Gianna Wood: Diversity and Acceptance

When I decided I wanted to serve my College Panhellenic, my goal was and still is, to inspire women and be a role model. Now, I am the first Black College Panhellenic Association president and the former vice president of judicial affairs at San Diego State University (SDSU).

Growing up, I always knew I was different from my immediate family. I was raised in a predominately white, affluent area of Fresno, California, by my two white parents. My mother is white and my biological father is Black. However, I did not have contact with my biological father until I was 18 years old. This ultimately left me to have little to no interaction or connection to the Black community. But, because I “look the part” people automatically assumed so much about me and my personality solely based on the color of my skin. I always felt like I never really fit in anywhere due to societal norms surrounding Black women that I didn’t necessarily meet. Sometimes I felt I either acted “too Black” with my white friends or “too white” with my Black friends. This leads to a great deal of internal struggle and identity crisis. Why was it not okay to just be me? Why did I feel this overwhelming pressure to conform to what everyone expects from me? I found myself desperately trying to fit these societal norms to the best that I could. Over time I learned how to turn on or off my “Blackness” depending on those around me. 

Finding Acceptance in My Sorority

Fast forward to my first year at San Diego State University in 2017. I signed up for fall recruitment hoping to find a group of women who would genuinely accept me just for being myself. I believed this would be possible given all of the stories and experiences my mother had when she was an Alpha Xi Delta at Fresno State. However, still in the back of my mind, I feared that I would have to tone my Blackness down in order to be accepted into a sorority. I also feared that I would be the “token Black girl” in the chapter and that would be the sole reason I would be extended a bid. This was a great fear of mine pretty much throughout recruitment as most of my fellow potential new members (PNMs) were white and at the time there were not many diverse women within the Panhellenic community.  

However, to my great surprise, I did find a chapter that accepted me for me. I knew instantly that I was finally enough. I can genuinely and unapologetically be myself with the women of Kappa Alpha Theta. In my time at Kappa Alpha Theta I have met the most amazing, genuine, kind women I have ever met. Each woman I have come into contact with in my chapter celebrates our differences but loves unconditionally.

Support of My Sisters

All of the women of Kappa Alpha Theta have majorly impacted the woman and leader I am today. Without their love and support from the very first day, I could have never accomplished all that I have. There are a few particular women in my chapter that have inspired and shaped me into the woman and leader I am today. My grand-big Andrea Clapp, my big Makenna Smith and my friend Nicole Calise are three of the most powerful women I have the pleasure of knowing. These three women have always encouraged me to go after the things I never thought I could. They were the first to believe in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Without each of them, I would have never thought to initially apply to be a recruitment counselor in the fall of 2019. Through my time serving as a recruitment counselor, I fell even more in love with Panhellenic.

This newfound love led me to apply for vice president of judicial affairs for my College Panhellenic that same fall. In the fall of 2020, through the encouragement of Andrea, Makenna, Nicole and my amazing Fraternity and Sorority Life Advisor, Matthew Garcia, I made the decision to run for president of my College Panhellenic. They along with all the women of Kappa Alpha Theta are the people who continue to inspire me every day to be the best leader possible. It is not always easy or glamorous but it is something I wouldn’t trade for the world. My hope is that along my journey I have inspired at least one person to believe in themselves and made my community a little better as there still is a great deal of work to be done.

Emma Austin

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