Before University of Georgia fraternity made headlines for bigoted comments made by some of its members, a group of UGA students, including sorority and fraternity sisters and brothers, are trying to curb what they say is pervasive racism within Greek organizations.
“Pledge Against Racism” has drawn more than 4,000 signatures on its petition, calling on national and local fraternities and sororities to commit to a set of principles and actions designed to make them more inclusive.
Formed this summer as protests began around the country in response to the killing of Black people by police, Pledge Against Racism has also drawn more than 200 testimonials from students and former students about their experiences with Greek organizations.
But they have gotten little response from UGA or Greek life organizations, said Marina Martin, an alumna of a UGA sorority chapter and one of those trying to reform Greek organizations from within.
The UGA administration has done little to fight racism within the university beyond piecemeal efforts, she said in an interview this summer.
“People feel UGA is not a resource for them, not behind them,” she said.
She knew of about seven Black members of UGA sororities when she graduated, but no Black men among UGA fraternities (other than predominately black Greek groups).
“The culture is just so toxic for them,” she said.
Testimonials posted on the group’s web page include views from both inside and outside Greek groups at UGA and other college campuses:
“I worked at Flanagan’s and Double Barrel back in 2015 and there were multiple private parties from fraternities in double barrel where the house lead would come up to me when I was working door and told me to not let anyone in if they appeared “darker” than him,” wrote another.
“I can’t explain to you how demeaning it feels to hear they’ll be lining girls up in front of a house in a “random” order – only to find all the black and POC women in the back. Or what it feels like to enter a house and be put into the ‘overflow room’ with all the girls they deemed as not as important to be in the main room,” wrote another.
Nearly all UGA Panhellenic and IFC organizations were named in at least one testimonial.
Other groups such as Athens for Black Lives Matter and Dawgs Demand Better are also working to end racism at UGA and in Greek organizations.
“We’re calling for the bare minimum (in the petition)” Martin said.
The petition demands actions designed “to provide a roadmap to build effective foundations and foster an inclusive future of Greek organizations.”
Among others, those actions include a requirement from the National Panhellenic Conference, the North American Interfraternity Conference and all national sorority and fraternity members to add an anti-discrimination policy to their bylaws. The groups should also begin a “two-strike” disciplinary system which could result in a member’s expulsion. The national organizations and affiliated universities should create diversity boards, and local chapters should create a diversity and inclusion positions on their executive boards, according to the petition.
The petition and testimonials are on the Pledge Against Racism website, pledgeagainstracism.com.
Pledge Against Racism renewed its call for change this week after a UGA student posted a GroupMe conversation among some members of the UGA chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha, which subsequently self-suspended operations pending further investigation.
UGA officials suspended another UGA fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, last year after a racist video linked to the group circulated on social media.
“There needs to be a full investigation by the UGA Equal Opportunity Office and Student Conduct, a formal complaint to Lambda Chi nationals from the Greek Life Office, and serious changes, not only in the Panhellenic and IFC culture but also how UGA handles complaints like this and the 200+ other testimonies we received that the EOO has refused to recognize,” according to an email Pledge Against Racism sent on Monday.