Most of my classes through K-12 and undergrad, consisted of assignments that served no purpose other than a completion grade. I remember one professor encouraging us to the answer key provided in the textbook to assist in our learning journey. Despite the negative memories, there were also projects and papers that I will remember forever. For example, in 5th grade, I chose to research the Gateway Arch because I was intrigued by the city of St. Louis and its role in American history. Thirteen years later, I was called the “Show Me State” and had the opportunity to meet with student leaders at Saint Louis University.
Saint Louis University (SLU) is a private Jesuit Catholic institution with campuses in both Missouri and Spain. It is also the oldest university founded west of the Mississippi River in the year 1818. While at SLU, I met with student leaders in the Fraternity and Sorority Life community. Home to about 2,000 students comprising 25% of the undergraduate student body, this community is more than just numbers. Leaders in student organizations, such as student government and club sports, are affiliated with Greek life on campus. This weekend we discussed how to be more intentional in our practice to become an inclusive community.
Cyclical dialogue about diversity and inclusion without action is detrimental and can lead to negative outcomes for all stakeholders. Student leaders at SLU realized this and created VP of Diversity and Inclusion positions on both the Panhellenic and Interfraternity Council executive boards to help accelerate this change. What’s more inspiring is the desire of the Greek community to learn more about their social identities and how their perspectives, values, and beliefs inform their leadership.
Lejla (Panhellenic – VP of Diversity and Inclusion) and Grant (IFC – VP of Diversity and Inclusion) have already done extraordinary work in their first semester in office. They first identified several local and national issues that created presented challenges to their community. Next, they analyzed every single chapter’s constitution and bylaws to ensure the documents are congruent with their mission and values. As a result, they are proposing changes to the date policy so members do not have to out themselves to their chapter in order to bring same-sex partners to social functions. Lejla is creating a Trans Inclusion policy for chapters in the Panhellenic Council to advocate for gender inclusive environment. Grant is engaged in conversations with IFC chapter presidents about how to incorporate healthy masculinity workshops into member development.
Name another Greek life community whose students are actively seeking and creating opportunities growth.
Greek Life at SLU is one of the most influential and intentional communities I have ever met. They understand diversity and inclusion extends past conversations about race. They believe it is important to diversify their historically white organizations and celebrate differences in gender, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, and religious/spiritual affiliation. We talked about systems of privilege and oppression and how it maintains dominance in not only within Panhellenic and IFC organizations but also within the greater community. More importantly, we learned that resistance to change involves passive and active behaviors.
How do we begin to change the negative stereotypes Greek life that have been perpetuated for decades?
The same way you eat an elephant. One bite (step) at a time.
Encourage somebody to be great today!