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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Fraternal system’s lack of diversity creates a discriminatory environment

Sophomore Matt Luke: “Diversity in the frats? I don’t know, that's the only thing that's still segregated. Because that's what it is; frats are segregated.”

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MU Interfraternity Council recruitment.

Courtesy of MU Greek Life

When MU student Blake Frazier, whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, heard a fraternity brother say the N-word four consecutive times, he was faced with a difficult decision: stay quiet or react. He chose the latter, and soon after, was asked to leave his fraternity.

Frazier was one of many fraternity members on campus. He encountered prejudice during his time with Greek Life because he is black, and he’s not the only student to have such experiences.

According to Frazier, a brother used the N-word four times in a conversation. After being repeatedly told not to use it, the brother still expressed an ignorance to the word’s weight. In response, Frazier punched him.

“You want to be black until it’s not convenient for you, is how I feel,” Frazier said. “You want to be able to say that to somebody, to another white person, but then you bash the struggles of people. You shouldn’t say that. And, especially, you shouldn’t say that in front of another black person. Because I’m a nice guy. Another person might have straight up beat the s--- out of that person. Four times in conversation?”

Frazier has been in similar positions before, and each time felt forced to take difficult action quickly.

“There’s a certain way you have to react in that situation, and I don't feel the same as someone else using the N-word,” Frazier said. “So it just put me in a crazy situation that I don’t want to be in.”

The root of the issue

According to Frazier, the repetition occurred because of his former brother’s ignorance to the situation.

“He didn't know what he was doing wrong,” Frazier said. “That's just unreal.”

Usually, Frazier tries to educate people who unknowingly use discriminatory words.

However, as Frazier explained, this instance was abnormal. He has been called the N-word in the past, and his fraternity took immediate action. It was only because Frazier said it was unnecessary to drop the member that he remained a brother.

As a black member of a majority-white fraternity, Frazier felt that the microaggressions he witnessed were a bigger problem; decreased interaction with non-white members led to an increase in unknowingly discriminatory actions.

“Those types of things don’t happen all the time, but the thing that pisses me off or irritates me more than that is the use of it in their daily lives,” Frazier said. “Have some respect. Don't rip on our culture. It's even like the things they say. They’ll be talking about Ferguson or something, or siding with police, or blindly supporting Trump, or tiny little things that will let you know where their heart actually is. And then they'll come up to me and say, ‘Yeah, man, you hear that new Future, man?’ I want to say almost tokenizing an entire experience, you know? Like an accessory.”

And it’s not just his fraternity.

“[This happens] with any fraternity,” Frazier said. “One of my buddies is in another fraternity, and they call each other n**** all the time to one another. It gets so bad to where you get desensitized from it.”

The national chapter of Frazier’s old fraternity prohibits membership selection on the basis of race and condemns discrimination, according to its mandatory resolution regarding discrimination.

Although there are protections in place for individuals of racial minorities, diversity among members remains low. According to Frazier, this is not because of explicit racism or discrimination, but instead because of microaggressions.

Initial barriers in the recruitment process

Frazier isn’t the only one who has made this connection. Sophomore Matt Luke discussed the lack of diversity in University of Missouri fraternities after transferring from the University of Central Missouri this fall.

Luke, a black student, was initiated into UCM’s chapter of Alpha Tau Omega his freshman year and then attempted to join the MU chapter when he switched schools. He was not allowed in.

This outcome is not unusual, said Trevor Beshear, Interfraternity Council Executive Board vice president of public relations.

“The process for members who transfer from other schools can vary for each chapter,” Beshear said in an email. “It is up to the individual chapters to decide who they take in. However, we do abide by the University of Missouri’s discrimination policy, and if a member transfers and is not voted into the chapter, [it] should be based on whether or not each chapter member feels the fit is right.”

ATO chief executive officer Wynn Smiley addressed Luke’s particular case.

“The men at the Missouri chapter followed this policy and invited the new Missouri student to the chapter a number of times and then to address the chapter at a chapter meeting,” Smiley said in an email. “However, as I understand it, his presentation sent a message to the chapter that he was more interested in activities that revolved around some unfortunate stereotypical aspects of Greek Life. With that, the chapter declined to offer him membership. The chapter’s decision had nothing to do with race.”

According to Luke, he did have an interest in partying. However, he also noticed a larger Caucasian distribution among the frat than in his old chapter.

“We had about 40 guys in the frat – a mixed frat, though,” Luke said. “So we had black people, we had Mexicans, we even had a few gay people in the frat. So, it was very diverse.”

MU’s chapter was not the same.

“I didn’t think it was going to be different,” Luke said. “Why was it different? I don’t know, man. I guess you would have to take a look at the frats and the members in them. I mean, they just don’t have the numbers; they don’t have the diversity in them, so that’s probably the main reason why you have all these problems, because it’s nothing but white people, you know. It’s like the only place still left that’s like that.”

