Diversity, equity and inclusion are more important than ever. My chapter’s incredible Executive Board recognized the need for an advocate and representative, creating a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) position. All of the members on the Executive Board recognized the privilege we hold and realized how our biases affect our women and chapter. I began my time as the DEI chairwoman for the Gamma Alpha chapter of Phi Mu in late spring 2020, as the pandemic was beginning. I knew from the start of my role that through activities and methodologies of empowerment and education, I wanted to bring a sense of advocacy to our members that would make a change in our chapter and community.
Making Change and Being an Advocate
When the DEI position was announced, I jumped at the opportunity. As a woman of color who attends a predominantly white institution, I struggled to find my place in a sorority with no designated advocate for my identities. The DEI position gave me the opportunity to become an advocate for marginalized voices including LGBT+ people, women of color, children of immigrants and the disabled community. I’m already passionate about activism and human rights in my daily interests and academic career. Through my position, I can make change through education efforts, fostering a sense of accountability and bylaw update suggestions. It is empowering to feel appreciated and fully integrated into every aspect of my sorority.
When approaching my position, I realized that in order to be clear and concise, there needed to be specific sections. This has allowed me to introduce DEI into all aspects of my sorority, as it is inherently intersectional. The Executive Board was more than open to my suggestions and agreed with me that there needed to be a succinct plan in order to effectively enact tangible change. I used the idea of a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based) in order to compartmentalize the ideas I had in my head. Through the specification of these goals, I noticed similar themes in many of them. As a result, I divided my position and efforts into four sections: 1. Educational, 2. Accountability, 3. Empowerment and 4. Accessibility.
For educational action items, I created education workshops on ableism, and during Halloween, we hosted a program on avoiding cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes. These programs help educate members on topics they may not have been aware of before and helps widen their world view by learning about other people and cultures. I also started educational programming for our new members by hosting microaggressions and implicit biases workshop. By starting programming with new members, we begin building members who are more empathetic and understanding. We have also started a book club for continuous learning and discussion for the entire chapter.
Part of sorority membership is holding yourself and your sisters to a high standard of character. Our current accountability efforts include accountability policies for both problematic behaviors and disregarding COVID-19 guidelines. Though it may seem scary, this is in place to further education in the event of a first violation and to prevent removal of membership from the chapter. We want to protect our members and provide them a safe space to grow and develop, by having your sisters keep you accountable, you are becoming a stronger woman who is ready for life after college. These policies are in their infancy and always open for change as we learn and grow.
For empowerment, I’ve expanded the holidays and observances we highlight on our Instagram and other social media. Everyone deserves representation and we wanted to educate our members and followers on these holidays as well. Through different spotlights on our social media and in general chapter affairs, every member can feel empowered to share her thoughts and feelings in an open discussion. It creates a safe space for everyone to share their beliefs and celebrate important holidays and moments in life.
Everyone deserves a voice to express their goals and aspirations. This has also been obtained through active communication between all chapter members. I consistently remind them that they can message me at any time on GroupMe or text for questions, comments and concerns.
I also encourage members to provide me with feedback. If I can do my job better, I would love to know. This has worked out well, with lots of suggestions for programs from my fellow sisters and questions about how they can create positive change in their immediate circles.
My preventative efforts are mainly focused on recruitment in an effort to make it more accessible and inclusive. Currently, I am working on implementing changes to dress code during recruitment. Often, specific items of clothing or accessories can be restrictive to body types, physical ability and personal expression. Through narrowing of themes rather than clothing pieces, everyone can express their style in their own way while still being cohesive with the values of the chapter.
In addition, we have been navigating virtual recruitment technology requirements. We have implemented changes to Zoom requirements in case of the internet crashing or personal issues with technology. For technical issues, I’ve begun to brainstorm methods of online communication when a potential new member (PNM) or current member needs to take a break to recharge or take care of themselves. The direct chat on Zoom has helped a lot for this idea. While there were no issues with this during virtual recruitment this fall, I know from personal experience that it can be exhausting to be on Zoom all day. Brainstorming changes now can prevent any issues in the future and create a warm, welcoming environment.
I’ve found the efforts to increase/foster/respect diversity, equity and inclusion in the Panhellenic community to create more solidarity and kindness between sorority women. Everyone deserves a voice and supporter, and as a DEI chairwoman, that is one of the leading values in my current role. For those looking to establish a DEI position in their chapter, assertiveness and passion are incredibly important as you forge this new path. Diversity, equity and inclusion are in every facet of life and having that passion for DEI, requires having a love for helping others. Show that you care and prove that you have concrete ideas to truly create a more welcoming, inclusive sorority experience for your current members and future ones, too.