusive, thereby encouraging Greek organizations to create more diverse pledge classes.

To be fair, the Greek system isn’t the only institution at the University that suffers from a lack of diversity. Every member of the Honor System’s Executive Committee and every Honor Representative from the College is white. The Student Council President, University Judiciary Committee Chair and Board of Visitors student representative are white males. The Board is 94 percent white and consists nearly entirely of doctors, businessmen, and lawyers, an issue recently discussed by fellow columnist Gray Whisnant.

I am not questioning the personal merits of any of these individuals. I’m sure they are qualified to lead. What’s problematic is that certain cultural and institutional barriers at the University, along with daily microaggressions, are inimical to a minority student reaching such positions. In this sense, there are privileges — “invisible knapsacks of special provisions”, as activist Peggy McIntosh writes — afforded to white students at the University.

Anecdotally speaking, my residence hall, Balz-Dobie, contains one black male. It also houses the majority of first year Echols Scholars. If an objective of the Echols Scholars Program is to develop a living and learning environment in addition to a “sense of community”, as its website states, then it has failed in that regard.

Lack of diversity is a University-wide problem. I focus on Greek life because it is topical and because implementing the aforementioned radical or moderate Greek system proposals would be easier and more reasonable than, say, changing the way that a single position such as Student Council President is elected.

University students should be more frustrated. Those who lead University institutions, particularly the Board of Visitors that is selected by the governor, do not represent them. More relevantly, the Greek system that lacks diversity deprives many students of opportunities available to more privileged students. The Inter-Fraternity Council and Inter-Sorority Council must consider the proposals delineated above in order to bring diversity to each of its Greek organizations.

Nazar Aljassar is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Fridays.

Published February 6, 2014 in Opinion

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