Panhellenic Priorities: Why Recruitment 2019 Was Problematic

BY JOZETTE ALLAH-MENSAH

In late 2018, a petition circulated AU’s campus calling for a change in recruitment dates as it lied on the Women’s March for the 2019 year. Started by Alpha Chi Omega’s Vice President of Recruitment Mackenzie Territo, the petition collected over 1,900 signatures. Although the Change.org petition did not reach its goal of 2,500 signatures, it was enough for the university to approve a change for the date of recruitment.

The date was changed from Saturday, January 19, to Monday, January 21, also known as Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The AU Panhellenic Council had to vote on the change with this date in mind. And it passed, though not unanimously. So, on that Monday, I had to watch as a day to celebrate a civil rights leader — A day that is usually reserved by the university as a day of service in his honor — was taken over by a group of majority white women who ensured that the day was about their “sisterhood”.

So let’s debunk how problematic this decision was, shall we?

First and foremost, it should go without saying how unbelievably disrespectful it is that MLK Day was even perceived as an alternative date. It is a federally mandated holiday to commemorate his life and his work. It is a recent holiday as well, only officially first observed 33 years ago once King was thought of as a hero, rather than a radical.

Many who have grown up in the states, once every January, did something in class to remember his contributions to Civil Rights (or not). Let me remind you that without him, I would not be able to have the same rights as any white students today.  Any sorority easily could have taken more than a second out of the day to honor his memory and legacy, but only the historically black greek organizations participated in acts of service to commemorate him.

Additionally, according to an article by The Eagle, sororities held a donations drive immediately following recruitment for the Black Student Fund, a local non-profit. Panhellenic Executive Board President Shannon Walsh said there was “little to no backlash” over the conflict with MLK day activities, as of her January 17 interview with The Eagle, but she hoped that recruitment will “no longer be on this weekend at all in the future.”

Their efforts to save face comes off disingenuous. It looks as if they found a cause that would match the theme of MLK Day so it would look like they actually cared and could avoid any resistance. If they had truly cared, recruitment wouldn’t have been on that day in the first place.

Second, the Women’s March is not as inclusive as it looks. Aside from the fact that members of the LGBTQ+ community are often left out of the narrative, the main focus is on issues that straight, non-minority, middle class women face. Shockingly, there are issues beyond the tampon tax that have global ripples. And I wonder what marchers do to support women rights after taking a picture for “the gram” with a tired caption crediting Susan B. Anthony. Is there any action of substance partnered with marching or is that where the privilege of peeking in and out of social justice issues begins again?

It’s a vicious cycle, really. You cannot be a sisterhood when some of your sisters benefit from the sacrifices of civil rights activists and not acknowledge that. You cannot rally behind a Women’s March that fails to support minorities. Sisterhood without intersectionality is a flawed version of feminism.

Lastly, this petition reinforces AU’s priorities as PWI. I’m not a voice for every black person on campus, but I can’t help but wonder where that same fervor was to combat recruitment on MLK day like there was for the Women’s March. Members knew of the request for this change before January even began. The Fraternity Sorority Life (FSL) office even held office hours to discuss any issues people would have with this, and promised they wouldn’t make it on this date again, which shows they knew it was wrong in the first place.

This op-ed isn’t to wage a war against sororities on campus or to discount the hard work I imagine goes into organizing whatever recruitment entails, but it is absolutely disheartening to see this as a student of color. To me, this is just another example of how white feminism places itself above inclusivity.

The AU Panhellenic Council and the FSL office prioritized their involvement numbers over the life of someone who led an era and was martyred to combat inequality. Not every person in the United States spends MLK day in deference of him, I’m not immune to that fact. But no organization has the right to hold mandatory activities on a day dedicated to the start of freedom for an entire people. There is no prerequisite to care about civil rights issues; You shouldn’t care only if you’re black, you should care because you’re human.

The Blackprint reached out to the AU Panhellenic Council and FSL office for comment, but have not received a response.