Campus greek life continues inclusion efforts

A discussion last week focused on issues with the community embracing diverse members.

by Isabella Murray

Because many participants in University of Minnesota greek life undergo a formal recruitment process and pay expensive membership dues, some believe it to be an exclusive community.
But members say that while theirs is not an unwelcoming place for minority students, it could do more to be inclusive of students of all sexual orientations and races. 
At a public discussion  held at the University last week, members of the greek community focused on the system’s issues with embracing diverse membership.
At the University, 85 percent of the greek life is white, and 1 percent hails from outside the U.S., according to a 2015 demographic report.
“Fraternity and sorority life has made some room for diversity in membership … [but] I think we have work to do on how inclusive the environments are for those diverse members,” said Keith Garcia, a coordinator for the Office for Fraternity and Sorority Life who identifies as a racial minority and a member of the LGBTQ community.
At last week’s forum — called “Tongues Untied: The Intersection of LGBTQIA and Greek Life” — the discussion included issues of identity in fraternities and sororities as well as inclusivity for people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ.
In October, a number of campus greek councils sponsored a discussion about toxic masculinity and social stereotypes in greek culture.
“You still have … members of an organization that have an issue with someone being openly gay in a fraternity,” said Nathan Bakken, who is president of both the Multicultural Greek Council and Delta Lambda Phi, a fraternity founded in 1987 by and for gay, bisexual, transgender and progressive men.
Bakken said that while he’s content with the perception of greek life on campus as a social space filled with events and community building, he believes members and nonmembers alike should continue to tackle some of the system’s deep-rooted problems of racial and sexual discrimination and hostility.
“I’m guessing there have been some issues with someone not receiving a bid at a fraternity because of their sexual orientation,” he said.
Rutika Padsalgikar, a first-year student and member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority, said she believes the University’s range of greek councils — among them historically black and LGBTQ chapters — shows that the community is working toward diversity.
Padsalgikar, who was born in Belgium but is of Indian heritage and grew up in Australia, said the University’s greek system provided her with the sense of belonging in college.
“I wanted a sense of home away from home and people that I could count on and count as sisters,” Padsalgikar said. “I’ve had nothing but the best experiences.”
Senior Saron Theodros said she similarly found her niche in a sorority in the fall of 2014 when she joined Alpha Kappa Alpha, a campus chapter started by African-American women. She now serves as its president. 
Theodros said many members experienced issues of racial discrimination on campus and that the sorority serves as a place they can gather with like-minded people.
“I noticed that a lot of the girls and I had a lot of similarities and the same struggles,” she said, “So having their support is really important.” 
Bakken said he has seen progress towards inclusivity on a national scale. When he attended a fraternal leadership conference earlier this month in Indianapolis, he said he had nothing but positive experiences with greek council colleagues.
“The executive leaders of all the other councils treated me like I was one of their own, basically. There was no issue with me 
being an openly gay man,” he said.
In recent years, several national fraternity and sorority chapters and greek umbrella organizations have officially passed nondiscrimination policies. 
However, Garcia of the University’s Office for Fraternity and Sorority Life said more work needs to be done to carry out those sweeping initiatives locally.
“These are huge, strong messages,” Garcia said. “Their arrival in those spaces at the local level may not always match the rhetoric from the national level.”