Training spaces

Safe Space training likely will increase fraternity diversity

The executive members of the Inter-Fraternity Council completed a Safe Space training session on Tuesday, led by LGBTQ Center Coordinator Scott Rheinheimer and second-year intern Carrie Myatt and attended by Dean of Students Allen Groves. IFC President Tommy Reid said there are very few openly gay members in fraternities. Groves said this may be because “fraternities are seen as the bastion of tradition and masculinity, and those things have historically felt at odds with the concept of a young man who is gay.”

According to Reid, many new members of fraternities think their brothers are more likely to accept them if they adopt homophobic attitudes. And this method of assimilation may very well work. The IFC executives at the training session on Tuesday agreed such a homophobic mentality does exist within the Greek system. They also seemed to agree that such a mentality needs to be eliminated.

To be more welcoming and supportive of LGBTQ students is one way fraternities can increase their diversity. Opinion Columnist Nazar Aljassar wrote earlier this semester about the concerning lack of racial diversity in the Greek system. Several organizations at the University have recently made efforts to actively increase their diversity, such as Honor and University Guides. But diversity is not just about race; it also includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

Gay students are likely discouraged from rushing because of the overall characterization of fraternities which Groves mentioned. And if they do decide to rush, they might be disinclined from returning to houses or accepting bids because of the prevalent homophobic attitudes of other rushees which Reid referred to.

Safe Space training for IFC executives is a positive start to making the fraternity system more open to and accepting of gay members. But in order to be effective, each individual fraternity should give the same amount of attention to the issue. As a condition of their Fraternal Organization Agreement, all fraternities at the University are required to complete six educational programs a year, three of which may be the fraternity’s choice of topic. Safe Space training would make an excellent FOA workshop, providing each fraternity with the knowledge and awareness it needs in order to be more welcoming to gay students.

Casually dropping the words “fag” or “homo” in a derogatory fashion during conversation is an example of how anti-gay stigma can permeate the atmosphere of a fraternity. If a rushee or a brother who makes these comments is egged on by the rest of the fraternity members, the problem is perpetuated. But if a brother stands up and shows disapproval, he sends the message that such words are not cool, but actually hurtful. This is a simple way to break the cycle of homophobia. It may not be easy; it may require courage to break away from the group mentality. But the group will be better if it is prompted to let go of such notions of bigotry.

The fraternity system should be one that produces men of strong and admirable character. There is nothing admirable about homophobia. Gay students should not feel excluded from participating in the tradition of Greek life. Each fraternity should work to make sure this feeling of exclusion is sustained no longer.

Published March 20, 2014 in Opinion

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