Greek Life is seen by many as a quintessential aspect of one’s college career. However, for individuals who do not identify with the male/female binary, joining Greek Life presents a different set of challenges. In decades past, those individuals would have had to sacrifice that experience. Today, however, many chapters at Case Western Reserve University are beginning to have conversations about gender inclusivity.
Zubair Mukhi is a member of the Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity. When they first joined, they knew they were asexual, but they didn’t use they/them pronouns. Since joining the chapter, however, they have come out and begun using different pronouns.
“I still consider myself a brother, even if I use they/them pronouns,” explained Mukhi. “As I understand it, the only policy that our nationals have is that you have to identify as male at the time of initiation. I know at least one of the alumni identify as non-binary, and I’ve felt supported by the alumni and my chapter.”
One fraternity, that requested to not be named, updated their chapter’s national policy a few years ago to state that members need to identify as male when initiated, but can remain a member regardless of how their identity changes. However, the verbal policy explained to chapter presidents at this year’s national conference specified that new members must have been born and currently identify as male. However, the president of the fraternity shared: “Our specific chapter’s policy is that you only need to identify as male when you initiate. We have two transgender women in our chapter right now, where they identify as female, but we still support them as members of our chapter. We are a really accepting chapter, and believe the experiences you receive in a fraternity are what matter and you can identify with more than gender.”
Delta Sigma Phi’s President Xavier Yozwiak explained, “We do values-based recruitment. If there was someone rushing us we would look specifically from values and should be able to separate that from identity.”
Yozwiak also shared how their policies are a nonissue with their national’s, because it is locally more dependent on the person rushing, their values and general impression.
Sorority recruitment also follows a values-based strategy. The former Vice President of Recruitment for the Panhellenic Council Kat Taylor explained that the overall theme for recruitment this year was “sisterhood is a feeling,” recognizing that the bond of sisterhood is not just for cis women, but is rather a feeling of inclusivity for all identities.
CWRU has 10 sororities across campus with almost as many policies concerning gender. As Emily Howell, president of Sigma Sigma Sigma, Theta Zeta chapter, said, “The Greek community at Case is making leaps and strides to become a more welcoming environment. Our school has a very unique Greek Life system that is much more open and welcoming than other schools.”
Some chapters find their local policies in line with national policies. Phi Sigma Rho, Omicron chapter, only accepts individuals who identify as women. As their president, Mikala Hoecherl, put it, “We help our members with things women in STEM specifically face that is different than what nonbinary individuals face.” Sigma Sigma Sigma agrees with the national policy, which states “After you have been given a bid, if your identity changes at any time, you are still a member of our Sorority,” which exemplifies their motto “Faithful Unto Death.”
Two chapters have requested to comment anonymously, due to discrepancies between their national and local policies. The first explained that their national and governing documents determine they can accept anyone who identifies as a woman.
“Since we are a chapter on the CWRU campus, we set our standards for recruitment where we recruit based on values alone. We do not force disclosure from anyone wanting to join our chapter. Once they go through initiation, they are an active collegiate member of our chapter, regardless of how they identify.”
The second sorority that requested to remain anonymous is dissatisfied with the current policy, which resembles a “don’t ask, don’t tell” method. The CWRU branch of the chapter took a vote about explicitly including nonbinary individuals, and while no one expressly disagreed, some were hesitant because of how their nationals might respond.
Chapters that aren’t headed by a national organization have a little more freedom in their adaptation of the bylaws. Sigma Psi, a chapter that exists solely on the CWRU campus, was able to adapt their bylaws to nonbinary individuals in Fall 2015, stating “Sigma Psi shall not extend membership to individuals who identify exclusively as male.”
“We were already pretty LGBT-friendly in 2015, and one of our then-current members came out as nonbinary, and we wanted to make it a more inclusive space for them,” said President Molly Pfefferkorn.
The Panhellenic Council and Interfraternity Congress are looking to become more inclusive.
Panhellenic President Himica Kalra explained, “We’re looking for ways of starting conversations, getting more people involved, and creating more inclusive space within our community.”
