Greek Row Houses

Opinion columnist Olivia Glaser argues that current policies within Panhellenic at the University of Kansas and across the country perpetuate institutional racism.

Opinion

After the murder of George Floyd, University of Kansas sororities released statements proclaiming their alliance with the Black Lives Matter movement and the Black community. While their aesthetically pleasing posts on Instagram with heartfelt messages demonstrate their support, I can only think about the institutional racism that sororities abide by during fall formal recruitment each year.

Formal recruitment is a week-long process run by the Panhellenic Association. Students have the opportunity to visit each sorority house in hopes of being selected into one of their top choices. Beforehand, prospective members are encouraged to get letters of recommendation that must be completed by alumni members of each respective house. These letters are advantageous to those going through this process. 

If exceptionally lucky, a student could qualify as a legacy. This legacy status indicates that she has family ties to a specific house, which increases her chances of getting accepted.

The entire process of rewarding both legacy status and letters of recommendation promotes a cycle of whiteness within Panhellenic sororities.

In this current system, students are rewarded for having prior connections to sororities. By only rewarding those with prior connections, those without a connection are at a complete disadvantage, thus constituting institutionalized racism.

Defined as “the systematic distribution of resources, power and opportunity in our society to the benefit of people who are white and the exclusion of people of color,” institutionalized racism within sororities at KU has been ignored for too long.

When I went through sorority recruitment as a freshman, the bathrooms were filled with curling irons and makeup brushes as everyone prepared to look their very best. As the week progressed, cuts were made and tears were definitely shed. 

Even though I had my worries about going through recruitment, I was well prepared. I was a legacy in one of the chapters, and had countless friends and neighbors with sorority connections who wrote letters on my behalf. As a white woman, this part of the process was incredibly easy. 

Historically, racist policies and practices known as “white clauses” made it difficult for people of color to be accepted into sororities. Consequently, it would be unlikely that women of color going through recruitment today would be of legacy status. Additionally, they are far less likely to have close contacts with sorority affiliates eligible to write them letters of recommendation.

The increased prevalence of white sorority alumni makes it more feasible for potential white new members to have ties with sorority chapters. Unfortunately, women of color are excluded from benefiting from this systematic act because of their lack of connections.

This biased tradition occurs in universities all over the United States. Even though letters of recommendation and a legacy status may seem insignificant at first, they contribute to the institutional racism that sororities condone. 

Going forward, Panhellenic must take steps to create a more inclusive environment. For starters, the use of legacy status during recruitment must be completely eliminated. Additionally, the criteria for letters of recommendation should be expanded to anyone, regardless of previous Greek affiliations.

Although simple, these changes will help create a more diverse and welcoming Greek community. As nice as it is to see sororities condemning racism on their social media platforms, actions will always speak louder than words.

Olivia Glaser is a sophomore from Overland Park studying English and psychology.