The Blind Spot

Like many other student organizations in June, all of the chapters included in the Panhellenic Council at Mississippi State University made a statement regarding racial inequality after the death of George Floyd. Many of these statements included pledges to promote diversity and inclusion within the eight chapters. 

MSU Panhellenic released a statement on their Instagram on June 2. In the statement, the council committed to providing a space for an open conversation on personal biases and the prevalence of white privilege, as well as required training events on cultural awareness.

Lauren Wilkinson, a senior communication major and the Panhellenic Council's director of activities, shared that she thought a diversity and inclusion book club was a great starting point for community members who wished to get more involved.

"My position caters towards the current needs of our women in our chapters, so we did start a book club, which I thought would be a great way to start the conversation," Wilkinson said. "The book that we chose, 'The Blind Spot,' is a very introductory book about implicit bias and different mind bugs that we have and may not be aware of. Not only does the book discuss racial biases but also bias for a wide range of identities."

Wilkinson noted the book club offers a no-judgment zone for questions and conversation.

"We are providing an open space for women to come and completely feel safe to have honest and open dialogue. It is important to have conversations without any judgment because most of us are on the same level, actively trying to get better and expand our knowledge and awareness," Wilkinson said.

The 74 members of the book club meet through bi-weekly zoom calls to discuss the ideas and information they are presented with.

For a place to further discuss ideas, all Greek councils have recently started an Intergreek Committee to improve the unity of the Greek Community. This committee is made up of members from the Panhellenic Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council, Multicultural Greek Council and the Interfraternity Council. Within the Intergreek Committee is the G.U.I.D.E Committee, which stands for Greeks United for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity.

The G.U.I.D.E Committee has committed to creating a constitution to guarantee equity among all councils in regard to membership. In this constitution, which was shared via Instagram, is the promise to create and encourage an inclusive environment for all.

One of the ways that many Panhellenic chapters are promoting diversity and anti-racism in their houses is by adding a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee or chairman to oversee the efforts within the chapter.

Raylon Johnson, a junior educational psychology major and a member of Chi Omega, expressed her appreciation of her chapter's efforts as a Black member.

"Our president decided that a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee is something that we should do. It really does mean a lot, as a Black member. It showed that my chapter cared about me and people who look like me," Johnson said.

Along with another member, Johnson is the leader of Chi Omega's DEI Committee. The committee has weekly meetings to provide open discussion on a variety of topics, features a "Daily Dose" in the chapter-wide meetings and works to plan events such as an upcoming "The Hate U Give" movie night.

"It seems like those are little things, but I think they are making a big difference. People are learning. We've heard a lot of people say, 'Oh, I have never heard of that,"' or 'I've never thought about it like that.' So people are becoming more eager. The more events that we have, the more we plan, the more participation we will see," Johnson said.

While Johnson is heavily involved in the Panhellenic community, she admitted that it needs change and is not afraid to point this out.

"I am not against people pointing out the faults in Greek life. Go ahead. Call them out because it really does light a fire under everyone. They stop and realize that there are problems that we need to handle," Johnson said.

Ellie Herndon, a freshman business economics major and a member of Kappa Delta, shared of the efforts within her chapter's DEI committee.

The DEI Committee within Kappa Delta has a main focus on weekly workshops, which are required by members to attend. These are held as roundtable discussions with different topics featured, such as religion, performative activism and cultural appropriation.

"We talk about different topics to inform our chapter of what to do, what not to do and just try to make people more aware," Herndon said.

Herndon believes it is important that members represent their chapters well, and this means they need to be informed and aware of the cultural insensitivity that often occurs.

"This is a pressing issue in our country, but also our world, and not being informed is detrimental to not only you but what you are involved in. When you are a member of Kappa Delta or a member of any organization, you represent that organization, and no matter what it is, you want to represent it well. Being informed is the best thing we can do to make sure we are well representing our chapter," Herndon said.

While there have been changes made within the infrastructure of the Panhellenic Council and its chapters, Johnson wants the changes to continue for years to come.

"I just don't want people to forget," Johnson said. "It's been an issue for decades, and it is still going to be an issue. This is not going away."

The Panhellenic Council and its chapters are taking the initiative since their call to action in June and are addressing issues that have stood for years. Their continued efforts show these first steps are the beginning of a long process.  

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