This year, a new student-led program is attempting to change perceptions about inclusion and equity in Greek life. Composed of members from all four governing councils of Greek life, the Greek Inclusivity Alliance (GIA) was created to increase cultural competency in the Greek community and design a space where members can feel accepted and celebrated for their identities.
A product of the IFC Inclusivity Agreement in 2014 and the Panhellenic Diversity & Inclusion Task Force in 2016, the GIA was spearheaded last spring by co-chairs Bridgette Brown (NPHC & IGC), Henry Bristol (IFC) and Neena Kapoor (Panhellenic). After talking about some issues of equity and inclusion that they noticed in Greek Life, the three students began to design a structure for the program. Members for the Alliance were selected in the spring, and the GIA hosted an extensive training session over the summer.
According to Neena Kapoor, the GIA was created to start taking action to address issues of inclusion in Greek life.
“The hard part is honestly figuring out where to start,” Kapoor said. “We know there’s an issue, we know there are barriers that exist within our community, but how do we start breaking those barriers down? One way of addressing that is through cultural competency and inclusivity, but that is going to involve a lot of small tasks.”
The GIA is composed of one to three members from every chapter in Greek life. GIA members from Panhellenic and IFC are called Allies, and members from NPHC and IGC are called Advocates. The GIA holds biweekly meetings for all members, where they listen to speakers and have conversations about topics relating to inclusion and equity. The members are then encouraged to go to their respective chapters to share what they have learned.
“It is up to them to decide how to take the information they have learned in training back to their chapters,” Kapoor said. “It gives them a little bit of autonomy, because I know that every chapter functions a little bit differently.”
Kristin Torrey, Director of the Office of Greek Life, said that the methods in which this training reaches the members of Greek life vary among the individual members of the GIA. In mid-September, GIA members completed a training session about unconscious bias led by Greg Fontus of the IICC. Afterwards, GIA members broke out in council-specific groups to discuss what they had learned.
“The members questioned, what does this information really mean, and how can we break this down to action steps to bring back to our own chapters?” Torrey said. “These action steps can really depend on the individual member. Some of them have gone on to do individual chapter presentations, or lead a discussion on something they learned about in training.”
To provide members with a comprehensive training on equity and inclusion, the GIA partnered with a variety of organizations on campus and in Nashville, such as the Inclusivity Initiatives & Cultural Competence Office, the Black Cultural Center, LGBTQI+ Life, the International Student & Scholar Services Office and the Office of Religious Life. In addition, members of the GIA read Strong Inside by Andrew Maraniss in partnership with Dean Beasley and the Martha Rivers Ingram Commons. Members of the GIA did a session in the Civil Rights Room of the Nashville Public Library, where they discussed ongoing projects the library staff was working on in relation to the Civil Rights Room.
The GIA is also organizing special committees to address specific topics about equity and inclusivity. These committees include a Cultural Competence Committee, a Campus Engagement Committee, a Financial Inclusivity Committee and a Recruitment Reform Committee. These committees are open to all Vanderbilt students, and their goal is to discuss important issues about equity and inclusion that the co-chairs cannot address individually.
One of the Alliance’s goals is to create support systems inside Greek life for minorities, particularly as Vanderbilt’s campus becomes more diverse. Kapoor said that there is a difference between diversity and inclusivity, and that creating inclusion in a system that is by definition exclusive can be difficult. The historical nature of Greek life puts it at a disadvantage in terms of diversity.
“Our goal is not to recruit minorities, but rather if minority students choose to become a part of our community, then we want them to be here and we want them to know that this space can be for them,” Kapoor said. “I want everyone to feel like they can be in Greek life if they want to be.”
Kapoor thinks that it is important for members of NPHC and IGC to have a voice in the GIA.
“I think that it’s really important to recognize that minority students have a very different experience than other students, in that it’s okay to have that safe space to be in and to celebrate that culture,” Kapoor said. “I think that is what the NPHC and IGC does really well by providing students with the ability to celebrate their identity. We use the terms advocates and allies. Members of NPHC are called advocates, they are advocating for their minority identity, and members of Panhellenic and IFC are called allies.”
Another goal of the GIA, according to Kapoor, is to move away from culturally ignorant trends in the Greek community.
“With the swipe-and-go stigma right now, when Greek members are going to cultural events and then swiping and leaving for GME, it makes students think that this isn’t an inclusive space, this isn’t a culturally competent space, people don’t really care in this space, and it emphasizes biases towards Greek members,” Kapoor said.
From hearing about positive experiences from minorities in Greek life to seeing growth and increased awareness of the NPHC and IGC communities, Torrey stressed the importance of the intangible improvement of students’ lives through the GIA.
“I would like to go to a program at the Black Cultural Center, and I would like to see more non-Black students there. I would like for students to say, I went to a program, and I was the minority in the room for the first time,” Torrey said. “These are the kinds of successes that are, to me, students exposing themselves to learning.”
According to Torrey, the program is not meant to be run by any administration such as the Office of Greek Life, but by its student co-chairs and members.
“The cool thing about the GIA is that it’s student driven,” Torrey said. “With Henry and Bridgette and Neena, there is ownership. The students who are a part of this program are creating what the GIA is, and what it does, and what it means for our community. What is the direction for the GIA? It is whatever the people in the GIA want to make it.”
Torrey and the co-chairs of the GIA said they hope that by engaging Greek members in discussion about inclusivity and equity, they can encourage learning by broadening the mindsets and perspectives of students all across campus. Watching students with different opinions engaging in intelligent and constructive conversation about these topics signals success for the Greek Inclusivity Alliance.
“We can use the privilege we have as fraternity and sorority members to consider and take action on inclusivity and issues such as equity and inclusion for the community as a whole,” Torrey said. “The members of the Greek Inclusivity Alliance raised their hands and said, I care about creating a Greek community that is about equity and inclusion and the celebration of others. That is what will make it successful.”