Kim: NU Panhellenic chapters should offer space to process racism

Justine Kim, Op-Ed Contributor

Following a pair of racist incidents on American University’s campus, one involving a report of rotten bananas found outside black student’s dorm room and another involving a banana thrown at another black student, Greek organizations at AU have become involved in campus dialogues about race. I often get caught up in Northwestern’s fast-paced atmosphere and forget that similar events have also occurred at NU.

Just last year, two students were expelled after they vandalized Alice Millar Chapel with anti-Semitic and racist graffiti. Yes, this was months ago. But did our community truly learn from it? The events at AU should be a reminder to NU students that incidents of racial tension are neither isolated nor detached from our community.

Our different communities on campus are often stratified bubbles, sometimes overlapping, but generally self-segregated. As a woman of color involved in Panhellenic Greek life, I consider myself a part of an overlapping bubble. PHA and IFC communities are not often the first places I think of as spaces to discuss pressing racial issues. It is important to acknowledge those who are working toward dismantling the remnant of the Greek system’s institutional marginalization, but in thinking about what would happen if an incident like the ones at AU occurred on our campus, I have begun to wonder: Would my chapter serve as a space to discuss these issues or would it ignore them?

NU and AU are similar in size and political atmosphere. Following the incidents on AU’s campus, student protests broke out, and Panhellenic chapters publicly posted on social media platforms that they “stand in solidarity with the students of American University in their battle against discrimination, racism and violence against Black bodies, specifically Black femmes, on their campus and throughout this country.” Although I was excited to see that the Greek system could stand as allies with a group that has historically been marginalized by the Greek system, it was disheartening to hear that one chapter did not explicitly stand in solidarity.

AU’s most recent Panhellenic addition, Sigma Kappa, chose to release a public statement that in no way explicitly stated their solidarity with people of color affected by these incidents. As if they were tiptoeing around their Greek members’ white fragility, the organization posted a “statement of support” status that made no mention of racism, discrimination or injustice. The statement they released was like checking a box without following through on their intention.

Of course, an organization does not speak for every single one of its members. Many women in the Lambda Eta chapter of Sigma Kappa have expressed discontent with their chapter leadership’s decision not to express solidarity, and several have begun the process of disaffiliation, which a member told me then led to their chapter president stepping down. There is also a significant amount of irony the chapter did not want to make a “controversial political statement,” according to one sister’s post, which ended up leading to multiple members claiming to disaffiliate. By not even directly expressing their stance as an ally of students on their campus, the statement made by the Lambda Eta chapter perpetuated an attitude of self-preservation that is dangerous to those members of their chapter who are affected by racism and shows a lack of willingness to stand against their oppressors.

Let’s take a step back. When we as an NU or Greek community hear about racial conflicts at other universities, it’s easy to think “Well, that doesn’t happen to us.” Incorrect. Just a few years ago, a “Jail ‘N Bail” philanthropy event was hosted by Kappa Kappa Gamma and Zeta Beta Tau in which members of the organization wore orange jumpsuits and posed as inmates. The occurrence led to the formation of PHA’s Diversity and Inclusion Chairs and was a stain on our Greek system, reminding us NU is not immune to racial politics.

AU and NU are both universities with diversity of race and thought. We can look at AU and think “that won’t happen to us” –– but what if it does? PHA and IFC chapters can and should serve as spaces for their members to discuss the injustices that occur both inside and outside of the chapter.

Justine Kim is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.