Logo of Pepperdine Greek Life
Silver and bordeaux. Garnet and gold. Wine and silver blue. All of these are colors selected by national Greek organizations with chapters at Pepperdine, specifically chosen to represent a Greek group’s distinct values and to provide recognition.
However, one overarching color exists within Greek organizations that is hard to miss: White.
Students of color comprise a small percentage of Greek life on campus, according to Fall 2018 statistics from Pepperdine’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness. The OIE reports that out of about 800 students who participate in Greek life, only 5% is made up of ‘“nonresident aliens,’” 12% is made up of Hispanic or Latino students, 4% is made up of Black or African American students, and 8% is made up of mixed race students. These findings show that White students comprise 66% of Greek life, and it’s worth noting that the data excluded ethnic groups with fewer than 20 students.
“I think it’s no secret that within our Greek population it is skewed toward being less diverse in terms of race and ethnicity,” Assistant Director for Student Activities Allison Green said.
After noticing the lack of diversity within fraternities and sororities at Pepperdine, Greek life intern (and former Pepperdine Delta Tau Delta member) Hudson Casiple said he wanted to shed light on the issue.
Listen to this story on PGM’s news podcast “The Graph:”
Homogeneous Greek System at Pepperdine
Casiple, Green and representatives from Pepperdine’s Panhellenic and Interfraternity councils (IFC) organized two mandatory forums for all members of Pepperdine’s Greek organizations Aug. 28. It was there that Casiple used powerful statistics and diversity activities to show Greek students just how homogenous the Greek system is.
“I don’t think exclusion is necessarily bad … but who are we excluding that we probably shouldn’t be?” Casiple said. “[Fraternities and sororities] can take steps toward making them[selves] more inclusive in the sense of – what type of people are [they] looking for? And that’s not limited to upper middle class White folk.”
Pepperdine is home to two National Pan-Hellenic Council, Incorporated organizations: Alpha Phi Alpha and Alpha Kappa Alpha. The NPHC, colloquially referred to as the “Divine Nine,” is comprised of nine historically African American fraternities and sororities.
While Casiple recognizes the worth that Alpha Phi Alpha and Alpha Kappa Alpha have at Pepperdine, he said that their very existence is indicative of larger, systemic issues.
“[Alpha Phi Alpha and Alpha Kappa Alpha] started as a result of there not being a space for people who are not White in the existing fraternities and sororities,” Casiple said. “But while we recognize and appreciate their presence on this campus and what they have to offer, the fact that they exist is just a sign of the failure of IFC and Panhellenic to be inclusive in the way that they should be.”
Photo courtesy of Brianna Willis | Members of Pepperdine’s Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Tau Lambda Chapter attending the Far Western Regional Undergraduate Round Up conference in Los Angeles.
How Did Greek Organizations Reach their Current Level of Sameness?
Multicultural organizations started forming at universities in the early 1900s, according to “Going Greek: The Organization of Campus Life and Class-Based Graduation Caps,” by Laura T. Hamilton and Simon Cheng.
Hamilton and Cheng agree that these cultural organizations started as a result of existing Greek organizations “maintain[ing] sharp class (and race) boundaries in the face of increasing heterogeneity on college campuses.”
Pepperdine Psychology Prof. Tomas Martinez said he relates the analogous nature of Greek life to acquaintance and ease.
“It’s simply the idea of comfort familiarity,” Martinez said. “People who are just like us, we tend to be more comfortable with, more secure with … people who come from different values or norms or cultures we may see as not the same as us. And so our tendency would be not to seek out those folks.”
Speaking from personal experience, Martinez spoke about the danger of tokenism in relation to race or ethnicity.
“[Tokenism] can create a certain level of resentment,” Martinez said. “[The token] isn’t really seen as a part of ‘our group’, but it represents the facts, the numbers, the statistics.”
After experiencing tokenism firsthand during her time in a Greek sorority at UCLA, Green agreed that Greek organizations should not make people of color feel as though their skin color is the only reason for their presence.
