Students addressed perception, division, racism, and sexual assault within the UW’s Greek community during a public forum Wednesday night, aimed to create an open but structured dialogue for participants to discuss their opinions and experiences.
In the spirit of student collaboration, the Greek Community Project (GCP), who organized the event, created the night’s agenda based on input from prospective attendees. The GCP released a form that asked those attending to list topics they wanted to examine during the forum.
“The forum was designed to kind of create a conversation about the different issues that really plague our community,” said Michael Smith, co-founder of the GCP. “We just want to have people from our community and from throughout, just sit down and talk.”
Born in response to recent controversies surrounding the Greek community, the event was not intended to deflect criticism, but rather to welcome it and create a safe space for constructive discussion, according to Grace Chai, GCP project coordinator.
“I wanted to use this as an opportunity [for the Greek community] to reach the best of its potential,” Chai said. “Because I think at times there’s this view that there’s not a lot of accountability by the Greek community in addressing these issues.”
Organizers began the night by breaking the audience into 12 groups. Smith and Chai introduced the event, and Adaeze Medani, president of the African Student Association, briefly addressed the audience.
“It’s important to address this forum because everyone is coming from a place of hurt or a place of privilege and in order for us to solve the problem, we need to come together and figure this out,” Medani said. “Not one side is winning right now. … People are going to get really uncomfortable, but that’s going to need to happen.”
Participants took a poll online regarding their feelings on the image of Greek life on campus, racism and sexual violence within the community, and division, both between chapters and between Greek and non-Greek students. GCP members then facilitated a discussion of the responses and other individual concerns to each question within their small groups before turning the conversation back to the entire audience.
The environment changed when students began to express their experiences and frustrations over being turned away from parties because of their skin color, feelings that fellow students are not recognizing their own privilege, the triggering aspect of the language surrounding Greek life, and dismissal of concerns over sexual assault. In small groups, Greek individuals engaged more directly with other students about the best ways to improve the Greek community and make it more inclusive.
“From my personal group discussion, we were able to come up with two to three solutions to address these issues, and I understood perspectives from the Greek community,” said Erin Nguy, a UW freshman who attended the event. “… I learned something and they learned something from me. The solutions we came to were accountability, compassion, and, from that, education.”
The forum, held in Savery Hall, allowed an estimated 130 people to participate in the dialogue, more than its organizers anticipated.
In hopes of creating a comfortable and inclusive environment for exchange, participants were asked to refrain from wearing Greek letters, not mention their living circumstances, and not record video or audio during the event.
The forum was endorsed by the UW Panhellenic Association, Interfraternity Council, and United Greek Council.
“At the end of the day, we all want the same thing,” Chai said. “We all want campus to be more safe, … more inviting, and more welcoming to everyone, regardless of where they come from.”
Reach contributing writer Samantha Slade at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @sam___slade