Luke discussed how his cultural background and particular interests did in fact differ from those aligned with the MU chapter. As each chapter looks for members who fit in with its image, he commented on how difficult it would be for many black members to mesh perfectly with the majority-white members’ standards for fitting in.

“I dress a little flashy; I like to be different; I don’t like wearing khakis or stuff like that,” Luke said. “That’s just not my style. They would have a problem with that. I would have to conform. That’s one of the things. And then I would just — being that one black guy in the fraternity — I would just have to work twice as hard as a white boy in that fraternity.”

When asked what steps ATO is taking to increase diversity, Smiley did not respond.

Current diversity structures

According to Carter Koen, IFC Executive Board vice president of inclusion and brotherhood, it is apparent from observation that the majority of IFC members are white.

However, the IFC does not collect official data on the racial demographics within chapters or in the IFC as a whole.

“As the IFC, we don’t record or keep records of the distribution of minority members,” Beshear said.

Neither does the North-American Interfraternity Conference.

“The NIC does not track this demographical information on its member fraternities,” NIC Chief Communication Officer Heather Kirk said in an email.

However, Koen is working to create a survey to measure diversity in Greek Life on campus. According to Koen, he also has been increasing communication with groups such as Diversity Peer Educators and the National Pan-Hellenic Council, as well as encouraging fraternity members to attend events that allow them to experience diversity outside of their houses.

“Some of the things that we talk about are these internal biases that you’ve developed just based on your raising,” Koen said.

Many of the policies will take some time to enter the MU system.

“It’s kind of ongoing,” Koen said. “It’s one of those things. I took the position maybe a month and a half ago, so a lot of it’s been conversation building because you can’t just throw something down and expect it to stick. You have to provide structure, the infrastructure, to open up those channels of communication.”

According to Zack Reader, Phi Delta Theta recruitment chair, similar conversations have occurred in the past with little results.

“I think when you get into Greek Life, you see a lot of conversations about diversity,” Reader said. “It’s one of those things that’s thrown around a lot but not a lot of action is taken.”

Many local and national fraternities only accepted Caucasian men until around the 1950s. On the topic of these policies’ residual effects, Koen discussed the importance of continuing to increase fraternities’ diversity.

“Yes, [we are] very much still feeling those impacts, and there have been steps, but once again, is it enough?” Koen said. “Has it reached that? And people can say they are proud, but have you truly achieved it? Have you truly eliminated those residual effects?”

The lack of diversity also affects the professional lives of individuals in fraternities. According to the New Jersey Institute of Technology, fraternity memberships lead to many job opportunities: 85 percent of Fortune 500 members were part of fraternities, and 43 of the 50 owners of the biggest national corporations have been in fraternities.

“Within a fraternity, the avenues for networking are huge,” freshman Adam DeGuire said, who was previously a member of Phi Delta Theta. “Given that minorities are often not included in Greek Life, all too often, they are kind of limited as far as those networking avenues go. I mean, I joined a fraternity and my LinkedIn profile blew up. It was huge immediately. So there’s that avenue that’s immediate, and it’s the rich, white demographic of Greek Life.”

Zooming in on MU chapters

Certain fraternities are becoming more aware of the lack of diversity within the IFC.

Within Phi Delta Theta, there is no explicit procedure dedicated toward increasing inclusion. However, the fraternity prefers to treat all people who rush equally and to consider their personalities when welcoming them into the fraternity.

“The biggest thing is it’s a value-based approach that we take,” Reader said. “We find when you become inclusive to all identities but exclusive to values, you get the right people regardless. Looking at that value-based culture, we become blind to whether it be someone from the black community, LGBTQ community; it just coalesces around who you are as a person.”

At this time, 10 of the 86 members of Phi Delta Theta identify as members of a minority group. According to Phi Delta Theta President Maxwell Keeter, five to six are Asian-American, three are Latino, one is from the Middle East and two are black. There are additionally several brothers who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“Instead of saying we have this quota to meet, where we have to have a certain amount of LGBTQ+ people, for example, instead we would have an environment where they’ll feel comfortable,” Keeter said. “ …In addition to culture, basically what you’ve got is that kind of a friend-of-a-friend thing. So if a few of one certain identity comes in, then they will continue to bring more people in because they’ll realize that hey, this is actually a good place; this isn’t somewhere that falls into one of those stereotypes.”

Luke discussed his hopes for the future of Greek Life and its policies regarding increased inclusion.

“I wouldn't say racist,” Luke said. “I would say diversity needs to be a topic … because that's what it is; frats are segregated.”

Edited by Sarah Hallam | shallam@themaneater.com

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