“It was a little daunting at first, feeling as if I was the token so-and-so … I was being matched with people of color in the recruitment room,” Green said. “It’s a really delicate balance I think for our chapters to be careful not to ‘otherize’ or tokenize our students of color.”
Another barrier that may contribute to the lack of diversity within Greek life is money, because not every student at Pepperdine has access to a dispensable income for extracurricular activities.
Numbers from Pepperdine’s Panhellenic Association and IFC showed that membership in a sorority or fraternity for four years could cost up to $5,900 and $4,900, respectively, according to a 2018 Graphic article by Christian Sanchez.
Even if a student chooses not to join a Greek organization, they still have the opportunity to engage in different Greek philanthropies on campus. However, most of these philanthropy events still cost money for students, which may hinder a student from participation.
Green discussed the issue of the ‘Greek bubble’ in terms of financial obligations.
“[The Greek bubble] definitely exists in terms of who we invite to philanthropy,” Green said. “[Greek organizations] invite people out just to watch, and if they want to play they have to get five friends, and the entry cost is over $100. That’s not something that non-Greek students would want to do.”
While Greek organizations claim to invite the entire Pepperdine community to participate in their culture, Green said they often don’t realize what is really being asked.
“[Greek organizations] say ‘anyone can join’ … [They] want people to show up, but [they] want people to show up and pay money,” Green said. “I think that is a huge turn off for a lot of other people.”
The opinion that Greek organizations are unnecessarily exclusive isn’t just shared by Greek life advisors and professionals. A Pepp Post poll of 70 Pepperdine students found that 49.7% of students don’t believe Pepperdine Greek life is racially and ethnically diverse, and 42% of students said that this lack of diversity bothers them.
Another facet that may deter students from the Greek recruitment process is how quickly into freshman year they are asked to sign up. Junior Franki Hooks said one reason she didn’t rush was because she was already overwhelmed during her first semester at Pepperdine.
“[Recruitment] came very soon at the beginning of the year,” Hooks said. “I didn’t even know when it was until other people started doing it. It just all kind of hit me.”
Hooks, who identifies as African American and White, said she noticed a lack of diversity after the new members received their bids. This realization affirmed her decision not to join a Greek organization.
“I didn’t realize the lack of diversity until bid nights when I saw the new pledges,” Hooks said. “Once I saw them, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, you all look the same.’”
How Can Greek Organizations Become More Inclusive to People of All Backgrounds?
Sydney Sauter, the former Panhellenic president and current philanthropy chairman for Kappa Kappa Gamma, said the start of true inclusion comes from asking hard-hitting questions.
“When we say we’re doing values-based recruiting, are we really doing that? Why are certain people not attracted to Greek life?” Sauter asked. “Why is it that Greek life is primarily attracting this one type of person; what is it that we can do to make it more welcoming and inclusive?”
“It made sense to start talking about what we can realistically do to create these spaces where Greek life can be an approachable person at the table instead of this news report that you see and you think like ‘I don’t want to ever do anything with them,’” Sauter said. “So these walls start to come down, and stereotypes are broken down on both ends.”
Sauter pointed out that an essential point in the process of linking cultural and Greek organizations is something that seems relatively simple: calendar-sharing.
“Organizations other than Greek life aren’t aware of our calendar at all,” Sauter said. “We do all these great philanthropy events all the time and nobody else on campus knows what’s going on … Something basic like calendar-sharing is a big thing.”
BSA Co-President Payton Silket stressed that BSA isn’t only a space for African American students at Pepperdine.
“BSA is open for everybody, whether you’re Black or not,” Silket said. “It’s an open space for you just to come and learn and have fun and be with your friends and be with people you love.”
After participating in Alpha Tau Omega’s philanthropy event, Gladiators, Silket said he had an enjoyable experience, but he wondered why he hadn’t ever heard of the event before.
