November 23, 2014

Greeks Work Toward LGBT Inclusivity at Cornell

Print More


Though leaders of Cornell’s fraternities and sororities say the Greek system continues to open its doors to members the LGBT community, several Cornellians say they believe chapters need to further educate their members about issues in the LGBT community and alter some of their long-held traditions to be fully inclusive.

The Interfraternity Council is currently seeking to eliminate stereotypes about Greek life — including biases against members of the LGBT community, according to James Winebrake ’15, vice president of recruitment for IFC.

“Our goal as an IFC is to help dispel any false preconceived notions of what fraternity life may or may not entail, especially regarding the attitudes of our members,” he said.

Winebrake said he believes there is an understanding within the Greek system that complacency is “unacceptable.”

“Our vision for the future of Cornell’s fraternities is a vision of inclusiveness and constant improvement, and the IFC’s ongoing Fraternity for Everyone campaign has done much to foster that vision while showcasing the system’s endless opportunities for intellectual, social, professional and other growth,” he said.

‘A Long Way To Go’

Philip Titcomb ’17,  LGBTQ representative at-large for the Student Assembly, said he believes acceptance and inclusion for LGBT people in Greek life is increasing, though he added varying levels of safety exist for LGBT students within the Greek system, which “can depend on individual houses [and] members of each house.”

“Personally, I have been to some fraternities’ events and have felt very welcomed and included. I have even been brothers’ dates at their fraternities’ formals,” Titcomb said.

According to Titcomb, it is inaccurate to generalize all fraternities as “queerphobic,” though he said he has previously experienced harassment from members of the Greek community.

“At one fraternity event, after discovering that I was gay, a group of fraternity brothers kicked me out of the event, calling me a ‘faggot’ and a ‘fucking queer,’” Titcomb said.

As a chair of the LGBTQ+ Greek Ally Ambassador Program, Titcomb said the organizations are trying to raise awareness for issues that LGBT people face within Greek life, as well as “educate our non-queer peers.”

He added that he believes the LGBTQ+ Greek Ally Ambassador Program needs more structure.

“As [the Ambassador program] stands, it is very ambiguous. It needs to adopt a more educational approach to LGBTQ+ issues and tackle issues relating to prejudice and discrimination, including microaggressions,” Titcomb said.

However, Titcomb said he believes the Greek system still needs to make an effort to create a more inclusive environment.

“We still have a long way to go for LGBTQ+ people to be authentically and genuinely accepted one hundred percent,” Titcomb said.

Titcomb said he would still encourage LGBT students to rush, especially because these same students “have the power to change Greek life for the better.”

“The more queer people someone knows personally, the more likely that person is to willingly and wholeheartedly accept and comprehend LGBTQ+ issues and actively fight against all institutions of queerphobia,” said Titcomb.

Finding a Home in Greek Life

Assistant Dean of Students Kara Miller said she thinks that any member of the LGBT community should be able to find a home in a fraternity or sorority.

“The student leaders are conscious of making their organizations places where all students feel welcome. They recognize this as a priority and are engaged in dialogue to foster inclusion,” Miller said.

According to Miller, the LGBTQ+ Greek Ally Ambassador program is a widespread initiative in the fraternity and sorority community across all three councils.

“[LGBTQ Ambassadors] is a program in which each fraternity or sorority identifies a member who will serve as an ally and participate in programs and initiatives to increase awareness and conversation about LGBTQ issues in fraternity and sorority life,” Miller said.

According to Multicultural Greek Letter Council President Brandon Yeh, MGLC is “open and welcoming” to LGBT students.

“Our community has always fostered and emphasized diversity and inclusion.  Many of our fraternities and sororities were initially founded to help support and advocate for underrepresented student populations,” Yeh said.

Yeh said MGLC has worked to promote LGBT inclusion by “actively collaborating” with Haven, the LGBTQ Student Union to increase educational programming.

Shifting the Language

Erika Whitestone ’15, president of the Panhellenic Council, said the council recently met with Haven to work on ways to make recruitment “a more inclusive and positive experience.”

“We are planning to have educational materials and training from Haven about gender and sexuality for all of our recruitment chairs and Rho Gammas,” Whitestone said.

According to Whitestone, Panhel is also “shifting the language” used during recruitment to be “less heteronormative.”

In the past, members of the Panhel community were told to avoid the discussion of the “3 B’s” — booze, boys and bids — with potential new members, according to Panhel.

An ‘Overwhelmingly Positive’ Experience

On Nov. 16, IFC and Haven co-sponsored a panel in Robert Purcell Community Center to cover issues including the recruitment process, new member education, fraternity living and daily life as a member of the Greek community “geared from an LGBT perspective,” according to Winebrake.

Reed Newman ’16, one of the six panelists from six different fraternities, said that the goal of the panel was to educate people on the Greek System from an LGBTQ perspective.

“One of my main goals of this panel is to make this a very honest portrayal of what it’s like to be in the Greek System,” said Newman, a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. “For me, and a majority of other people, it’s been overwhelmingly positive.”

Panelists discussed the process of “coming out” to members of their Greek chapter and the new member education process, according to Newman. He said other topics included choosing a house, living in the fraternity and navigating date events and mixers.

Newman said he believes that Greek Life at Cornell currently offers a safe and welcoming environment for LGBT students.

“Historically, and not just at Cornell, Greek life probably wasn’t as welcoming as it is now, so there’s that kind of stigma with Greek life; however, times have definitely changed,” Newman said. “I really do feel [Cornell Greek life] is an extremely welcoming place, and if you want to join a house, there’s definitely a house that wants to have you.”

According to Newman, there is a “misconception” that only certain fraternities are accepting, but that it doesn’t matter what a students’ orientation if they find a group of students that they can connect with.

“During rush, it doesn’t matter whether you’re gay, straight, bisexual or wherever you are — it’s more important how you get along with the people in the house that you’re interested in. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters,” Newman said. “As long as you’re confident about who you are and what you stand for, people really respect that.”

Mo Cliffstone ’15, an LGBT student and member of the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, said he hopes the IFC will increase programming with LGBT groups on campus.

“While the [panel was] a pivotal event for introducing LGBTQ-identified individuals to the Greek system, I believe we need more programming to further bridge the gap,” he said. “That is the only way that the two communities will get over recognizing each other through their stereotypes and will see each other as people instead.”

Cliffstone added he believes many stereotypes against the Greek system currently exist within Cornell’s LGBT community.

“People are still holding on to such outdated stereotypes,” he said. “It is quite upsetting to see to be honest.”

An Alternative Solution

Nathan Gelb-Dyller ’16 said he believes it is more important to address how LGBT Cornellians outside the Greek system are affected by the system. He said he thinks some LGBT students in Greek houses may feel comfortable because they “mold” themselves to fit norms for gendered behavior or that the environments “render their queerness invisible.”

According to Gelb-Dyller, the Greek system would have to substantially alter its social norms in order to fully eliminate what he refers to as its “hostility” to LGBT Cornellians.

“This would entail ending heteronormative fraternity [and] sorority mixers, gender ratios at parties and any presumption that a given person is ‘straight,’” he said. “I think that it is impossible to fix the Greek system and the only way to end the Greek system’s hostility to queerness is to end the Greek system.”