Literature Review On How Gender Non-Conformity And Non-Whiteness Shape One’s Experience In Greek-Letter Organizations: Essay Fountain

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For our study, we are interested in examining how Greek-letter organizations create spaces that include and/or exclude transgender/non-binary and people of color in their spaces.

The longstanding secretive and exclusive nature of what is commonly called “Greek life” on college campuses limits access to knowledge about how these organizations operate; most people, including college students are not sure about what Greek life is or why fraternities and sororities on college campuses are “Greek. ” The association of the word “Greek” with social clubs is frequently debated by researchers as Greek is conventionally considered a nationality. The sole reason GLOs are affiliated with the word “Greek” is the fact that these social clubs use Greek letters (such as alpha Α, gamma Γ, delta Δ, and theta Θ) to differentiate between groups — it is really that simple. In the late eighteenth century, ancient Greek studies were a common part of American collegiate curriculum; it was this branch of knowledge that inspired five white male students at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania, to name their secret social organization after three letters of the Greek alphabet: Phi Beta Kappa.

Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the first social fraternity, or Greek-letter organization (GLO) in the United States. Social GLOs differ from professional societies, which bring together people of a particular profession or vocational field; honor societies, which recognize academic achievement; and service societies, which recruit members for the purposes of performing community outreach and humanitarian work. Our study focuses on perceptions, attitudes, and lived experiences of current and former social Greek-letter organization affiliates on Beloit College campus as they navigate social life in their fraternities/sororities. Our research will primarily be conducted with collaborators located on Beloit College campus. Beloit College is a private (non-profit), coeducational college in the rural, midwestern city Beloit, Wisconsin in the United States where approximately 1, 400 students are currently pursuing undergraduate studies. All active Beloit College Greek-letter organizations will be considered in our research and include three fraternities: Phi Kappa Psi (ФКѰ) Wisconsin Gamma, Sigma Chi (ΣХ) Alpha Zeta, and Tau Kappa (ТКЕ) Epsilon Kappa; and three sororities: Alpha Sigma Tau (АΣТ) Delta Nu, Kappa Delta (ΔК) Upsilon, and Theta Pi Gamma (ΘПГ). Greek letter organizations have an undeniable influence on social life on college campuses within the United States. According to Beloit College’s 2010 Student Affairs Survey, 22% of students participated in Greek life. While 44. 2% agreed Greek life contributes positively to the campus community, only 29. 1% of students agreed that being a member of a Greek organization at Beloit College is a positive experience. This research project aims to explore the gap in these statistics and their broader implications through the overarching inquiry: how does one’s identities shape their experience in Greek life at Beloit College?

In 2010, J. Patrick Biddix wrote an editorial piece, Not Greek Unless You are From Greece: Working to Identify Inclusive Research Terms, which addresses classification issues many researchers confront when studying GLOs. Biddix contends that use of the phrase “Greek-letter organization” is not incorrect, but it is imprecise and parallels the use of word “Hispanic” versus use of the word “Latin[x], generally used in education”. In subsequent research, Biddix’s research team (2014) omit the word “Greek” from their study and instead employ the phrase “fraternal organization, ” which they deem a more inclusive way to describe both fraternities and sororities; the pair acknowledge “not all fraternities and sororities are single-sex, social-oriented organizations belonging to a major organization body, such as the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), or North American Interfraternity Conference (IFC)”. We argue that using the phrase “fraternal organization” is problematic in that it inherently favors male identifying people and not only excludes (inadvertently) sororities but also the very identities we are studying (transgender/non-binary folks). Instead, we have opted to use the phrase “Greek-letter organization” (GLO) for the purposes of our project as it respects the above outlined reasons for not solely referring to these organizations as “Greek” and includes non-male identities.

