Letter to the Editor: Greek Council Letter of Accountability

168

To the Occidental College Community,

Greek Life at Oxy would like to collectively acknowledge the egregious systems which have contributed to our privileged position as exclusive organizations within a predominantly white institution. We would also like to acknowledge the current momentum surrounding transformative movements on intersectional justice, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement’s intention is to create accountability for racist institutions. This year’s pandemic, combined with the perpetual unrest produced by our inherently discriminatory and violent governing system, has pushed us to finally confront the injustices which put us in the position of privilege that we occupy today. Particularly as members of Greek Life, this year offered a necessary push on our communities to acknowledge and actively work against the systems of oppression that privileged our existence in the first place. In this spirit of transformation, we want this letter to be more than an acknowledgment of the discriminatory tendencies of Greek Life and our complacency in it. We hope to open a dialogue about how we are combatting those tendencies as a collective and as individual organizations and how we can — and will — do better. 

We’ll begin by acknowledging our role in upholding various oppressive structures. We each strive to foster community within our organizations and create environments where our members are loved and feel welcome; however, there are times when we have fallen short. While the practice of Greek Life is different at Oxy than at other schools, we must take responsibility for our complacency with and our position within marginalizing structures. 

The history of Greek Life in the U.S. is a horrifically racist one, and as organizations within that structure at a predominantly white institution, we recognize our role in upholding white supremacy by participating in and overlooking a historically racist institution. The writers of this letter also recognize that we, as white or non-Black POC students, can never understand the depth of the hurt inflicted upon Black students by Greek Life structures, nor is it our place to try to quantify what rectifying such damage can look like. We can, however, do our best to actively break cycles of anti-Blackness and racism in Greek structures. We commit ourselves to becoming accessible to the most marginalized populations at Oxy. We will educate ourselves on the racial tensions which arise between predominantly white organizations and their few BIPOC members, and we will learn to unlearn our racial biases. Most importantly, we will commit to listening to BIPOC community members and prioritizing their needs over our traditions and our comfort. 

Through parts of our recruitment structures, we have reinforced notions of heteronormativity and cis-normativity in ways that have excluded or deterred queer and non-binary individuals from being welcomed into Greek Life. Our recruitment structures have also proven to be ableist towards neurodivergent individuals in that events were mentally exhausting and classist because of the expense of dues. We want to acknowledge the roles we’ve played in these multiple and overlapping instances of oppression, and we would like to reiterate that Occidental’s Greek Organizations are collectively striving to combat, dismantle and remove to the best of our ability the existence of such systems in Oxy’s Greek Life moving forward. We cannot apologize enough for or undo the harm we have committed and been complacent in, but we can strive to do better — which we are most definitely planning to do.

Words mean nothing without action, and we know this; we intentionally delayed the publication of this letter in order to have carried out as much of the action we promise in our opening acknowledgments. We wanted to prove through our actions that all of the Greek Organizations are collectively committed to creating positive and meaningful change in each of our organizations and together in Greek Council. Keeping in mind that these are just first steps to transformative change, here are some of the things we have done so far.

We spent the Fall 2020 semester completely rewriting our bylaws so they are a reflection of our commitment to equity and inclusion. 

We added the Greek Life Student Support Scholarship to address financial inaccessibility due to the high cost of dues. This will provide scholarships to members of the Greek community for the purpose of helping those who cannot afford to pay dues. 

We reframed other bylaws to address the ableism of our former recruitment structure, which was a barrier to neurodivergent and physically disabled individuals. We have restructured this process so that it’s less exhausting and has lower stakes by spreading our pre-recruitment events over several days, scheduling breaks and mandating fewer events. When we return to campus, we will hold events in physically accessible spaces and continue to spread events over the course of several days.

We added bylaws to make a more accessible space for gender-queer individuals in Greek Life. While there are national restrictions beyond our control limiting who can join what organization, we’ve added a gender-neutral recruitment track as means of making recruitment more welcoming to folks who identify outside of the gender binary. In the past, gender-neutral organizations were lumped together with sororities and forced to adapt to single-gender recruitment environments. Now, individuals who want only to connect with gender-neutral organizations have the choice to do so. In addition, we’ve adjusted our recruitment process to the best of our ability so everyone who participates in recruitment has the choice of one or multiple recruitment tracks in order to prevent confinement to either fraternity or sorority tracks.

We incorporated other changes to address racial and gender injustice, like the requirement of implicit bias training for all Greek Organizations every semester, in addition to our existing work with Project S.A.F.E. on sexual assault prevention training. We will continue our practice of hosting a Greek Diversity Panel every semester in order to uplift the voices and experiences of individuals with intersectional, marginalized identities in Greek Life. We will also be adding an Accessibility Information Session which will focus on the different channels that we are providing to make Greek Life accessible for all students and how students can utilize those channels.

Specific organizations in Greek Council have also taken steps to individually become more inclusive and accessible.

Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority, Inc. was founded in 1992, the same year that the police brutality against Rodney King became national news. Since our founding, we have striven to bring equity and social justice to the various races, cultures, ethnicities, genders and other marginalized identities that make up our communities. Our members are expected to have exceptional morals and ethics. Nonetheless, we are still working to address the racial imbalances in our community. Every semester, Sigma Lambda Gamma brings in resources such as, but not limited to, cultural agility training, regional accountability meetings, advocating for social justice and fundraising to decrease the economic strain of dues. Sxsters must attend these workshops and work towards creating equity and respect in our community and beyond. This is non-negotiable. Any sxster found harming any community members or promoting social injustice will have their membership terminated. For more information, questions, or concerns, please email Brenda Duran Jimenez, the president of the Oxy Gammas’ chapter at bduranjimene@oxy.edu or slg@oxy.edu. Our Instagram page (@OxyGammas) also provides information on who we are, what we stand for and the Oxy events we facilitate to promote our principles and philanthropy. 

Zeta Tau Zeta has acknowledged their complicity in the instances of oppression provoked by Greek Life beginning with their Open Letter of Accountability released July 29, 2020. Since they released this letter, they have advocated for the Gender Neutral Recruitment Track, held workshops on defunding the police and radical self-care in collaboration with local organizations and undergone an implicit bias training through the Intercultural Community Center — a practice which they plan to make a tradition. 

Kappa Alpha Theta has spent this past summer and fall semester creating a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee to work within our chapter to guide and create programmings, such as our upcoming allyship workshop, which furthers our ideals of service, justice and compassion. In order to make Theta more accessible to folks of all financial backgrounds, we have created a dues assistance fund that will award funds each semester to our members. Our philanthropy efforts will include more organizations that focus especially on supporting BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ women. We have consistently strived to make recruitment more inclusive through our use of an objective bid process commitment to not uphold homogeneity. We are recommitting ourselves to these practices and to taking greater steps in the future such as practicing inclusive language and the use of pronouns on name tags. Our national organization is our partner in this process of change and they are currently conducting organization-wide audits of recruitment, the constitution and bylaws, ritual and the eligibility of gender non-binary and non-conforming students to be Theta members.

Delta Omicron Tau as a Greek organization, we have always been committed to making sure scholarships are always available for all our members at any level of need. Also, we are accepting of any non-male-identifying individuals in our organization. We have been eliminating misogynistic and harmful language from our songs and traditions and are making the necessary changes to create more gender-inclusive language. In addition, we are reevaluating the different roles in our organization and restructuring them to help each role take on more accountability, including creating spaces that support our BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ members. However, we understand that as a Greek organization our work is not done. We are committed to educating our members on the biases and racist history of that Greek Life system. We are committed to semester-long workshops focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion. We are hoping to add to our Executive Board a position that can guide Delta on being a Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) centered organization for our years to follow. We recognize the systemic and institutionalized racism rooted in our communities and we are united as an organization to empower and support our Black and other POC members and alumni. We have a lot of work to do to support this initiative. To read more about Delta’s commitment, click here for our statement we released in June 2020.

Alpha Lambda Phi Alpha has made strides to improve our organization. Starting this past summer, we completely rewrote our bylaws in order to foster a more inclusive environment. Words carry so much meaning, and we wanted to ensure that the basis of governance in our organization reflected our values. While rewriting our bylaws, we also created a new position: the Social Action Coordinators. The ultimate aim of this position is to promote social awareness within the chapter. Additionally, we are proud to participate in the gender-neutral track of recruitment and will continue to strive to create an environment of inclusivity. In order to reconnect with our roots, we have decided to implement an Alpha book club. We’re using the term book club loosely; it is a discussion space where we analyze literature about intersectionality, racism and white feminism. With this book club, we aim to educate ourselves while also fostering a dialogue within our organization. Although we have accomplished so many things we are proud of, the work our organization needs to do is far from over. Please click here to see Alpha’s formal statement regarding Black Lives Matter. 

The brothers of the California Epsilon chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) have a goal to maintain the lowest cost while providing the maximum aid for its members. This past semester, SAE worked closely with the Greek Council in creating and implementing the Greek Life Student Support fund, a fundraiser whose goal is to alleviate the financial burden of membership dues for all Oxy Greek organizations. Aside from financial support, Cal Ep will continue to be the only all male-identifying organization on campus for students coming from any background regardless of race, religion, sexual identity or economic background. We plan to further commit to this ideal by requiring that all our members receive implicit bias training. Within the national SAE community, Cal Ep will continue to be a bulwark for equity and justice from within the organization by resisting national practices that violate our promise of inclusivity and equity. 

In conclusion, we want to emphasize that this letter is not an excuse for our inaction against oppressive structures before this year. Rather, this letter will serve as a marker for the beginning of Greek Life actually holding itself accountable. We reject the precedent of complacency which we have upheld. To be truly inclusive about this, we cannot solely use our perceptions of the community’s needs: we need to hear from you all what the community needs or thinks we should change. If anyone has the energy to do so, please don’t hesitate to reach out to anyone on Greek Council or any individual within Greek Life that you feel comfortable talking to. Greek Council will also be hosting town-hall meetings for discussions around the transformation of Oxy’s Greek Life and dates will be announced via our Instagram, the Oxy Digest and our website

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. We look forward to making Greek Life a more comfortable space for Oxy community members.

With love,

Occidental’s Greek Council