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Panhellenic Association encourages discussions about transgender membership



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Potential new members wait outside Kappa Alpha Theta's house during Indiana University's panhellenic recruitment Jan 12, 2014.  Michaela Simone Buy Photos

Fraternities and sororities are exempt from IU’s non-discrimination policy for student organizations under Title IX, which says sexual misconduct, including harassment and discrimination, is prohibited under the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct and the University’s Sexual Misconduct policy.

However, Panhellenic Association president Maggie Reisdorf said delegates to PHA’s executive council were encouraged to start having conversations about inclusion and acceptance of transgender women within their chapters before Thanksgiving break.

Reisdorf said it is currently understood that women can go through the PHA recruitment process, but nothing specifically states what defines a woman. PHA at IU is interpreting those rules as anyone who identifies as a woman.

Of the 26 national sororities in the National Panhellenic Conference, only three have formal, public policies with language that is inclusive of transgender women. Two of those sororities, Delta Gamma and Kappa Kappa Gamma, have chapters at IU. Presidents of the two chapters did not respond to requests for comment.

PHA does not have the power to govern the policies of individual chapters, so decisions about transgender membership during the recruitment process would be left to individual chapters as well as their national or international organizations.

Reisdorf said PHA’s encouragement of this dialogue had several motivating factors, including the national conversation about gender identity and conversations she had about transgender membership with Lori Reesor, vice provost for student affairs and dean of students.

To Reisdorf’s knowledge, no transgender women have been through PHA recruitment at IU, she said. However, the registration process for recruitment does not require that women disclose their gender identities, she said.

“There has been lot of dialogue on both sides,” Reisdorf said. “There are some people who want to be protective of their members and come in with reservations about the biological anatomy aspect of somebody living in the houses, but in a lot of the conversations I’ve had, people have been incredibly open and welcoming to this idea.”

Fraternity Sigma Phi Beta is the only greek organization at IU that is openly for queer and allied members. Chapter president Bryant Hayes said increasing conversations about transgender membership in greek life is a good thing because a lot of queer people assume greek life is not open to them.

“A lot of people say they didn’t know they could be trans and in greek life until they heard about us, so it’s something I wish would be more widespread in both IFC and Panhellenic,” Hayes said.

Hayes said he does not see similar conversations and policies happening for the Interfraternity Council in the near future. He said Sigma Phi Beta started as a chapter under IFC but moved after realizing it was not the most fitting place for them.

“They weren’t overtly not accepting, but we didn’t feel super comfortable there last semester, so we switched to the Multicultural Greek Council for a more inclusive atmosphere,” Hayes said.

Hayes said breaking down stereotypes around greek life is important, and a lot of chapters at IU have worked to do that and tried to be more inclusive.

“I think first just having these conversations with your chapter and making sure everyone is competent on how to talk about trans people and trans issues is important,” Hayes said. “That way if a trans person does rush and they open up about that, they’re not gonna get any negative or ignorant reactions.”

Sabrina Jones, a member of Alpha Sigma Alpha and the incoming vice president of chapter development for PHA, said building curriculum for student organizations as a diversity and inclusion intern for Student Life and Learning motivated her to figure out how she could integrate that work into Panhellenic sororities.

Jones said most greek organizations hold values such as inclusion, respect and kindness, and organizations emphasizing those values can help encourage more transgender women to go through PHA recruitment.

Theta Phi Alpha is one sorority Jones said reached out to PHA to ask for programming related to transgender membership. She, along with other PHA’s executive council members, planned the program to educate members on gender identity and help them examine how their organization’s values apply to the topic.

“That program was a kind of prototype for us to learn how to build programs for other chapters, and we’re hoping it’s something we’ll be able to do for each individualized chapter,” Jones said.

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