My family has three generations of Greek life, with 12 members in various chapters around the Midwest. With Greek life being such a crucial part of my family, you could say that it was a given that I would continue the tradition and rush when I arrived at Michigan. It’s no secret that I love Greek life. I have been afforded many opportunities by having the ability to join an organization and connect with a variety of individuals on campus, many of whom I will call my lifelong friends after graduation. However, even though I knew that I wanted to rush, there was one thing I didn’t know how to approach when going through the process in the fall of 2012: being open about my sexuality.
Despite coming out in high school and being positively accepted by family and friends, going through the fraternity rush process was something I still worried about as a homosexual male. I was afraid that being open about my sexuality would overshadow all the other important characteristics that I brought to the table as an individual, so I waited until I was ready to share it a semester after being initiated into my chapter. I was embraced with open arms by my fraternity brothers in Beta Theta Pi and have never been treated differently. Over the last three years I have been on campus, I also have noticed a slow progression of other Greek life members being open about their own sexual identities as well. However, there is still more we can do to improve as a community on campus. But what has prevented us from making strides in doing so?
In 2013, Sara Morosi, a senior at the University, wrote a viewpoint on the intersection of Greek life and the LGBTQ community. As a member of a Greek organization herself, Sara sought to open the discussion for how to address the issues of exclusion that the community has perpetuated over its 100-plus years of existence. At the University, Greek life makes up about 20 percent of the student body. Michigan has one of the largest and oldest Greek communities in the country with chapters dating as far back as 1845. As an Organizational Studies major, I thought to look deeper in order to understand the reasoning behind this conflict with improving the ways in which we operate.
The population ecology theory, coined by Michael Hannan and John Freeman, seeks to discover how social conditions influence the ways in which organizations are able to respond to changes in their external environment. These solutions are often embedded in organizational structures. Given the number of stakeholders, meaning local and national alumni, national executive leadership, University leadership and chapter members in Greek organizations, there are numerous factors influencing their operations. Furthermore, almost every Greek organization was established on a foundation of religious and exclusionary principles. Although chapters no longer emphasize these criteria in membership selection, it is still embedded and has been perpetuated in their past history. For myself, this does not absolve organizations of their behavior, but it explains why it has been more difficult for Greek organizations to adapt in today’s society.
As the rest of the University pushes forward in trying to ensure acceptance of all social and physical identities, Greek life continuously lags behind in this movement. The Greek life community must innovate and make changes in the ways in which it operates, there is no denying that. Like all human beings, we are not perfect. So where do we go from here? This semester, current Panhellenic Association President Maddy Walsh, former Executive Vice President Emily Sexton and I are working to make improvements in how Greek life at Michigan can be more inclusive. With our first priority of forming a Greek life LGBTQ Task Force, we hope to establish partnerships with the Spectrum Center, MESA and Trotter Multicultural Center to address and create more inclusive spaces within all four Greek councils here at the University. Members of IFC, MGC, NPHC and Panhellenic chapters will represent the task force. Designed to unite LGBTQ members and allies, the task force will address issues, create programming and set benchmarks, taking small steps to improve the ways in which Greek life addresses issues of diversity and inclusion of social and physical identities.
I believe that everyone can have a home in Greek life. At a time when our community is being targeted around the country for the wrongdoings of only a tiny group of individuals, we have the opportunity to grow and better ourselves. We can sit back and point out all the flaws in our system, or work together to enact positive change that will affect our own future brothers and sisters in generations to come, truly making our own Michigan difference.
Nathan Novaria is an LSA junior.