Broadly, transgender refers to an individual who does not identify or know themself to be the gender that is associated with their assigned sex. Non-binary refers to an individual whose gender identity does not correspond to their assigned sex but also does not fit within the commonly accepted man-woman binary (that one can only be a man or a woman). Non-binary is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of gender identities including, but not limited to: agender (no gender), polygender (many genders), bigender (two or more genders), demiboy/girl (non-binary but knowing oneself to me more a man or woman), and two-spirit (a specific term used for indigenous persons outside the binary). For the purpose of our study, do not think of gender in terms of a line where man is at one end and woman at the other, think of it more as a painting palette that has been used multiple times with different layers and mixes of colors, each shade a different gender. In addition, we use the terms transgender and non-binary somewhat interchangeably. One can think of this as the rectangle-square definition: a rectangle is a square but a square is not a rectangle. Similarly, non-binary can be considered a transgender identity but not all transgender people are non-binary. Ultimately, it is up to the collaborators to self identify in whatever way they know to be true about themselves. Finally, we define a person of color (POC) as any individual who self identifies as non-white. Throughout the ethnography, we may employ the terms such as “Latinx”, “Phillipinx, ” and “Black”. “Latinx” and “Phillipinx” are gender inclusive terms based on “Latino/a” and “Phillipino/a. ” The usage of a capital ‘B’ Black is used to denote members of the African diaspora whose ancestors were enslaved and sold during the Atlantic Slave Trade. The usage of “Black” is meant to recognize the erasure of tribal identity. Though we have these definitions of the above terms, it is ultimately the choice of our collaborators as to what they prefer to be called.

Relevance and Application

Greek-letter organizations are an inherently exclusive groups. GLOs can be studied from their days in antebellum all-male schools to the the modern day college and university campus. Many factors–such as class, religiosity, race, sexuality, athleticism, intelligence, and recklessness–have contributed to particular versions of “fraternal masculinity” at different times. Historically, GLOs are exclusive to only white, cisgender, heterosexual, and elite men within the higher education system; the birth of the GLO is rooted in racism, cis-heteropatriarchy, and capitalism. After centuries of reproducing ideological knowledge, many elite GLOs have created cultures which encourage and reward adherence to rigid gender binaries, and they will actively reject bids from non-white pledges — in practice elite GLOs have not shown evidence of integration despite negative media attention. Though GLOs have since been racially integrated and many are becoming progressive and inclusive of queer members, the roots of their birth seem to make the organizations difficult to fully integrate within if one is not a member of the elite cisgender, heterosexual, white male identity. Additionally, though this type of integration has happened on paper, there is still a disproportionate number of white folks compared to people of color and non-queer people to queer individuals.

The creation of Greek-letter organizations and the subsequent modes of oppression that they embody affect campus publics, not just through exclusion from the organizations themselves but often from college life more broadly. Fraternity men have often proved their masculinity through exclusionary practices and using their classmates as foils. The culture of sexual exploitation was deeply embedded in college fraternities by the 1920s, and continues to persist today. The history of white college fraternities and (subsequently all GLOs) has broad implications regarding youthful and sexually aggressive masculinity in the US. “These rigid formulations contribute to maladaptive behaviors and beliefs, such as eating disorders, body image distortions, homophobia, and date rape and other sexual misconduct”. Unfortunately, today Greek-letter organizations still exhibit some of the above behavior. Undeniably, progress has been made, but for true inclusion there is still a far way to go. Research indicates that trans/non-binary and POC individuals frequently experience “marginalisation and interpersonal victimisation” within college and university settings. Research indicates that historically white male-centered GLOs whose members participate in collegiate competitive athletics are more likely to exhibit maladaptive behaviors and beliefs.

Missing from much of the literature is a discussion of what can be done to address such patterns in higher education, based upon data gathered from transgender and gender non-conforming students, staff, and faculty. This research sets out to not only gather information but also to create suggestions for creating a more inclusive environment for transgender/non-binary members and members of color. Following the ethnographic study, our research team will compile and consolidate our findings to not only write a comprehensive ethnography, but also to work with Greek-letter organizations who have an interest in creating such an inclusive space. This type of work is not only necessary at Beloit College, but also at other colleges and universities across the country. Given interest from other GLOs outside of the Beloit College community, our team would be happy to share our findings and work with the organizations to find improvements that will work for their settings.

