Editorial note: Here is the long-awaited response to the two pieces in our Fall ’13 issue which offered a critical perspective on Greek Life. The Editors of Wetlands would like to thank Kyle Long for writing this piece and to everyone who has participated in these conversations since the publication of our last issue. So, without further ado, here it is!
I’m queer and I’m Greek… and I love it.
Firstly, I write with the intentions of sharing my personal reactions to two thought-provoking opinions about Greek Life, and in no way do my opinions represent Puget Sound Greek Life’s sentiments as a whole. Secondly, I am writing as a member of a Fraternity on campus, as a gay man, as an Orientation leader, as an avid runner, as someone who sees value in education, etc. I write through my varying lenses that have shaped my experience here at Puget Sound, and as a gay Fraternity man, I offer you a single reaction in what I hope will be a shared and continued conversation.
Culture is extremely fluid and it should not be commodified and compartmentalized within a particular timeframe. We can never know the full impact we have on the evolution of culture because in order to be honestly interpreted, one should look at societal movements long after they have occurred rather than trying to see immediate ramifications. The important part about cultural change is that we can all take small steps to insure that the future is a safer place for future generations. Just as culture is constantly changing, so is queerness. In many respects, queerness can never be fully realized. One might argue that Puget Sound’s Greek Life is queer simply because of the participation of many queer-identifying members. Comparing Puget Sound’s Greek Life to media’s representation of Greek Life presents a lack of awareness and knowledge of how Puget Sound’s Greek Life truly functions. As a whole, I believe that the members of Greek Life at Puget Sound actively work to defy media stereotypes of partying and uninclusive behavior, which will hopefully lead to a changing of cultural norms and expectations of Greek life in general.
I believe that Puget Sound Fraternities and Sororities are unique in that they do not necessarily fit the national molds and reputations associated with their designated organizations. A specific ritual unites every chapter of each particular organization, but essentially chapters are encouraged to develop their own personalities and traditions. This process is a natural one, and through my involvement in national conventions and meetings I have seen a diverse collective of individuals who represent each chapter under one organization; I feel very lucky to be a member of Puget Sound’s Greek Life. Although this process of defining is naturally occurring, I am not writing to say that we should be passive observers of social movements and go with the flow; I believe that we should stand up for what we believe in by wielding our pitchforks, vibrators, and pencils alike, in celebrating and continuing the battle for social justice within Greek Life.
Each Sorority and Fraternity on the Puget Sound campus defies national and social expectations because of the natural processes of defining their unique personalities within their designated organizations. The fact that many houses have gay, lesbian, and trans members is a wonderful side effect of this process. I argue that a majority of the members involved in Greek Life are also involved in an array of on-campus activities, which brings a wonderful element of diversity to the Greek Houses. This social diversity, in regards to academic commitments and extra-circular involvement, leads to varying dialogues within each Greek House. I think it is sad to assume that topics of gender and sexuality do not come up in Greek Houses, because I can assure you that they do. I believe that the most meaningful steps toward large-scale social understanding and enlightenment are taken through having personal conversations with peers and relying on empathy in order to foster a productive conversation. This conversation can be about rush and what it means to be a member of Greek Life, as well as what it means to be a queer individual on the Puget Sound campus.
Please know that as a member of Greek Life, I can truthfully say that rather than letting a national reputation define us, we let our membership define our individual chapters. Yes, Greek Life is an exclusive organization that segregates its members based on her or his preferred gendered-identity. And yes, Greek Life is an exclusive organization that is distinctly heteronormative because of the biological sex-based segregation that occurs. However, although it may sound cliché, I believe that Puget Sound Greek Life is unique and evolving, just as culture is continually changing. Through my personal discovery, I have found Greek Life on our campus to be remarkably inclusive and accepting, especially in terms of sexuality and gender expression. Although I preach about the inclusivity of Greek Life, Fraternities and Sororities must be aware of the ways in which they practice exclusivity, and I hope Greek members feel challenged by both C.J. and Phillip’s articles.
With that said, the rush process is certainly uninclusive because it seeks to categorize individuals based on their characteristics, values, and personalities. So by definition, yes, Greek Life organizes students into two select groups of potential “members” and “non-members” through the recruitment and rush processes. Although this tapering effect is problematic in some ways, it is fact that Greek Life is not for everyone, just as particular occupations are not meant for everyone, and not everyone has the same aspirations based simply on how they were raised and conditioned. This is not to say that talent and capability are synonymous with characteristic and quality; rather, there are numerous exclusive institutions that we are faced with on a daily basis that do in fact judge its potential in and out groups based on individuals’ personalities.
