I have almost entirely cut out Facebook from my life. After the election, I decided it was a source of misinformation or negativity that was not needed in my day to day. However, this past week something surfaced in the Vanderbilt online sphere that was hard to ignore. Someone posted a photo that said, “what if Greek Life loved black people as much as it loves black culture.” Naturally, this stirred up a lot of conversation and instantly made me think about this class’s content.
Greek life is notoriously white. This is true at Vanderbilt and almost every other college in the United States. The system is rooted in “tradition,” “ceremony,” and “brotherhood:” all of which are things that would have barred black participation during fraternity/sorority inception in the mid 1800s. But more than that, the system is built to uphold the status quo and moves slowly in the face of social change. Greek culture attracts similar types of people and those people recruit similar ones to them, and so forth. Beyond shared life experiences and mindsets, it is not uncommon to look at composite photos where every single member of a 180-girl chapter is Caucasian. This world is consistently and thoroughly absent of color and diversity.
Simultaneously, much of Greek culture capitalizes on components of black culture. At parties, white frat boys and girls can be found dancing to hip hop and R&B that was born out of racial oppression (i.e. “Straight Outta Compton”). During sorority recruitment, Facebook cover photos get changed to promotions for various houses that exploit pillars of the black community such as Beyoncé, Kanye West, and Will Smith. Houses make banners and print apparel that use these same people and movements to publicize systemically white institutions. Thus, it is not surprising that this meme made so many waves in the Vanderbilt community that claims to value diversity.
As a white woman in Greek life who thinks of herself as socially aware, this viral image made me uncomfortable at first glance. I felt myself getting defensive and swearing that my chapter was different. However, I began to realize that this instinctual response was counterproductive. This class has furthered my understanding that racial realities are difficult to grasp and confront. But having a member of my larger university community call out fraternities and sororities for their racial biases is exactly what should be embraced to ever move forward. The simple Facebook meme prompted me to think about the organization I was in and how it could be perceived from the outside.