“In Bodies That Matter, renowned theorist and philosopher Judith Butler argues that theories of gender need to return to the most material dimension of sex and sexuality: the body. Butler offers a brilliant reworking of the body, examining how the power of heterosexual hegemony forms the “matter” of bodies, sex, and gender. Butler argues that power operates to constrain sex from the start, delimiting what counts as a viable sex. She clarifies the notion of “performativity” introduced in Gender Trouble and via bold readings of Plato, Irigaray, Lacan, and Freud explores the meaning of a citational politics. She also draws on documentary and literature with compelling interpretations of the film Paris is Burning, Nella Larsen’s Passing, and short stories by Willa Cather. ”

In “Secret Sisters: Stories of being Lesbian and Bisexual in a College Sorority”, Shane L. Windmeyer and Palmela W. Freeman aim to dedicate the book of anthologies to create dialogue in college Greek Systems and to ensure homophobia does not find a place in Greek organizations. Sheila James Kuehl writes the foreword for the book where she advocates for sororities to solve these problems amongst themselves in order to diminish homophobia from Greek life. In the introduction, Nancy J. Evans provides reasons for why queer people join sororities even though there is not a clear space for them. People want the same things, to have friendships and families on campuses, however, the majority of the time this does not include spaces for queer sisters/siblings. I think that a quote from the introduction that ties in well with our research is about how minorities often receive negative attitudes in spaces. “Stereotypical gender roles and negative attitudes toward members of racial and ethnic minority groups, however, are correlated with negative attitudes towards gays and lesbians. ” This is the response many people of color and queer people in spaces such as sororities and fraternities. The editors of this book strive to show the stories of queer people in spaces that weren’t made for them and their experiences throughout their time in them. This anthology has relevance to our research project because throughout it we are able to see how inclusive Greek organizations are to queer people. It has multiple different accounts of experiences of women in the Greek life system. We will be able to use these accounts to form our interview questions to ask people about their involvement in Greek life. The only concern I have about this anthology is that the experiences seem to be centered around white cis identities. This population sample differs from our subject on inclusion regarding people of color and trans/non binary identities.

In her seminal essay, “Bulldagers, Punks, and Welfare Queens: ‘The Radical Potential for Queer Politics?’” Cathy Cohen outlines the differences between ‘queer, ’ ‘queered, ’ and ‘queering. ’ Here, the term ‘queer’ refers to members of the LGBTQ+ community, ‘queered’ to those who are marginalized sexually in different ways, and ‘queering’ as the act of questioning what is “normal. ” Using this terminology, Cohen argues that queer folks are inherently queered but to be queered does not required being queer. To be queered includes the titular identities; bulldaggers, punks, and welfare queens. Those who are queer and those who have been queered are folks who engage in the action of queering in that they push and negotiate what can be considered normal. While the three concepts are actively intertwined, they do not necessarily have to rely on one another to exist. For example, a cisgender, heterosexual Black woman who is a single mother and on welfare would not be considered queer (LGBTQ+) but has been queered and marginalized by society because of her race, socioeconomic status, and lack of nuclear family. Cohen argues that by expanding the definitions of queer in relation to politics and theory, then room can be made for those who are not LGBTQ+ and their liberation can be fought for through this lens.

Cohen’s essay pushes the boundaries of how we as a research group may decide to define what is queer when looking at transgender/non-binary folks and people of color in Greek-letter organizations. Both identities (and their intersections) inherently queer a Greek-letter organization’s space simply by existing within said organization. Given the history of Greek-letter organizations, transgender/non-binary and people of color were originally meant to be excluded from these spaces, similarly to how many were meant to be excluded from higher education as a whole. Cohen’s expansion on queer theory allows us to examine the act of queering a space through a wider lens as opposed to only focusing on the identities with which we are presented.

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