The main part of Greek Row, 17th Avenue Northeast from Northeast 45th to 47th Streets, was blocked off Saturday night for the Check Your Privilege Party.
The row was filled with people who had come to hear the stories of those who had personally faced discrimination from or otherwise hurt by those in the Greek community. There were stories from sexual assault survivors, accounts from people who had been excluded from parties because of the color of their skin, and calls for change.
The event centered on marginalized voices and was intended to address a lot of the institutional and personal dynamics in the way the Greek system works, according to Palca Shibale, UW senior and member of the Check Your Privilege committee.
“We’re addressing the racism within the system but we’re also making sure to address the sexism within the system as well,” Shibale said. “We’re occupying the space, we’re centering those lives, and we’re giving the opportunity to get up on that platform and start addressing all these issues which are often undervalued, which are often undermined.”
The purpose of the event was to allow those that are normally excluded from the environment of the Greek system to start a dialogue about these issues. One of these issues that Shibale mentioned was sexual assault. Women in sororities are 74 percent more likely to get raped than other college women and men in fraternities are three times more likely to commit rape, Shibale said.
“It’s a very unsafe environment if you’re a woman and it’s a very unsafe environment if you’re a person of color,” Shibale said.
The Check Your Privilege Party was organized partly in response to recent incidents involving members of the Greek community.
“We’ve had a lot of problems as people of color when it comes to the Greek System; we had an incident with [Sigma Alpha Epsilon] early in the year during the UW Black Lives Matter Walkout, when a lot of the SAE members spewed a lot of racial epithets,” Shibale said. “To this day they still refuse to put in their creed any laws that would punish any people that are racist.”
The leaders of the UW Interfraternity Council (IFC) and UW Panhellenic both agreed with the intent of the event. Nate Stockman, the IFC president, said he believes it’s integral in improving the inclusivity of the Greek community.
“I think that the purpose of this event, the title check your privilege, it’s just trying to bring into the light issues we as Greeks may not be aware of,” Stockman said. “It’s good to recognize how we have these advantages and that we can use that to affect change and to make greater equality for everyone, specifically here at UW.”
Stockman and UW Panhellenic president Julia Severance released a statement which details how they plan to improve the system.
“[There are] 4,200 Greeks here at UW which means it’s just going to be a process,” Stockman said. “It’s something that we can’t give up on, it’s not just going to be a one and done thing. It’s not going to be over after tonight. We have to be constantly trying to educate ourselves and be aware of these different dynamics and these different mindsets.”
Change may prove slow going if the event’s Facebook page is anything to go by.
“There are very, very deeply disturbing comments, very ignorant comments [on] the Facebook page,” Shibale said. “We have received very, very disturbing messages from UW students, from Greek students as well.”
Part of the outrage of the opposition to the event is because people are concerned about their personal image, according to Shibale. They are more worried about looking bad than fixing the problem itself.
“What we’re often met with is, ‘No, that’s not the case,’ or, ‘It’s not all of us,’ or, ‘It’s not this,’ instead of actually addressing these predominant values and these really predominant issues that should be addressed,” Shibale said. “People don’t want to accept that this is a problem. They would much rather say it’s not there.”
A Facebook page featured a video of UW fraternity members chanting the night before the Check Your Privilege Party. Filmed just a street away from where the Check Your Privilege Party was being held, the chant contained graphic, racist, and violent lyrics.
Oscar Arreguim, UW freshman and incoming director of the Queer Student Commission, pointed out that this video is evidence that a lot of issues are being swept under the rug because, though people say they’re going to address them, in the end there is a lot being done behind closed doors that really demonstrates the opposite.
“The video that was posted on the Facebook page this morning, it definitely shows although one message is being sent outwardly there’s definitely something else going on internally,” Arreguim said. “I feel like this event will definitely get the conversation started and it kind of remains to be seen how people are going to take the conversation, especially a couple days, weeks after the event.”
The fact that so many members of the Greek community came out and stayed for the entirety of the evening was encouraging for organizers who recognize long-standing change will take work, but the purpose of the Check Your Privilege Party was that of a catalyst.
“Nobody has really ever done anything like this,” Shibale said. “We are directly challenging the Greek system. We are putting these issues and these people who society has told not to speak, we are putting them in the center. This is really just a small step towards a very, very big goal.”
Reach reporterNathalie Graham at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @gramsofgnats