Diversity and Inclusion in Panhel 

by Cameron Wu

When I walked into my first round of formal sorority recruitment last year, I was completely taken aback. As a freshman, I knew nothing about Greek life. I had no idea how to react to a room packed with women chanting, photoshoot ready, and all wearing matching outfits with aesthetic, color-coordinated name tags. Caught up in Duke’s annual whirlwind of rush season, I found myself blindly rushing panhellenic sororities because it seemed like something that everyone just did.


If you had asked me about rushing only two months earlier, I would have told you that I wasn’t even considering it. Based on images of sorority culture that I had seen in the media (think Selena Gomez in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising), I didn’t think that there was a place for me in Greek life as an Asian American woman. I hadn’t seen anyone who looked like me in a sorority and I didn’t think that I could fit in. But after seeing my friends register for rush, having intense FOMO, and figuring “I guess I might as well try it,” I signed myself up.


What I learned from the rush process and joining a sorority was that many women in Duke’s Panhellenic community are dedicated to empowering women of all backgrounds. Personally, I am grateful for the support I have received from women in my chapter and I appreciate the work that the Panhellenic executive board is doing to promote diversity. However, in terms of diversity and inclusion, there is still room for progress that the whole panhellenic community is responsible for addressing.


Going through the recruitment process again this semester, this time as a recruiter, I learned that my initial hesitations about diversity and inclusion in Greek life weren’t uncommon--nor were they unwarranted. Numerous people, in and outside of recruitment, have also voiced concerns over the lack of diversity in Panhellenic sororities. For instance, one article from The Chronicle reported that students in Greek organizations are twice as likely to have attended a high school with tuition greater than $30,000. While exact statistics on racial and socioeconomic diversity in Duke’s Panhellenic Association are unavailable, the volume of comments such as “I don’t think Greek life is for me...I’m just not the ‘sorority type’” and “only rich white people are in sororities” demonstrate issues in Greek life that we must address. These feelings speak to a broader culture at Duke, one that criticizes the homogeneity of greek life on campus.


Undoubtedly, Duke’s Greek community is making an effort to promote diversity and inclusion campus-wide. Events such as Lawrence Ross’ “Know Better/Do Better” talk, Greek Ally Week, and joint events with Duke’s Multicultural Greek Council have helped to engage students in conversations about diversity and intersectionality.


But conversations aren’t enough.


Currently, Duke’s Panhellenic executive board has created requirements for every chapter’s president, recruitment chair, and Panhellenic delegate to attend an implicit bias training in order to “recognize that diversity comes in many different forms and is not as one-dimensional as just racial diversity.” Also, the Duke Panhellenic Association has moved recruitment events back to campus to lower recruitment fees, implemented casual dress code guidelines, and expanded scholarship opportunities to provide aid for those in financial need. The board commented: “We want to be more representative of all Duke women and that includes race, socioeconomic status, LGBTQ+ women, etc.”


Promoting diversity is about more than just talking about being more inclusive--it’s about changing a long-established culture of wealth and privilege that exists in greek life. From my own experience, I have learned that Panhellenic groups can be welcoming, dynamic, and empowering. But a problem we need to address is translating those words into actions that make everyone feel heard. Especially since 40% of Duke women are involved in a greek organization, we as a student body need to be conscientious of the spaces we create on campus.


Here are a couple of suggestions from the Panhellenic executive board for creating welcoming spaces in Greek life for people of all backgrounds:


  1. Some chapters have started women’s empowerment & inclusion committees: starting at a lower level to take a closer look at their programming initiatives

  2. Be explicit and vocal about it: being more upfront about the issues and having conversations. We recognize that Panhel is not the most diverse space in its current space, but since we are aware of it, we want to work to address it.


We need to be mindful of people’s identities and experiences every day, not just on days with events promoting diversity. In doing so, we can take further steps towards creating inclusive and welcoming communities for everyone in greek life.