“I knew maybe 50 to 75 percent of the people in [that] room, so I was like, ‘Why is there such a disconnect?’” Silket said. “After that I realized just how siloed we are, whether it’s in our cultural clubs or Greek life or any other groups on campus.”
After this realization, Silket said he became more motivated to help BSA engage with Greek organizations on campus.
“I wanted to spark a way that we can begin to mesh together, not losing our identities, but collaborating,” Silket said. “I’m making sure that we share our calendars and that we share events.”
When asked what greater impact he thought these collaboration could have, Silket cited one of Pepperdine’s oldest adages.
“We’re purpose, service and leadership on this campus — not for our own organizations — but to be world-changers,” Silket said. “If we can’t be world-changers and bridge gaps on our own campus, how are we supposed to do that in a much bigger arena?”
A cornerstone of increased inclusivity within Greek life seems to be negating harmful stereotypes. Sauter said the unfavorable light that media portrays Greek students in is one of the toughest obstacles that must be overcome to increase diversity within Greek organizations.
“You hear Greek life, you hear obnoxious frat boy or stuck-up sorority women,” Sauter said. “You see horrible racial or hazing incidents, and you have a bad taste for it. We’re at Pepperdine, and it’s meant to be different here; we should actively be a voice for difference. So why is it that we’re not?”
Members of NPHC groups on campus want to diminish their own stereotypes, and to be included in Panhellenic events. Junior Justus Bell serves as the vice president, chief membership intake officer and step team choreographer for Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. He said that many people at Pepperdine misunderstand his chapter.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people kind of think of it as the Black fraternity or like it’s only for Black people,” Bell said. “Although we do have a historically African American influence, it’s not exclusively [African American].”
Junior Brianna Willis, president of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, said if she could give any message to the Greek community at Pepperdine, it would be to include her sorority in Panhellenic and IFC events.
“I’ve noticed that Panhellenic or IFC organizations don’t really give us a chance,” Willis said.
Willis said many sororities and fraternities on campus have philanthropy events, but never inform AKA about these events or invite them at all.
“Sometimes, we don’t even know that an event is going on until we see it,” Willis said. “But we do want to be a part of these things.”
As far as concrete measures to recruit women solely based off of values, sororities at Pepperdine faced additional challenges when the recruitment process was shortened to just three days in 2018. Senior Maggie Gianvecchio, president of Delta Delta Delta, said that her sorority re-examined their recruitment process after the change.
“We’ve worked on the intentionality of our conversations … Just making sure that the women going through recruitment feel comfortable with us to share their values with us,” Gianvecchio said.
Green said making prospective Greek members feel welcomed and desired is a key aspect of making recruitment more inclusive.
“It’s all of our duties to be more proactive and reach out,” Green said. “If you’re the only Greek person that someone knows, and they have a positive interaction with you, it can help change people’s perceptions of what they think they know about Greek life.”
Sauter said maintaining a pro-Greek attitude is the way to attract prospective members who may not be sure if Greek life is meant for them.
“We need to have more of a go-Greek presence versus ‘My sorority or fraternity is the best one,’” Sauter said. “Breaking down those stereotypes that Greek life is a scary thing is how we’re going to get [people] to join our chapters that may not have been certain that they wanted to join.”
Casiple said the main message he wanted to give at the mandatory Panhellenic and IFC forums was to encourage Greek members to use their privilege in a positive way, rather than ostracizing those who may not be as fortuitous.
“This was not to say ‘You should not be privileged’; you can’t help that,” Casiple said. “It was more to say, ‘You have these factors going for you. So how can you use those factors to benefit those without them?’”
Casiple wrapped up his discussion at the forums with a reminder of the positive results that increased diversity can bring about, including an increased perspective and a richer life experience. He ended his talk with a call to arms for Greek members to seize the opportunity to incite changes within their organizations.
“Be excited, be encouraged, because you can do stuff that others cannot,” Casiple said. “So how do you want to use that?”
Email Grace Wood: Grace.Wood@pepperdine.edu