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Sorority, fraternity leaders implement reforms aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion

Some of the structural changes include reformed recruitment and mandatory implicit bias training

<p>Many fraternities and sororities held fundraisers and philanthropy events over the summer to benefit organizations that support the Black Lives Matter Movement and advocate for racial equity, but were also criticized for not doing enough.&nbsp;</p>

Many fraternities and sororities held fundraisers and philanthropy events over the summer to benefit organizations that support the Black Lives Matter Movement and advocate for racial equity, but were also criticized for not doing enough. 

Chapters in the Inter-Fraternity Council and Inter-Sorority Council have established diversity chair positions, fundraised for organizations that fight injustice and implemented trainings to promote diversity and inclusion following summer protests against racism and police brutality across the country and in Charlottesville.

In the past, fraternities and sororities on Grounds have been critiqued for cultural appropriation, poor conduct amongst chapters during recruitment and social events and being financially inaccessible due to the high cost of dues and other fees associated with joining Greek life. Historically, Greek life at the University was intended for white students — the first fraternities were founded in 1850, and though the University began admitting Black students in the mid-1950s, few fraternity pledges were Black. The University’s first four historically Black fraternities — and one historically Black sorority — founded chapters in the 1970s, alongside various other sororities. Today, roughly 30 percent of the student body participates in Greek life. 

Many fraternities and sororities held fundraisers and philanthropy events over the summer to benefit organizations that support the Black Lives Matter Movement and advocate for racial equity — for example, both Sammy Alpha Mu and Chi Phi raised around $1,000 for the American Civil Liberties Union through an esports competition in June. Some fraternities and sororities, however, were also criticized for not doing enough. 

The ISC and IFC do not currently report demographic data to Fraternity and Sorority Life, though Hannah Cahill, the second-ever ISC Diversity and Outreach Chair and third-year College student, said she may consider collecting demographic data from potential new members — women seeking to join sororities — in the future. 

In an effort to foster diversity within Greek life this year, some chapters and councils have established diversity chairs. 

In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Cahill said that she began establishing the ISC Diversity and Inclusion Committee in February. The committee listens to chapter members’ ideas on ways to promote diversity and equity and includes at least one member from each ISC chapter. Since its inception, the committee has passed a Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion, which contains the ISC’s goals for diversity and inclusion — such as recruitment reforms and educating members on diversity, alongside the specific steps and deadlines needed to reach those objectives. The committee has also established $250 and $500 scholarships for women who seek to join an ISC chapter and identify with underrepresented groups, as well as increased outreach to students of color by emailing non-Greek organizations with recruitment information, among other initiatives. Dues for some sororities during a typical semester can cost over $1,000. 

Cahill said the ISC Diversity and Inclusion Committee is approaching a vote on a final bylaw change to include a Land Acknowledgement and Enslaved Laborers Acknowledgement.

“The ISC executive board recognizes the current lack of diversity and the racist and classist history of the ISC,” Cahill said. “We have been working really hard to make as much change as possible within our organization.”

Kayvon Samadani, diversity chair of the Sigma Phi Society fraternity and second-year College student, is the chapter’s first diversity chair. He pushed for the position’s creation after this summer’s protests. 

Samadani said he thinks there’s a stereotype surrounding Greek life as “a bunch of dude-bros who chug beer all day,” which discourages people of color from joining. 

“I don't want to put the onus on BIPOC students for not being in our space,” Samadani said. “I think part of why not a lot of POC students rush is because a lot of POC students look at it like ‘this isn't a place for me,’ which obviously historically was true. But I can’t imagine anyone turning away anybody because of their race.”

Samadani said that he has focused on connecting chapter members with other University groups and is currently planning a meal packing event with the Multicultural Greek Council. He hopes “that service will be a big way to make [building bridges] happen” between students of different backgrounds.

With plans to host virtual recruitment this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ISC and IFC are adapting recruitment to promote diversity and inclusion. 

During recruitment, Cahill will be the first ISC Diversity and Inclusion Pi Chi, which means she will talk to potential new members who may feel uncomfortable during any of formal recruitment’s four rounds. 

According to Cahill, women will no longer list their high school on ISC pre-recruitment registration, and when they return to in-person recruitment, the ISC will attempt to keep potential new members’ belongings — such as jackets and purses — out of sight from current chapter members. Cahill said both of these steps will be taken to remove bias surrounding family income during the recruitment process.

The ISC also implemented mandatory implicit bias trainings for chapters, which all current ISC members will have to participate in before recruitment. Cahill said the implicit bias training will be the same for all chapters, likely occurring over Zoom and facilitated by someone certified to lead the sessions. 

While the IFC is not mandating implicit bias training, some individual IFC chapters like Chi Psi have implemented these trainings for the first time this year. In an email statement to The Cavalier Daily, Matthew Lim, recruitment chair of Chi Psi fraternity and third-year Engineering student, said his chapter is mandating implicit bias training, which will further emphasize that brothers treat all potential new members the same “regardless of [their] race, sexual orientation or background.” 

Samadani said Sigma Phi Society is also taking input from conversations with students of color who are not in Greek life. Their experiences “being nonwhite and navigating white spaces” will be used to make the recruitment process more inclusive, according to Samadani. 

The ISC also took steps to increase accessibility this year by changing the timeline of rush — while the process typically excludes January term students from rushing because it occurs during January term classes, the ISC originally decided to hold formal recruitment over the course of two weekends at the beginning of the semester. Since the start date of the spring semester has been pushed back, however, the ISC has decided to host formal recruitment over the first two weekends of February.

Emily Kellam, president of Delta Gamma sorority and fourth-year College student, said that the reason for the move is two-fold — the new schedule aims to decrease the physical and emotional pressure of rush and also allows students taking J-terms, which are free of charge this year, the opportunity to rush. Kellam said the ISC is looking to continue these changes into the future to allow more women to participate in recruitment.

“[The ISC] looked at the system in the past and the way that it’s worked and said, ‘How can we break down some of the barriers to not only entering Greek life, but just the barriers to getting through, you know, the [first] week or two weeks?’” Kellam said.

Andrew Hufford, president of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and fourth-year McIntire student, said the uncertainty surrounding remote recruitment poses challenges for promoting diversity within Greek life.

“Looking at it objectively, Greek life at U.Va. does not have as much diversity as it should,” Hufford said. “I think that leaders realize this and they want to change it, but it may be very challenging, especially this year with a virtual rush process, where there's going to be a lot less people rushing, for there to be large changes organizationally.”

Despite efforts to reform recruitment at the chapter level, some Greek leaders note a lack of support from their chapters’ national headquarters. 

“[T]here are national organizations of individual chapters that are slow to accept change when it comes to diversity and inclusion,” Cahill said. “It is very disappointing.”

Samadani also hasn’t received direction from the Sigma Phi Society headquarters in regards to promoting diversity.

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