When members do not understand their chapter’s policy, specifically the CWRU branch’s policies, they tend to feel as though they can’t come out during college.
As one president said, “We have had people in the past who have waited four years to come out as nonbinary, which is very upsetting, but we’ve also had people be nonbinary in the chapter.” This was not an experience unique to this president’s specific chapter, either, possibly due to the variation of policies between sororities.
Fraternal policies tend to be more closely aligned between the different chapters. Most fraternal policies align with the idea that those who self-identify as male can be extended offers for membership. Zeta Beta Tau “is in discussions to decide a policy.” Phi Kappa Psi retains the most restrictive policy, stating “membership may only be granted to males.”
Sorority gender policies are not compiled in the same manner fraternal gender policies are. In many instances, sororities face more scrutiny in this subject than fraternities do.
Alpha Chi Omega’s constitution states, “The essence of freedom of association is the right to select those with whom to associate and the right to have that selection be single-gender. Alpha Chi Omega is committed to protecting the right of Alpha Chi Omega chapters to be single-gender organizations.” Pi Beta Phi’s policies, along those same lines, dictate “Federal law recognizes the right of college social fraternities to maintain single-sex membership policies. Pi Beta Phi is a women’s organization for individuals who live and self-identify as women.” Likewise, Delta Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta and Alpha Phi do not nationally make the distinction between cis women and those self-identifying as women.
The policies held by Phi Mu and Alpha Gamma Delta were not able to be found.
With varying accessibility of policies—with some sororities stating their policies on their website, others in their public constitutions and the rest not at all—many individuals may be deterred from rushing at all. Whereas the fraternities have all policies in one document for potential new members to compare, sororities ostracize potential recruits by necessitating they to spend hours researching to find all of them.
This could be, in part, due to the discrepancies between local and national policies for the sororities. While some sororities on the CWRU campus find themselves to be more accepting than their nationals, this only shows the need for a more widespread conversation on this topic.
As explored in previous articles for The Observer, the number of people rushing sororities has been declining year after year. While no data is yet available, one possible reason could be a changing society. A decade ago, virtually no one was talking about nonbinary or gender nonconforming individuals. Today, there is a clear demand for greater dialogue about gender identity and inclusion. With these organizations lagging in their conversation on this subject, individuals who identify this way may feel unwelcome, regardless of a certain chapter’s stance. When the community as a whole lacks a concrete policy or even a compilation of chapter-specific policies, individuals can feel hesitation upon reaching out. With that being said, CWRU is still on the ‘progressive’ side of the spectrum of gender identity and Greek Life.
The Panhellenic Council and Interfraternity Congress created an inclusion committee in 2017 to create space for dialogue and education for chapters in order to aid them in creating constructive and engaging conversations. Taylor also mentioned that she hoped the community can “think about identity holistically. It is valuable for the community to think of it broadly, and that is the essence of inclusion.” In terms of specific steps the Greek community has taken overall in the acceptance of gender nonbinary individuals, the bylaws were updated to change from using he/she to them.
While CWRU’s Greek organizations have found themselves more accepting of gender identity than their respective national chapters, there are still many conversations that need to happen before that acceptance is widespread.
Alpha Gamma Delta, Alpha Phi, Alpha Chi Omega, Theta Chi, Pi Beta Phi, Delta Gamma, Phi Kappa Psi, Sigma Nu, and Phi Gamma Delta declined public comment. Kappa Alpha Theta, Phi Mu, Zeta Psi, Zeta Beta Tau, Sigma Chi, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Pi Kappa Phi, Phi Kappa Tau, Phi Kappa Theta, Delta Upsilon, Delta Tau Delta, and Delta Chi did not respond to request for comment.
A full outline of fraternal gender identity policies is available on the CWRU Greek Life website. Sorority gender recruitment policies are available upon request to the specific chapters.
A previous version of this article did not list Theta Chi as one of the greek organizations that declined public comment. The Observer apologizes for this error.