'Strip Your Letters' Instagram account calls for reform within MU Greek life

The account draws attention to racism, homophobia, ableism, mental health, privilege and other issues in MU Greek life and seeks to hold PHA and IFC accountable.

Since this article's publication, Strip Your Letters has retracted its post related to allegations of racism by former Sigma Sigma Sigma president Caitlin Blakeley. Read more about the retraction here.

The Instagram account @stripyourlettersmizzou has recently garnered attention from MU students, especially those involved in Greek life. It aims to reform MU Greek life by educating students via first-hand accounts of discrimination within the Panhellenic Council and Intrafraternity Council.

The account was formed in June and was “inspired by #BlackatMizzou,” founder Rachel Obenhaus said.

Obenhaus enlisted the help of Hannah Holladay, whom she met through her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta. Holladay recently left the sorority. Obenhaus is still involved but is “taking a smaller role.”

Strip Your Letters was first pioneered at the University of Kansas; they act as an advisor for the MU organization.

Strip Your Letters calls for members of Greek life to “strip their letters” by not posting about their affiliation on social media, wearing their Greek letters or sharing PHA and IFC posts on social media. They see this as a way to “put pressure on IFC and PHA to create an action plan and follow through with it because they know they’re being watched,” Obenhaus said.

“The whole foundation of Strip Your Letters is the idea of making a sacrifice in order to make a difference,” Holladay said. “It’s not enough to just comfortably enjoy the privilege that we all have. We need to have a space where we can criticize an organization and hold them accountable to do better.”

Obenhaus and Holladay made the controversial choice to leave names and sororities in posts on their page. The stories they post come from anonymous submissions made through the page. They chose to keep specifics in their posts “to hold people accountable and spark that conversation within chapters,” Holladay said.

“Usually the submissions are very personal and traumatic, so if someone takes the time to do that, we would hope that it's all true,” Obenhaus said. “It’s never our intention to malign or slander any sorority or a specific person.”

Their latest post sparked action. An anonymous submission posted Aug. 9 from a current member accused the president of Sigma Sigma Sigma, Caitlin Blakeley, of making racist comments.

The post prompted a statement from Blakeley where she said, “I am not a racist. The post about me on social media is filled with lies and fabrications and does not reflect my beliefs. Nor does it reflect the way in which I have led this chapter. I wholeheartedly believe that the systemic racism that African Americans face needs to be eradicated.”

On Blakeley’s statement, Oberhaus said, “We get excited when things happen, not because we want to create chaos or unrest, but because it moves things along in the right direction. At least that’s what we’re hoping.”

Despite her comment, Blakeley resigned and plans to leave the chapter. In a statement, she said, “I stand by my earlier statement. I made the difficult decision to resign based on what I believe is best.”

A study done by students at the University of Southern California found that, in addition to racism, socioeconomic status, sexual assault and sexuality are the biggest issues in Greek life, according to students.

The issues present at USC are similar to those Holladay and Obenhaus aim to address with the Strip Your Letters account. “A lot of them intersect with each other and will build on each other,” Obenhaus said.

Holladay said there isn’t one issue in Greek life that stands out more than others.

“Each of them is important in their own right and each of them deserves to be acknowledged,” she said.

Though their original idea was to abolish Greek life, the pair decided to tone it down to simply strip your letters.

“We’re not trying to abolish Greek life, we’re not trying to ask people to drop their sorority or fraternity, we’re just trying to get people to understand that they can … use their position of power to help others,” Obenhaus said. “We’re not anti-Greek life, we’re just trying to make it better.”

Moving forward, the organization hopes to expand and broaden their member base. They currently have 22 members, primarily from Kappa Alpha Theta and Chi Omega. They plan to continue educating and sharing experiences through their Instagram account in the hopes of creating “a system where people know what changes are being worked towards and are seeing those changes happening,” Holladay said.

Edited by Joy Mazur | jmazur@themaneater.com

As part of its commitment to highlighting organizations fighting for racial justice, the Maneater is encouraging readers to donate to The Milwaukee Freedom Fund, a bailout fund supporting protesters in Kenosha, Wisc. Donate at: https://supportwomenshealth.salsalabs.org/mkefreedomfund/index.html

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