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Letter to the Editor: Panhellenic Association on gender inclusivity

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There are pieces of the Panhellenic Association’s story that by no means give us pride: historic elitism and the predominance of white and otherwise privileged individuals are elements of this community’s past — and present — that we are actively trying to overcome and eradicate.

But what does and has always given us pride about our history is the fact that we were founded for women, by women, because of women. We came into existence in response to female exclusion and devaluation, and as such, our mission is to value and include every individual in our community. Beyond that, we strive to provide these individuals with the space, the opportunity and the confidence to achieve. We have never been quiet or coy about this mission.

We have been quiet, however, about what constitutes womanhood as it pertains to eligibility for our community.

Northwestern’s Panhellenic Association –– in consultation with its members –– understands and ascribes to the notion that gender expression is not always fixed or stagnant. The desire to be part of a women’s community does not need to have any correlation to a biological sex assigned at birth. This we know. What we as individuals and leaders in the community seek, value and prioritize is collective commitment to the stated Panhellenic mission and ideals of sisterhood before biological or gender uniformity.

Where we have come to an impasse is in respecting and negotiating with national and international headquarters, each of which have a distinct perspective on what constitutes eligibility for our community. While some national headquarters have adopted more progressive ideas about gender expression as it pertains to eligibility, some are not yet willing to depart from more traditional definitions of womanhood and sisterhood. We acknowledge that changing these eligibility qualifications is complicated for a number of reasons, including history, tradition and legal implications. We hope that Northwestern PHA’s mission can help encourage these organizations to develop their perspectives on membership eligibility regarding gender.

So, as a community, we have both a confession and a pledge: We confess that our community is not yet as inclusive of all forms of gender expression as it could or should be. We confess that we have been too silent and too complacent for too long.

Therefore we pledge to continue creating a more inclusive and accessible community. We pledge to offer better and more obvious support to the members of our community who ascribe to non-traditional forms of gender expression. We pledge to continue conversations with national headquarters and within the Northwestern community until we are able to not only stand behind but also collectively implement a truly inclusive policy on what constitutes eligibility for the Panhellenic community.

In the meantime, to the members of our community who currently ascribe to fluid or non-binary modes of gender expression, we value you. We promise to improve the ways we support you, starting with refining our language and using appropriate pronouns, providing more affinity spaces and striving to more generally make programming less heteronormative. We invite suggestions and feedback on how to better provide this support.

To non-binary, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals seeking to join our community: We also value you. We encourage you to learn more about our community and each of our individual chapters. We hope that we can make a space for you to feel comfortable pursuing membership if you so choose.

As majority cisgendered women, we do not wish to put the onus on non-binary, transgender and gender nonconforming individuals to dismantle these structural problems. Instead, we hope to work together to break these self-created barriers and ask for cross-campus allies in this journey as well.

We realize that this is an evolving and complex conversation and that this is merely a stepping stone toward achieving our broader goal of comprehensive inclusivity. We hope by sharing this letter with the Northwestern community we are being transparent in our intent, and we expect to be held accountable to our pledge.

Sincerely,

The Panhellenic Executive Board
Nina Seminara
Mackenzie Broderick
Sarah Horstman
Willow Pastard
Ellen Erpenbeck
Tori Zaharoff
Kayla West
Katharine Currault
Kate Slosburg

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