I wrote this for my college’s newspaper last semester but haven’t submitted it. I think I will now.
Freshman year, a friend of mine went to an interest meeting about sororities. A recruitment counselor approached her to confirm that she was there for the panhellenic recruitment interest session, and she said yes. The counselor responded, “Well you are welcome to stay, but there are historically black sororities that you may be more interested in…” My friend was offended and taken-aback. She understood the recruitment counselor’s comment as a way of saying “these sororities are actually just for white people”. She was aware that there were historically black sororities, but she didn’t think that her race would determine that those were her only option. Because of this experience, she decided to remain independent from Greek life.
I, on the other hand, failed to see the larger implications of this recruitment counselor’s comment. I reasoned that this girl was just prejudiced and close-minded, but that this surely could not represent four entire groups of women at a liberal institution. In a way, I was right: the sorority I joined, as well as all of the others, hold themselves to high moral and social responsibility and do not condone any kind of discrimination. However, the queasiness that I felt when my friend told me this story should have immediately evoked a suspicion of the Greek system as a whole. But the fact that our Greek life is largely racially segregated didn’t hit me until I experienced rush from the inside of my sorority house sophomore year. I felt an unbearable guilt for participating, so I quit.
While I don’t regret quitting, I do regret that I never voiced this concern to my sorority before turning in my pin. It was easy to say “This isn’t what I want to do anymore”, or even point out that the authority positions seemed to be dominated by one group of friends with similar outlooks. What if I had said “I feel like our group is marginalizing people based on race”? I’m sure some girls would have been deeply offended, but as my friend’s story illustrates, others have been deeply offended as well. If we could channel this pain into understanding, maybe the conversation could turn into a restructuring of our social groups on campus in a way that is less alienating. No matter how progressive minded the members, a sorority represents the history of elitism and the isolation of whiteness. The “historical” in historically black sororities is reference to an era of overt discrimination and prejudice, which we are confirming in our collective memory when we keep these divisions alive.
This isn’t to say that historically black sororities and fraternities need to be done away with by any means—this is to say that each person has their own history, and the more we can learn about the wide range of human experience, the better. We need to look at our actions, our generalizations, the groups we use to identify ourselves, and our language, and ask ourselves if these things are promoting equality and justice. If not, we need to address the injustices that we fuel.
I met own realization of injustice with cowardice, and nothing changed. But those of you who are members of Greek organizations hold the possibility for reform. Look around you during meetings: does everyone look, speak, and act just like you do? Are you challenged by the people you surround yourself with, or does your world seem to be populated by people that always agree with your ideas? To surround yourself with people is to surround yourself with opportunities to see things in a new light. If we are going to have large groups on our campus that rule social life, I think it is in our best interest to abolish the divide. Is it so farfetched that the historically black sororities be given lodges alongside the others? Could we then, perhaps, have an all-inclusive rush so that every student is given the same opportunity to chose regardless of race? Perhaps that simple change could one day lead to sororities with a wide variety of ethnicities, races, and nationalities represented—and we could sincerely tell incoming freshman that Greek life at Millsaps really is different.