I was happy to see that the Sigma Nu fraternity decided to discontinue the Mexican-themed Sigma Nuevo party this fall.
I wrote this article a little more than a year ago, and I still stand behind what I said. Contrary to popular thought, I don’t think that the entire fraternity chapter is racist. I personally know more Sigma Nu members than those of any other fraternity on campus, and I don’t have any evidence to claim that even most of the individuals in this fraternity are racist. But the party was racist, and it needed to be addressed.
After pushback, that’s what the fraternity did. Members went through diversity training and had chapter discussions about the implication of the party’s theme. Many individuals initiated conversations with me.
One member told me that if I hadn’t written the article, Sigma Nuevo would have still happened this year. “It takes someone from the outside to hold the organization accountable,” he said.
While it’s a frustrating reality, I recognize that’s what it is – reality. This isn’t an issue specific to Sigma Nu or even Greek life. It’s an increasingly important question on our campus as we talk about our own personal histories that we’ve traditionally praised, criticized or have completely ignored. Tradition prevails when no one challenges it from the inside, or if they do, without the support or amplification necessary for change.
But I have higher hopes for Sigma Nu, for Greek life, for my fellow W&L students than this current state. I think it’s important for members of social groups to have access to the democratic process, to feel empowered to express their opinions about programming and events, diversity and inclusion within their organizations, and outreach to the rest of the W&L community. It’s important for students of color and LGBTQ students within Greek organizations to be prioritized in leadership and decision-making. It’s necessary to host events where everyone feels welcome and safe and can have a fun time attending. And it’s necessary to apologize when mistakes are made and to do the work to rebuild relationships with groups like Latinx students on campus that may have felt targeted or hurt. This also applies to other non-white students, women and LGBTQ students.
We as a community are only as strong as we are inclusive. I’ve been heartened to see the recent development of Greek organizational representatives to Office of Inclusion and Engagement and the revival of historically black Greek life on campus, with the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. I hope to see Greek and independent students continue to work together to fix the social divisions on campus.