Inclusivity and the Future of Greek Life at Vanderbilt

Inclusivity and the Future of Greek Life at Vanderbilt

Lindsay Williams

Greek life on college campuses has long been derided as a place where diversity cannot flourish and racism is the status quo. It is easy to find headlines of Greek chapters at other schools going viral for racist drinking chants or bid day Snapchats.

At Vanderbilt, examples of this blatant racism are much harder to find, but some students of color on this campus still feel like they aren’t as welcome in the Greek community as their White peers. To combat this problem, a group of students representing the four Greek councils, National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), National Pan-hellenic Council (NPHC), Interfraternity Council (IFC), and Intercultural Greek Council (IGC) have come together to form the Greek Inclusivity Alliance, with the goal of targeting specific obstacles that marginalized groups face within the Greek system.

“The Greek inclusivity Alliance was founded this year to help promote diversity and inclusion among Greek life,” Henry Bristol, the co-chair of GIA for IFC, said. “We’re working to do that by creating an alliance which includes members from every chapter in each council and working with these members to be agents of change within their chapters to promote more inclusive spaces.”

One of the primary goals of the GIA is to promote “cultural competency” within the Greek community, an idea that encompasses appropriation, tokenism, and other problems that stem from lack of awareness.

“To create cultural competence, we have to look at the behaviors, policies, attitudes, and culture within Greek life, and create spaces that allow people of various cultural backgrounds to have equal and equitable access to opportunities to fit in and be respected and be valued as individuals and human beings,” Bristol said. “We’re not currently there and we’re working to improve cultural competency as a tool to ensure that everyone has a truly human experience within Greek life.”

Another goal of the GIA is to bridge the distance between Greek life and minority communities. However, the GIA is not necessarily just looking to increase the number of minorities in historically White Greek chapters.

“The goal of this program is not to recruit minorities, but rather, it is to make Greek chapters more inclusive to people all different identities and backgrounds,” GIA co-chair for NPC Neena Kapoor said. “By making Greek members more culturally competent, hopefully all minorities will eventually feel like the Greek community can be a space for them, if they want to be Greek.”

To meet the overall goals of inclusivity and cultural competence within Greek life, the council has specific issues to tackle that are unique to each council. For example, a primary focus of the members of the council on NPC is addressing how chapters talk about and interact with minority women during recruitment.

“There were many parts of the recruitment process that were difficult for me as a minority,” Kapoor said. “What always stands out the most was being purposefully matched with other minority women in almost every house. I felt that my identity was being watered down to the color of my skin. Although my Indian identity is a major part of who I am, it isn’t all of who I am, and chapters who matched me with other South Asian women or women of any other minority decent, assumed that it was my overarching identity. It felt like these chapters didn’t really want to get to know me for who I was. That is probably how I ended up in the chapter that I am in, because I was being matched with girls with similar interests as me who just wanted to get to know me.

Currently, there are between one and three members from every chapter that meet every other week for an hour, and spend the off weeks working with their chapters to work towards the goals of the GIA. All members went through a summer training to understand what the GIA is hoping to accomplish and how to work towards those goals. Members from IFC and NPC are deemed “allies,” while their counterparts in NPHC and IGC are called “advocates.”

“IFC and Panhellenic, as large and historically White councils, have power on campus. To become a more just community we need to distribute power more equitably, so this program looks primarily through the lens of race relations,” Bristol said. “IFC and Panhellenic have the numbers, the resources, etc. that run campus. We consciously gave the term allies to participants from IFC and Panhellenic, as we as councils have power, whereas NPHC and IGC members need to be advocates for their own councils, they need to be working to raise visibility, increase awareness, increase acceptance of those councils because they are the more oppressed councils in the campus power dynamic.”

The foundations for the GIA started from two different sources. On the IFC side, several chapter presidents came together a few years ago to create a contract that members would sign relating to inclusivity in IFC chapters, which eventually led to an allies program that was similar to the GIA but limited just to IFC. Last year, NPC created a diversity and inclusion task force that led to the then assistant director of Greek life, James Crawford, approaching the NPC chapters with the opportunity to be a part of the GIA.

Although the council is currently still in its early stages, the co-chairs anticipate it growing to be an important tool and resource for combating racism in the Greek community.

“Policy change isn’t cultural change, and in the day and age that we are in now, we have a lot of pro-equality policy, but we don’t have the culture to match it,” Bristol said. “So we’re looking at the less overt but still very real forms of racism and sexism in the world today and on Vanderbilt’s campus. So this is a program designed to address a cultural and paradigm shift as opposed to a policy shift. It’s going to be slower and less tangible in effects, but over the course of a year, two years, three years, we want to see a shift in the way that we view minorities in Greek life and create a more inclusive experience for minorities in Greek Life.”