Diverse roots in Greek life decaying at GC
Despite the new monument being built in their honor, changes to GC’s admissions practices have decimated membership in National Pan-Hellenic Council (NP-HC) groups.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, racial diversity at GC was relatively balanced. Most of the students at the school were from Middle Georgia.
In the mid-’90s, however, GC transitioned from a regional school to a liberal arts institution that recruited statewide. With this change came a decrease in participation in NP-HC, all of whom are historically black groups.
"That’s when the major population shift happened on campus, which negatively impacted diversity in Greek life,”said Tiffany Bayne, director of Fraternity and Sorority life. “Our NP-HC groups, which are historically black, went from very lively to going between active and inactive every semester.”
Greek life is a significant part of the GC student experience.
According to the 2017 GC Fact Book, approximately 33 percent of undergraduate GC students are in a fraternity or sorority.
Additionally, 83 percent of 2017 undergraduate students were white.
“College is supposed to be the place where you can meet people who are different from you and who can challenge your views,” Bayne said. “I wonder if students are getting the best education due to the lack of diversity.”
GC typically have a chapter size of about 180 members.
“Panhellenic is like a smoking locomotive—it will run you over,” said Stacey Milner, director of the Cultural Center and former co-assistant director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. “It demands your attention, while NP-HC and UGC [United Greek Council] organizations watch from the sidelines.”
Visibility is a struggle for these small groups on campus, but the issue doesn’t stop there.
The College Panhellenic Council (CPC) and Interfraternity Council (IFC) groups are often not aware what it means to be a historically black sorority or fraternity.
Milner says that Panhellenic Council is not educated enough on NP-HC, but NP-HC groups know all about Panhellenic Council groups because of their impact on campus.
Some Greek traditions on campus, like the step dance competition, have historical implications that many students likely do not recognize.
“Sometimes it’s disheartening to see Panhellenic participate in step during Greek Week,” Milner said. “They don’t understand that stepping is grounded in NP-HC’s culture, and they don’t know that stepping comes with a history of pain. Sometimes, it’s a slap in the face to watch Panhellenic Council go onstage and mimic things they don’t understand.”
Milner and others recognize that this issue does not stem from a place of disrespect but from a place of ignorance. One solution is to find a way to partner together and educate each other.
“It’s hard to scrutinize and penalize Panhellenic sororities,” Milner said. “We continue to let them step but don’t educate them. Instead of stepping by yourself, why not partner with an NP-HC organization and step together?”
The issue doesn’t start once students are members of these organization; it begins with the recruitment.
The Panhellenic recruitment process can be intimidating for women of color because of the lack of representation of others who look like them.
“It was a bit uncomfortable to go through recruitment,” said Estefi Herrera, president of Alpha Gamma Delta, whose family is from Venezuela. “I would look around the room, and everyone seemed like a cookie-cutter girl, and I was not the same.”
However, Herrera strives to value diversity within Alpha Gamma Delta.
Her leadership role has impacted both her chapter and new members. A new member told Herrera that one of the reasons she chose Alpha Gamma Delta was because she saw Herrera, a woman of color, serving as chapter president.
“I pride myself in the progress I have made for women of all backgrounds,” Herrera said. “I will continue to help make the Greek community become a more inviting place to all people.”