Nahbuma Gana ’22, slated to be the next president of the Panhellenic Council, has big dreams for Greek life reform as she takes steps toward creating a more inclusive environment for women of color.
Gana could not find any prior records of Black women serving as Panhel presidents, potentially making her the first. Gana believes that through her new position, she has the opportunity to represent women of color in Greek life leadership, but thinks that the most important thing will be what she does with her leadership position.
“I hope that people understand that even though I’m in this position, there’s still so much work to be done,” Gana said. “I don’t want people to see me in this position and think, ‘Oh, we’ve reached the peak of diversity and inclusion.’”
Recognizing her ascent into presidency will not eliminate the need for systemic change, she hopes to mandate diversity training and formalize anti-discrimination rules in the Panhel’s bylaws.
When Gana was a first-year student at Cornell, she had difficulty finding a direction for her college experience, including academic and personal goals — until she found a welcoming community in her sorority as a first-year.
While Greek life brought her a supportive group of friends, Gana said she has endured microagressions and other racist behavior. She is not alone: Many of her friends who are also women of color have left their sororities.
“I do think that there is a certain solidarity found there [in sororities] that’s so unique, that can’t be found anywhere else. That’s honestly why I stayed,” Gana said. “I think, personally, I am an exception, because I will not pretend like I have not seen my women of color friends drop out of their sororities because they don’t want to deal with racism and sexism.”
Gana intends to make sororities a comfortable place for women of color, continuing her work this past year as vice president of diversity and inclusion for Panhel. She trained Panhel sorority chapters’ diversity and inclusion chairs, and also made training materials to educate chapters about diversity and equity issues.
“I have benefited from this community, but I acknowledge that the people who I call my friends, people who are like me, who look like me, have not been afforded those same opportunities,” Gana said. “What can I be doing to make the space more inclusive?”
Gana said she has felt herself that Greek life spaces often have not been inclusive of students of color.
During her time in Greek life, Gana mentioned a specific racist incident that included a fraternity brother. The brother, who she declined to name, said derogatory things about women of color in a fraternity group chat, dismissing the idea that he could ever be attracted to them. According to Gana, this incident underscored the aspects of Greek life culture that she hopes to improve.
“Somebody felt comfortable enough to say something like that, and [at that time] nobody corrected him, nobody said anything to him,” Gana said. “When I did reach out to the frat afterwards and talk to them, they were obviously apologetic and saying things to me, but it doesn’t change the fact that the culture is the same.”
For Gana, her sorority has been a key support system as she works toward her professional, academic and personal goals. Gana, an information science major, with minors in communications and fashion studies is also a product designer for the Cornell Design and Tech Initiative, as well as marketing manager for Cornell Wardrobe.
Gana hopes that cultivating mutual support networks within sorority life can become more of a norm, rather than focusing on mixers with fraternities. Past programming that she sees as contributing to this goal includes wellness workshops, alumni mentoring programs and affinity groups.
“[We will] have programming that centers around our development as women, as people in Cornell’s community and as leaders,” Gana said. “[I want to] get rid of the idea of, ‘If I’m in a sorority and we’re not mixing with fraternities, what’s the point of being in a sorority?’ I do hear that said out loud often.”
While Gana has concerns about potential backlash from the Greek life community for her proposed changes, she hopes to lead by example as she creates cultural change, balancing integrity and empathy.
“I just think that there’s so much potential that this community has to just grow and support each other and reform what it means to be in Greek life,” Gana said.