Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Breaking Stereotypes and Building Inclusivity: Gender Affirmation and Greek Life

Illustration by M Hu

Fraternities and sororities are often seen as reinforcing damaging gender stereotypes and toxic masculinity and toxic femininity. However, Greek life can also provide safe and affirming spaces for individuals. Across the country, we see pushes for reform and controversy over Greek life’s role on college campuses. Greek life still exists at Whitman, but its inclusion of transgender and nonbinary students reflects the positive impacts these institutions can have.

Gender inclusivity efforts and conversations have been growing increasingly prevalent on Whitman’s campus. Greek life, organizations intertwined with the campus community and culture, are no exception.

Greek life both on and off Whitman’s campus carry a reputation regarding their traditional embrace of hegemonic masculinity and femininity, or idealized standards for men and women. For transgender and nonbinary students, navigating Greek life at Whitman College can present unique challenges because of assumptions made about sorority and fraternity life. 

Junior Gwen Empie found themselves in quarantine at Marcus House with several members of Beta Theta Pi in the spring of their first year. Having conversations with them about Greek life led Empie to consider joining when they learned it might be possible to be in a fraternity. They felt that a fraternity would be a better fit than a sorority because they are nonbinary, and while they have spaces on campus that allow them to connect with their femininity, as well as people around whom they feel androgynous, they found it difficult to find spaces where they felt truly masculine.

Growing up in a place where sororities were similar to what you would see on Bama RushTok, a sensational TikTok trend where women detail the intense efforts, time and money they put into preparing for the sorority recruitment process, Empie’s perception was that fraternities were more low-key and casual, which aligned more with the Greek life experience they were looking for. 

“I’ve never really been one that loves being in large groups of girls and my friends in high school were mostly guys, so I feel like I get along better with groups of guys than groups of girls,” Empie said.

Empie’s decision to join Beta was not only about seeking community but also about finding an environment where they could be themselves without conforming to rigid gender expectations.

“It can be a really affirming space, gender-wise, because I’m on the Women’s swim team, [which] is a space where I feel like I’m at contest with my gender,” Empie said.  “Being in spaces that affirm other parts of my gender appearance and the way I want my gender to be perceived is cool and a very unique experience.”

Based on what Empie heard, there weren’t many concerns regarding Beta giving them a bid because of their gender. As the first non-cis man to join Beta, they still had their apprehensions.

“Coming out as nonbinary and almost immediately joining a frat was honestly pretty terrifying. In the beginning, it felt like my masculinity was constantly being judged or compared to the people I was surrounded by, but as soon as I allowed myself to let go of that fear, it’s been incredible,” Empie said.

Empie’s acceptance into Beta as a non-cisgender individual marked a significant milestone. This acceptance demonstrates the progress being made in fostering inclusivity within Greek organizations, in line with the broader discussions of diversity and inclusion taking place across the Whitman College campus.

Sophomore Joseph Torres, a trans man, had his own reservations about joining Greek life. His concerns stemmed from worries about tokenization and the presence of transphobia.

“I was worried because I’d seen other members of Beta make transphobic jokes on their Snapchats,” Torres said.

This concerned but did not completely deter Torres, as he knew and liked several Beta members and realized he did not have to be close with every one of them. Additionally, members tempered his initial hesitation by mentioning that Beta would welcome Torres’ pet bird — a seemingly minor detail that spoke volumes about the fraternity’s willingness to include. 

“Seeing that Gwen was there made me feel a little safer; it makes me happy to see AFABs (individuals Assigned Female at Birth) being accepted into male spaces,” Torres said.

Within Beta, Torres’ experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Nobody within the fraternity intentionally misgendered him, and that he didn’t sense any hostility in that regard. Beta’s acceptance extended beyond his personal experience, as he also noticed gender inclusivity when it came to bringing his friends to the house that are also queer.

Torres’ presence, along with Empie’s, has led to increased awareness of LBGT identities among fraternity members.

“I can see other brothers in Beta being more aware [about] not making transphobic jokes or being aware when they hear them. I feel like that might’ve been something that would’ve flown under the radar before, but now there’s trans people in Beta that they care about,” Torres said.

Being at Beta is gender-affirming for Torres because when he enters that particular male-associated space he feels very welcomed. 

“My masculinity is not questioned when I walk in the room, it’s accepted for the fact that maybe it’s a little different, and I very much love that,” said Torres.

Recent alum Clover Beaty ’23 embarked on her Greek life journey by joining sorority Kappa Alpha Theta in the spring of 2021. As a transgender woman, she initially had reservations, particularly related to her appearance during the early stages of her medical transition. 

“I was nervous because I looked a lot more masculine than I do now, so that caused a lot of inner anxiety that I wouldn’t be seen as a woman, and I’d feel like I don’t belong. Immediately everybody in Theta let me know that I was welcome and asked me if they could do anything to make me more welcome,” Beaty said.

