As you walk around campus, you’ll see bold Greek letters embroidered on some students’ apparel. These letters show which Greek organization one belongs to and may also highlight how membership in a particular Greek council reflects their ethnic or racial identity. While these organizations provide a sense of home and comfort for many students, they also demonstrate the segregation of students by membership in some Greek councils.
There are seven Greek life councils at Binghamton University to oversee the 56 fraternities and sororities, some of which are ethnically or racially oriented. These councils include Asian Greek Council, Interfraternity Council, Multicultural Greek and Fraternity Council, National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations Council, National Pan-Hellenic Council, Panhellenic Council and Professional Fraternity Council. While students should have the ability to choose an organization that reflects their ethnic or racial background, the ethnic and racial division in BU’s Greek life emphasizes that division in student life. While these organizations are home and comfort for many students, those separation of councils can be problematic because it could force people to choose between two parts of their identity.
It is both common and normal for people of the same background to gravitate toward one another. This is called ethnic nepotism, which is defined as “a human tendency for in-group bias or in-group favoritism … for people with the same ethnicity within a multiethnic society.” Ethnic nepotism strengthens a human’s identity; it is understandable why one would gravitate toward the people who look like them, and hence, most likely experience life similarly to them. People drift toward people who are similar to them because it’s easier to connect with them and form relationships. A Yale University study about identity states that, “Generally, people act more favorably toward persons who share with them an important attribute of their identity compared to persons who differ significantly on that attribute. For example, fans of the same sports team give each other high fives but jeer fans of a rival team; enthusiasts of certain musical groups may work more readily with those who share their preferences than with others.” Race is a key attribute of people’s identity, so it makes sense that it is common for people of the same race to connect, bond and come together. While I think it is beneficial for people to find a group of people and a place they can fit in, the segregation in Greek life is not always advantageous for everyone — particularly for someone like myself who doesn’t fit the mold.
I am an adopted Chinese woman who has grown up with a white parent. I’ve struggled with my identity in the sense that I have had my feet in two different worlds: my Asian heritage and my Caucasian family, which is dominant because of the environment that I grew up in. To some people, I am whitewashed and not Asian enough. That was especially emphasized when I began exploring Greek life at BU. Because of who I am, and the family in which I was raised, I found it frustrating that I did not fit into any Asian sorority because I am seen as too “white” and Americanized. A place where one could normally find people and a place to call home wasn’t an option for me. Understandably, “Asian” Greek life tends to only hang out with their organizations and “white” Greek life tends to hang out with their organizations, creating a very distinct separation. While I recognize that having different backgrounds warrants the separation between organizations, I was disappointed that I had to choose between them. I wish there were a group that was integrated so I didn’t feel I had to choose which part of my identity to favor. Organizations that are meant to bring people together and give them clarity about their identity actually did the opposite for me.
This might not be a popular opinion, but it’s one that has been felt by other people at BU. In speaking to a close friend of mine, she noted that, “People go to college and want to fit in, and it’s easy to fit in by race. However, it also establishes cliques that can come off as less racially open. I wish there was more diversity, because I am not proud about it, but the idea of feeling judged by other Asians as whitewashed, or vice versa, you can never win … It’s weird to just seemingly choose one.”
Culturally, ethnically and racially oriented Greek life is not completely negative. It can strengthen the representation of people of color, foster pride and provide a place to develop everlasting friendships. However, based on my and others’ experiences, I think there are problems with the current segregation of Greek life at BU. Having to choose between two important parts of one’s identity is hurtful and not what Greek life is supposed to be.
Willa Scolari is an undeclared freshman.