Glitter Ball: Queering the Fraternities

Nidhi Jaltare, Staff Reporter

Glitter everywhere painted the scene of the Glitter Ball, the result of collaboration between President of Whitman’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity Jack Taylor ‘20 and Emily Bauer ‘18, the intern for PRISM – the LGBTQ+ club at Whitman. The first hour of the party, which was on Saturday, March 31, was reserved just for those who identify as queer, then later opened up to the whole Whitman community.

The initiative behind the event was to create a safe space for queer students to enjoy and, ultimately, to just have fun.

“Most of the parties happening on the weekends are focused on heteronormativity, leaving no space for the queer students,” Bauer said. “I don’t go to Greek events, but the queer friends that I know who go don’t particularly feel safe or comfortable.”

This inspired Bauer and the other organizers to put on the Glitter Ball, which was essentially a party featuring a great playlist courtesy of Taylor, dancing, drinks and lots of glitter. Taylor, who is a queer member of Greek life at Whitman, hoped this event would bridge the gap between the queer and Greek communities.

“I feel really accepted and appreciated in Beta,” Taylor said. “It’s definitely accepting of the LGBTQs, and I have other gay friends in the fraternity. We’re hoping that this event would spread the acceptance for everyone on campus.”

Taylor also spoke more broadly about the intersection of Greek life and the wider Whitman community, and how he and other fraternity members hope to make Greek life welcoming to all people.

“We’re definitely trying to work on it,” Taylor said. “There have been traditionally some Greek institutions who are more accepting, and those who aren’t. But Greek life is working towards making it even more open to LGBTQ+ community. Every Greek leader and IFC/Panhell officer has been dedicated to this this mission.”

Holding this “queer beer” was a step in that direction; events like these have happened in the past, but none have been held recently.

“There were parties like this off campus before,” Bauer said. “Two years ago there was an incident and people stopped having them.”

The party’s organizers hope that these queer beers will continue creating a place for queer people at Whitman to relax on the weekends and feel more comfortable in Greek spaces.

“I hope it inspires any sort of event that has a focus on the queer community and that spans much further than partying,” Taylor said.

Some of the attendees of the party held similar sentiments. Anne Elise Kopta ‘20, who attended the event, voiced her opinion.

“I think that creating not only a queer-inclusive but also a queer-centric space is a good idea and should be done more,” Kopta said.

While the Glitter Ball provided an option to “queer the fraternities,” there was a non-greek option. Devon Yee ‘18 and her housemates hosted an alternate party to create a space for anyone who did not want to go to the fraternity event. Yee agreed to speak to The Wire if her statement in its entirety was published:

“Talking about problems within Greek Life is a tender subject. It’s not my intention to alienate q/poc/fgwc who have found invaluable support and community within Greek spaces. We didn’t host the party as a platform to voice our own concerns, but rather to open up another space for q/poc feeling uncomfortable at Beta for any reason. We offered to continue these conversations in person, not in a public forum. However, I’ll briefly share some of my thoughts.

Over the past four years, I’ve heard many compelling critiques of fraternity parties and Greek Life, both by current Greek members and by non-Greek people. It’s hard to escape the power dynamic at fraternity parties: sorority members bring their bodies, fraternity members provide the space and alcohol. A friend told me why he didn’t initiate for a fraternity he pledged for his first-year: despite clear evidence that a fraternity brother was a rapist, that brother continued to live in his fraternity house until expelled; the leadership didn’t think it was their job to punish people. Sexual assault absolutely occurs in non-Greek spaces. However, these dynamics seem exacerbated by Greek Life. No amount of glitter can cover up rape and sexual assault perpetrated in fraternity houses. Through my own research in the archives, I’ve realized Greek Life has a racist history, both nationally and here on campus.

You could understandably conclude: given that Greek Life is gender-segregated, largely white and requires payment for membership, hosting a single queer-friendly party won’t do anything to fix the fundamental problems of why q/poc/fgwc feel unwelcome. These problems are inherent to the structure of Greek Life itself.”

Both parties ultimately hoped to create comfortable, inclusive party spaces for queer people.