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Lee: UI greek life poorly integrated

BY ASHLEY LEE | SEPTEMBER 26, 2013 5:00 AM

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It’s common for University of Iowa students to consider greek life. However, not much thought is given to each chapter’s racial demographics.

Recently, the University of Alabama’s National Panhellenic Conference sororities have received negative attention. The 16 chapters have been accused of not extending an invitation to two students because of their race.

Such news is troubling. To think young women can preach acceptance and sisterhood, then be intolerant to those who are “different” is disappointing. Although Alabama is a state with a long history of racial intolerance, the location of this injustice should not be an excuse to not hold the university’s chapters accountable. 

I considered greek life as a possibility to create a bond with my peers. I think sororities and fraternities are meant to foster positive relationships and help students learn about themselves, but I’ve also wondered how such a thing is possible when greek organizations often practice de facto segregation.

At the University of Iowa, greek life is composed of four council executive boards — Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council, and Multicultural Greek Council — which oversee the universities fraternities and sororities.

According to the UI’s 2013 Council Publication, Multicultural Greek Council includes “Latino/a-, Asian-, and LGBT-based chapters” and National Pan-Hellenic Council includes “seven of the “Divine Nine” historically African-American fraternities and sororities.” The Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council, on the other hand, are traditionally predominantly white.

None of UI’s chapters blatantly discriminate when recruiting new members, but there is an unspoken rule when it comes to showing interest. Many white students choose to stick within the realm of Panhellenic Council and Interfraternity Council organizations, while non-whites remain under the umbrella of National Pan-Hellenic Council and Multicultural Greek Council.

My question is, why?

The organizations have yet to be fully integrated. And no, the token black girl in a pledge class of 30 white girls does not count. It can be intimidating to be in the minority and see no one who looks like you.

As a black person attending a predominantly white institution, I often feel out of place. I’d like to see Latinos, Asians, blacks, and other groups fully represented in all UI chapters.

While it is unlikely that greek life will readily integrate anytime soon, the thought is worth contemplating. After all, we talk so much about living in a post-racial society. Some of my peers even tell me race is not an issue because a black man is president.

UI President Sally Mason said in a recent DI interview, “We’ve been an institution that I think has been very welcoming to minorities, and more and more on our campus, the diversity is such that it is hard to see who’s a minority and who’s not anymore.”

If only they could open their eyes.

It’s easy to say there’s no segregation in greek life. But if this is the case, why is it year after year, greek organizations are predominantly made up of one race or another?

Unfortunately, racial diversity is not a priority for a lot of us. We often practice color-blindness and do not question why we have racially homogenous friendships.

We choose to not question tradition; instead, we simply go along to get along. Part of maturing and relieving ignorance, however, is creating bonds with those of a different race and not only understanding, but appreciating our very different realities.

UI’s greek councils and individual chapters need to do a better job of recruiting members from different racial backgrounds. They could start by making the recruitment process for all four greek council chapters equally visible on campus.

Prospective members should also do their part in showing interest in the different organizations by attending events and familiarizing themselves with the different councils. Not only will this end segregation by choice, but students may also learn to build and appreciate more interracial relationships.


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