I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to join a discussion led by Feminists in Action (FIA) last Wednesday regarding the articles recently published by The Emory Wheel discussing Emory Panhellenic Council (EPC) and their sorority recruiting process.
The room was unusually packed: there were seasoned Greek women, ex-Greek women, new Greek women, non-Greek women, almost Greek women (those who rushed but weren’t selected or decided to quit), a handful of men and at least two non-binary people, including myself.
I don’t want to say I speak for them all, but I hope that the beautiful, respectful conversation that took place in the crowded room is informed by those in attendance. Nor is this meant to speak for all queer and trans-folk.
While themes like “superficial” and “trivial” have been thrown around between the staff editorial, “Sorority Recruitment Disempowers Women” and the several responses regarding sorority recruitment at Emory, I noticed that my own method of making a counter-response was equally superficial. I began by annotating the response by EPC and several other responses which were posted on Facebook, some of them rather transphobic.
Herein lay the problem with my method. Each of these responses sought to disprove the commentary of the initial article, yet at the very core remains an issue that is untouched: systems of oppression. As we are interwoven in an increasingly diverse environment that we call Emory, the experiences we bring with us are each unique.
[quote_box name=””] Inclusion and diversity, which have become buzzwords at Emory, are not about who you let in. They are about who is comfortable even coming to the door.[/quote_box]
However, because Emory is a prestigious university, these experiences tend to favor white, cisgender, economically stable individuals. Thus, the system we engage in is by its very existence racist, transphobic and classist. Denial of privilege is a common theme I have encountered here. Just because we are oppressed by patriarchy within the sisterhood does not indicate that we are free from being oppressors to our sisters’ other identities.
The first step to improvement is to recognize this fact. Becoming defensive is, more often than not, an indicator that the defender is in fact guilty of that for which they are being criticized in the context of social justice.
Moving on to a specific scenario: EPC writes in “EPC Responds to ‘Sorority Recruitment Disempowers Women:” “the Wheel insinuated that EPC celebrated heteronormativity while excluding individuals identifying as transgender or LGBT. Empirically, EPC has never excluded someone from the recruitment process based on identity, making this claim unfounded and offensive.”
As we discussed on Wednesday, systems of oppression are often very insidious. Statistics and numbers are a flawed method for calculating what people who identify with an oppressed category consider to be discriminatory. Just because Emory College has about 50 percent of women in enrollment does not mean that patriarchy has been overturned in our community. But in the domain controlled by EPC, the lack of rejecting trans women is supposedly a quantifiable phenomenon; this creates a false image.
A few trans friends and I had a chat about this. One said she would love to join a sisterhood; but frankly, was afraid that as soon as she showed up she would be turned away. She and I have a certain commonality: neither of us passes easily. Our bodies, in their own way, are not formed in a way that is immediately recognized as “feminine.” And in a world where the image of a sorority sister is someone fairly lean with the right curves and little to no body hair, we are afraid to show our faces from fear of rejection. We didn’t even show up for recruitment, so how can we be counted? Inclusion and diversity, which have become buzzwords at Emory, are not about who you let in. They are about who is comfortable even coming to the door.
According to a statement made in the FIA discussion by College senior and Co-President of FIA Cara Ortiz, “Sororities have the potential to be powerful feminist organizations.” But many of us in the room recognized that some women did, in fact, feel disempowered by the recruitment process. Nevertheless, others noted once they were chosen, these sensations of disempowerment were forgotten as sisterhood began to form.
I must emphasize something: inclusivity can no longer be a buzzword. In a process that literally “cuts” participants, how can the process be inclusive? It takes work and dedication to transform an organization, but EPC has a potential to alter the inherently racist, classist and queerphobic model through which it currently goes about choosing new members.
However, EPC’s defense reveals that the point of the original editorial, which does not criticize sorority members or organizations, was lost to the pride of leading an exclusive organization. I believe that discussing this issue is the first of many steps toward reforming a system that has a huge potential for uplifting women. It will take strong leaders who are not discouraged in the face of institutional and systematic barriers. The goal of being a truly open organization takes years to pursue. In this context (though it is easily applicable to Emory as a whole), it is up to the next several generations of Greek women to interrogate the privileges of the individual and institution, to reform their organizations and to participate in a new understanding of sisterhood that is not based on subconscious discrimination and exclusion.
Kolia Kroeger is a College senior from Atlanta, Georgia.