Greek life uses values to create inclusive culture

Annie Furia and Annie Furia

After incidents involving racist and inappropriate behavior from fraternities at University of Oklahoma and Penn State have made national news, the spotlight is on Greek communities to see how they respond. At the University, it’s to prevent this behavior from happening at all.

Associate Dean of Students in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life Chris Bullins said the University takes proactive measures against any harmful behavior.

He said the Fraternity and Sorority Life helps the individual fraternities and sororities, called chapters, stay focused on “the values on which they were founded, what those values are [and] what it means to live according to those values.”

Whether or not fraternities and sororities are succeeding in promoting the right values has been a subject of debate after members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at University of Oklahoma were filmed chanting a song filled with racial slurs and a private Facebook page for the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity at Penn State was found to contain pictures of naked and unconscious women in the fraternity house.

Bullins said that these situations are not the norm for Greek communities.

“Do I think there are situations across the country where a bad culture can infiltrate … an entire organization? Yes,” Bullins said. “Do I think that the situation that we’ve seen most recently in Oklahoma represents fraternity and sorority men [and women] across this country? No.”

In order for this to remain the case, members of the Greek community at the University are required to go through a risk reduction program once a semester tackling issues of diversity and inclusion, sexual assault, alcohol and drugs and mental health.

Along with this, Bullins said Fraternity and Sorority Life has pushed to get the Greek community involved with initiatives such as It’s on Us campaign and Not In Our Town.

President of Interfraternity Council Victor Senn said within the past two semesters the council has created its own delegate workshop series to educate members. So far the series has covered preventing sexual assault and exploring diversity and identity.

“There’s obviously much more to be done,” Senn said, but members are “excited” about becoming more inclusive.

Sydney Howell, treasurer of Delta Sigma Theta sorority and vice-president of the Black Student Union, said the events at Oklahoma and Penn State don’t reflect the University’s Greek community.

Howell said one inclusivity has been promoted at the University through a strong connection between the different Greek councils on campus.

The four councils on campus are the Interfraternity Council, the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the Panhellenic Council and the Multicultural Greek Council.

Howell said these councils were evaluated by an outside group in several categories, one being council relations. This allowed for discussion of any issues among the councils.

“That’s how you prevent problems, by communicating and being open-minded and willing to understand,” she said.

Howell said communication, specifically conversations with other campus groups, should have been part of the way Oklahoma and Penn State handled their incidents.

The response from University of Oklahoma was to shut down the branch of Sigma Alpha Epsilon on their campus, and Kappa Delta Rho has since been suspended for a year by its national chapter and is under investigation by Penn State.

Howell was glad they took action, but expressed concern that the attitudes leading to these incidents may not have been dealt with.

“What if there are organizations that feel the same way, [but] they’re just quiet about it?” she said.

Bullin said he felt the universities responded in an appropriate way.

“When a situation that severe occurs, it is absolutely important to send a message that the behavior will not be tolerated,” Bullins said. “With the University community is so important to not only balance the rights of those involved, but also the rights of the community, and there can be acts that are certainly so egregious that, in order to balance the rights of the broader community, for a period of time the organization may not need to be on campus.”