Fraternity and Sorority Life work to promote diversity

Headshot of Isaac Gambrell.

The three organizations that oversee Fraternity and Sorority Life at Kent State  Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council and Integrated Greek Council  have worked together relentlessly this year, trying to promote unity and diversity in their community.

According to a KentWired article, IGC was created in 2015 on Kent State’s campus. This creation was an attempt to improve diversity in FSL. The purpose of IGC is to create a safe space to exchange ideas, programs and services between the fraternities and sororities, as well as to promote multicultural diversity in universities, according to its website. The IGC oversees the nine diversity chapters at Kent State.

In the four years IGC has been at Kent State, there has been limited interaction with IFC and Panhellenic Council, mostly due to internal issues and trying to establish themselves as a community. IFC monitors the 19 fraternities on campus and the Panhellenic Council monitors the eight sororities. 

The three operate independent of each other, but have worked together in the past and in many different ways. But ever since the IGC was created at Kent State, there has been limited communication and cooperation between them, until this year. They have hosted joint events, worked together for philanthropic events and worked interpersonally with each other’s chapters.

“Two years ago, it was not like this,” Isaac Gambrell, a senior accounting major, said. Gambrell is president of Iota Phi Theta, an IGC fraternity. “We couldn’t even get our own council to be friends, or tolerate each other.” 

The history of fraternities is not a positive one  in fact, it is fraught with discriminatory beliefs and patterns of purposeful segregation. In 1907, some of the first reports of discrimination were posed. The New York Times reported discrimination of Jewish men by “Greek letter fraternities,” according to The Washington Post. In 1949, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon national charter said only “members of the Caucasian race” were allowed in the fraternity, according to The Washington Post. 

Separate from not allowing the admission of men based on race or religion, fraternities have had a history of supporting segregation. When the first African-American woman enrolled at the University of Georgia in 1961, a fraternity lowered the Confederate flag on its building to half-staff in protest, according to The Washington Post.

The beginnings of “Greek life” come from secret societies and date back into the 1700s, according to John Heath, who would later represent Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives, founded Phi Beta Kappa in 1776 at the College of William and Mary. Heath created the fraternity because he was turned away from the two secret societies that already existed on campus. 

The first African-American fraternity is Alpha Phi Alpha. It was founded in 1906 and was chartered on Kent’s campus in 1958. In 1997, Alpha Psi Lambda was founded at Kent State and is the NALFO co-ed Hispanic fraternity on campus.

There was a time where the “Inter-Greek Council” oversaw three Greek “factions.” These factions were the Panhellenic Council, IFC and Black Greek Council. They were overseen by the Inter-Greek Council as separate entities, according to a Daily Kent Stater article

The Inter-Greek Council once acted as a governing body, controlling all Greek affairs. The three split up because they felt as though they were not operating as well as they could if they were individual, according to an article posted in the Daily Kent Stater. 

IFC and the National Panhellenic Council oversee all fraternities and sororities in the United States and Canada. The National Pan-Hellenic Council, made up of the “Divine 9,” oversees all African-American Greek-lettered organizations. The three have operated independently of each other for almost 100 years. From time to time, they work with each other to network and put on events. 

The three organizations on campus are sub-organizations of their respective national group; NPHC is the national organization that ran Black Greek Council, Inter-Greek Council and what is now IGC at Kent State.

The “Divine 9” fraternities and sororities that are historically African-American make up the NPHC. On Kent State’s campus, there are eight of these “Divine 9” chapters, plus Alpha Psi Lambda, which make up Kent State’s Integrated Greek Council.

The three councils worked together consistently this year. They went on retreats, hosted unity block parties and Panhellenic Council and IGC had a joint sorority information night this semester.

The three organizations worked hard on coming together and networking with each other, Gambrell said. Retreats in which presidents of chapters go on a trip full of community-building and leadership development activities helped unify the councils, he said.

There are almost 2,000 students involved in FSL and according to its spring 2019 report less than 100 students are involved with IGC fraternities or sororities.

The Panhellenic community has the most students involved in FSL with 1,232 women last semester, followed by 635 men involved in IFC fraternities and 91 students in IGC chapters.

With the help of Panhellenic President Katie Beatty, the organizations have put on several events together this year to promote unity in the community. Beatty said one of her biggest goals was to promote inclusion among the three organizations. 

“Panhellenic organizations have worked relentlessly to make our chapters welcoming to everyone regardless of sexual orientation, race or religion,” Brianna Sharp, vice president of recruitment and retention, wrote in an email.

“The relationship is getting a lot better,” said Alexandra Strong, the director of programming on IGC. “[IGC and Panhellenic Council] are doing ‘See the Able Not the Label’ together for this fundraising event for kids with Down syndrome,” she said. “It’s little things like this that make big things happen further in the future.” 

Each of the three organizations’ councils and presidents are in their positions for one year. One of Beatty’s main goals in her time as Panhellenic president was to unify the three organizations and the community. 

“Katie wants to bring the community together and has made a lot of progress toward making that happen,” Taylor Robinson, vice president of communications on Panhellenic Council, wrote in an email.

Panhellenic Council recently just finished slating its next council. Those chosen will begin their term in January 2020. Each council and president has their own goals they want to achieve, meaning the progress they have made could plateau or keep progressing. 

“I feel like everyone is on the same page,” Strong said. “I think all of the councils … will try to come together at the end of the day to make one unified FSL organization on campus.” 

Gambrell, who has been in Iota Phi Theta for three years, said there was a separation between the three organizations his first year in FSL. “I really think it will keep progressing in the next councils,” he said.

“I definitely think in the future to come, it will be better than what it is right now,” Gambrell said. “It might not even be three councils, it might just be one.”

“I felt like this was a beginning to something great,” Strong said. “We may have differences as fraternities and sororities, but Greek unity is a thing and it should be happening on this campus, and it is, but it is slow.” 

The potential for the FSL community to become diverse is there, as seen on the Kent State University Student Body Profile. The three largest groups of student diversity are Caucasian, international and African-American.  

“The potential is there, but all three councils need to work together to [make the community diverse],” Sharp wrote. 

Contact Samantha Simcox at [email protected].