With a large majority of our student body studying from home this quarter, it’s easier now than ever to feel isolated. Joining student organizations is a great way to combat this loneliness, and participating in Greek life is a popular route to take. It offers to fill that void with friends, virtual events, and community service — it’s perfect. Well, almost. While I believe that in theory, Greek life is a wonderful way to get involved and stay connected with your campus, there are some glaring flaws that shouldn’t be overlooked.
From their founding, many sororities have excluded people of color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Despite the fact that this was hundreds of years ago, many of these discriminatory sentiments remain deeply embedded within the culture today, just heavily veiled. Unfortunately, this includes sororities at UC San Diego.
Three sources from Sigma Kappa and one from Tri-Delta felt comfortable enough to share their experiences with racism in their respective sororities at UCSD. What they shared confirmed that despite being hidden, sororities at UCSD do foster racism and discrimination, and that change needs to be made.
One member of Sigma Kappa feels there is discrimination within disciplinary hearings. She described an incident where unequal punishments were given to two members who were called before the disciplinary board. One member was white, the other was Middle Eastern. The white member was called before the board for yelling the n-word in public. She was only required to attend a diversity workshop, and many members thought even that was extreme, claiming that “she didn’t know better.”
The Middle Eastern member was called before the same board for posting a video with her international friends with the caption “when ¼ of your school is Chinese International and everyone’s wearing a mask.” She was expelled from Sigma Kappa.
Her expulsion came despite many emails protesting the decision from other participants of Greek life and student organizations, and despite submitting three appeals herself.
The judicial process that determined her expulsion was extremely unjust. According to my source, the video in question was not even shown to those voting on the expulsion. Instead, they relied on a biased description from a white member of the sorority. Additionally, at that meeting, the accused member was not allowed to defend herself, and there was a scripted member, which goes against the sororities rules, who spoke out against her. My source confirmed that every Asian member of the executive board reached out to her during this process, and none of the white members did.
The issue here lies within the structure of the disciplinary system. The standards board that accused members are called to is led by a single member. This member gets to handpick the other three members of the board, leaving no assurance of a fair and equal assessment. The Middle Eastern member was still expelled from the sorority despite protests from countless sorority members and executive board members, while the white member got away unscathed.
While future accountability and reform of the larger structures of Greek Life on campus will help to prevent further incidents, it won’t necessarily solve the current issues. In order to correct the damage that has already been caused, current sorority members need to be held accountable for discriminatory actions or comments that they’ve made.
Another former Sigma Kappa member that I spoke with explained how microaggressions are woven into everyday conversations with the sorority. The member recounted comments like “wow she’s actually really pretty for a black girl, I thought she was more exotic” and “[he’s] probably not documented” being tossed around without any understanding of the weight that those words carry.
Not only do these kinds of microaggressions suggest that being “exotic” is ugly and undesirable, but they perpetuate harmful stereotypes that have been introduced by the media and, quite honestly, racists over decades.
Furthermore, all four of my sources spoke about tokenism within their respective sororities. Those from Sigma Kappa revealed that during recruitmentent, members were told things such as “we have too many Asian girls, let’s try to look for others” and “c’mon ladies we’re the most diverse chapter by far let’s keep it that way.” This is harmful because it condones the idea that women of color are only valuable in order to meet diversity quotas, not because they are intelligent assets to the group.
The opposite approach is also found within sororities at UCSD. As my Tri Delta source explained, some predominantly Asian sororities attempt to recruit more white members in order to become more respected and desired, perpetuating the belief that white members are superior and more valuable than women of color. Both instances go to show that even though these organizations may not come off as blatantly racist, there are definitely ignorant and discriminatory practices.
Another way that this ignorance can manifest if left unchecked is through performative activism. According to one Sigma Kappa source, members were advised to avoid speaking up about racial injustices in case they were misinterpreted, yet they were all encouraged to speak up about COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement once it became “trendy” to post black squares on Instagram. Not only does this illustrate a blatant inconsistency, but also a complete disregard for current social issues as anything more than another post on social media.
Again, I truly believe that if run properly, sororities have the potential to do good. Sisterhood and service are two great values that I think everyone can benefit from, not to mention all of the post-college connections that you will be left with. And lasting social ties aren’t the only benefit sorority members have access to later in life.
Having diversity within our sororities is crucial because participation in Greek life is a pipeline to future power. A 2016 study shows that Greek life participation in college increases one’s future income by 36 percent. It is crucial we ensure that these opportunities are available for everyone, not just those who are affluent and white.
Ensuring this diversity within our sororities must start with more accountability and internal reform, which is attainable for all of our sororities on campus. While all members of our sororities already have to go through diversity and inclusion training, something clearly isn’t working. By looking inward and demanding accountability from these organizations, we can move toward more equal post-college opportunities for our students of color.
Art created by Angela Liang for The UC San Diego Guardian