I do not want an exclusively “queer” participation in Greek Life. I want genuinely passionate men and women to participate in Greek Life who could also be queer, who are seeking to be part of something greater than themselves, and who will not allow their Greek involvement to define them entirely, just as I do not prefer individuals who define themselves purely on her or his sexual orientation, gender identity, athletic ability, skin color, etc. A single characteristic of the individual should never have the power to step in for the individual as a whole. While I surely believe that numerous qualities help to shape an individual, I do not believe that they should stand in for and actively define a grouped experience. Yes, a young woman might be wearing three letters on a sweatshirt that define her in that moment, but she also bears olive skin, long brown hair, stress stemming from a phone call she recently shared one of her moms, and a financial debt of $80,000. We should not allow a single characteristic, such as Greek involvement, to define our interpretation of any individual.
In turn, I charge Greek organizations with the same responsibility: no single potential new member should be defined or viewed through one glimpse or moment of her or his character. Rather, I hope that Greek members take the time to genuinely converse with potential new members and gain insight into who the potential new members are and who they aspire to be. If members of Greek chapters are truly passionate about what their organization has done for them, they should put in the effort and dedication to enlighten non-members about what it means to be involved with Greek Life. I too encourage involvement in a Greek GSA as well as other groups on campus such as Q&A or Wetlands. A Greek GSA would create a space for positive reflection within the Greek community because it has the potential to offer the means for queer voices within Greek Houses to be heard. In a quest to fully understand how Greek Life is affecting the queer community on the larger Puget Sound campus, it would be beneficial to hear the sentiments, worries, and praises of queer members within Greek Life because their voices would evoke positive motivation and curiosity among those who are non-queer in the Greek community. This conversation could lead to community awareness and ideally, to action.
Phillip, I am so very sorry for the experience you had with one of your first interactions with Fraternity members. I am sorry that you were treated so terribly by individuals who had zero justified motivation for doing so. I am glad that you have found new pride after your traumatizing experience, and I am relieved to hear that you do not assign your experience to every Fraternity member who crosses your path. In reference to your concluding thoughts, I hope that some of my words, as a member of Greek Life, have at least illustrated to you my critical thinking in regards to the segregation that occurs in Greek Life.
For the record, I too found parts of the “Gay Point Average” presentation to be unnecessary and ultimately counterproductive, as did many of the Greek members I reflected with after the lecture. I believe that self-awareness and knowledge are key to understanding what makes each of us unique, which is something that the speaker should have addressed more clearly rather than simply embarrassing some of our seemingly heterosexual friends who volunteered to perform on stage. Please know that there are many Greek activities that are socially productive and enlightening. For example, we have discussions on how to use inclusive language and we participate in leadership inventories that promote group understanding and empathy.
Within my Fraternity, we take many steps to improve individual self-awareness by talking about things like personal goals, philanthropy, and leadership, among other things. While it is not the sole purpose of these discussions, I believe that many of our activities and discussions keenly decenter heteronormativity by fostering an environment based on empathetic thinking. We do this in order to foster love and companionship, otherwise known as brotherhood, within our chapter. This brotherhood cultivates friendships and relationships that will ideally lead to larger group awareness, which is how we can successfully recruit new members and communicate our fraternal values to the larger Puget Sound community. I would argue that the leadership within our house is neither masculine nor feminine; rather, we practice an inclusive and hybridized form of leading based on communication, integrity, empathy, and compassion. By example I hope that we are actively working against cultural norms and expectations of Fraternity men.
Yes, we have Greek Olympics, which are traditionally competitive and arguably masculine, and yes, we have dance parties. Some of us participate in weekend festivities and chose to consume particular substances, which is in line perhaps with media’s stereotypes and national expectations; however, that is not what being part of Greek Life is predominantly about. I urge any non-Greek members who think negatively of Greek Life not to confuse their potentially prejudicial feelings with institutionalized and stereotypical domination. Being part of a Fraternity, part of Greek Life, is about partaking in a lineage of ritual that is incredibly meaningful and everlasting. Being part of Greek Life is being part of an interdependent community that aspires to be greater than the individual, and it is about sharing in ideals, ways of thinking, and a quest for moral cultivation. Greek Life is defined by its members, which is what makes Puget Sound’s Greek Life so unique.
During my time at Puget Sound, I have watched Greek Life evolve into a very meaningful and rewarding experience for the students involved in it. My Fraternity has provided me a wonderfully safe space where I feel comfortable expressing my femininity, masculinity, and hybridity at all times, and it has surely helped me grow into the person I am today. If a queer individual wants to be involved in Greek Life, or simply wants to learn about it, I highly encourage her or him to reach out to any Sorority or Fraternity member and ask questions. I charge each and every Greek member to acknowledge their very special and potentially privileged membership in Greek Life, because after that acknowledgement occurs, social and political choices can be made to foster a more inclusive environment on our lovely Puget Sound campus. I have found my experience in Greek Life to be nothing but positive and rewarding, and ultimately it is something I will cherish always.