Joining a sorority proved to be a gender-affirming experience for Beaty, and the sorority’s emphasis on leadership empowered Beaty to navigate societal expectations of femininity on her own terms.

“It made me feel comfortable exploring myself a lot more, and I made a lot of great friends through sorority life so it made me feel very comfortable with my gender. The way my sorority operated, it had a strong focus on femininity in a way of leading and leadership and finding ways to take on responsibility, and seeing how societal femininity is seen and then figuring out how to go about that in my own way. [It made me] feel strong and in charge of my own life,” said Beaty.

Beaty, Empie and Torres’ experiences show that Greek life can provide a platform for self-discovery, empowerment and a profound sense of belonging for transgender and non-binary individuals on Whitman’s campus.

“If you’re a trans person considering joining Greek life, I would say come as you are. There are going to be people that are going to accept you, you shouldn’t have to masculinize or feminize yourself if you are more toward the middle of that gender spectrum, or if you’re not on it at all,” Torres said.  “Associate with whichever sorority or fraternity you feel like is closer aligned to what you feel like your gender identity is and if you feel like you’re a true neutral, great, people will be happy to have you wherever you are.”

View Comments (4)
More to Discover

Comments (4)

All Whitman Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • C

    Colleen BokenOct 13, 2023 at 7:50 pm

    As a transwoman who joined Theta my senior year (class of 2019), my story is one of what I would refer to as radical acceptance over my own inner anxiety.

    I hadn’t joined or made the effort to with the excuse that it was a financial thing, however the real reason was that, similar to Clover, I thought I looked too masculine as I can’t go through medical transition due to other health issues, however unlike Clover who managed to get through that inner anxiety (so proud of you btw), my anxiety kept me from even exploring the possibility, despite being completely out on campus and most of my friends being members of theta (one of my best friends even became my grand big).

    However, having saved up the money towards the end of my junior year and having put on a queer art exhibition which put my real name onto the wall of Olin, I asked myself “Do I want to regret not doing it, or regret not doing it sooner?” Knowing it might not be a possibility, I met with the recruitment director who pretty much said “Geez Finally Colleen”. I COBed my senior year and a part of me still cannot believe it happened. I remember shaking visibly through the entire process (much to my big’s amusement), understandably given that I had looked at for a long time as an impossibility, not something that I’d ever be able to do. I felt zero pushback from any members of theta or (at least out loud) other sorority members. In fact the only issue was me bumping my head on the low staircases in theta (#tallqueer). I deeply appreciate and love my sisters in theta, and have made so many friends through it both while at Whitman and as an Alumna.

    As an Alumna, I’ve found that the larger Theta community has been extremely welcoming to me as well, with me having attended numerous LA Theta events and even having Theta HQ put me onto their instagram story. It does appear that there is leadership within theta that does want to change things on a structural level, and while progress might be slow it seems to be at least starting. I even started a Kappa Alpha Theta Cats instagram originally as a sorta joke on reddit but quickly became something all its own.

    Even now as I returned to for my 5th reunion, the only emotion I felt in the space was that of love. Greek Life isn’t perfect, and has inherent structural issues dating back to it’s origin that disproportionally affect queer, non-wealthy, bipoc individuals, however my very much individual experience has been one that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. For me, theta really has been about a sisterhood, and has in many ways given me a kind of push to be loud, to be proud, and to be nobody else but me.

    BTW Amelia Leach I found this article to be well written and a nice change from the purely negative Greek Life articles, which while they do make valid points, there is always a danger in showing a single side no matter what the topic well. I do hope that you continue writing. And I love the illustration from M Hu, very well done.
    -Colleen Boken, Class of 2019, KAT @kappaalphathetacats

  • W

    WillSep 28, 2023 at 10:28 pm

    I liked the article

  • E

    Erin B.Sep 28, 2023 at 9:40 am

    Transition is an experience in isolation. Changing your place in the world and how others view you forces you to redefine what you call your community; something which is only compounded by the first year experience of college. For arriving genderqueer students, the beginning semester involves a plunge into unknown social worlds while also juggling both academic responsibilities and the pressures of knowing many students see you as the “other”. It’s an exercise in self understanding; one where many people seek to find themselves and the place they believe they fit into.

    As a result of all that, seeing an article written about Greek life which espouses the way it supposedly embraces transgender individuals feels like a direct insult; one carelessly and irresponsibly thrown to publication by a lazy author who wanted nothing more than to complete that week’s expected word count. It would be one thing were this article to have been written by someone who had experience with the bigotry genderqueer students experience so often, but for a cisgender writer to presume themselves knowledgeable enough to try and defend Greek life is utterly laughable.

    Beyond the boldness of the claims, the evidence behind them is framed in a rose-tinted manner which creates a precedent in the mind of prospective students and paints the organization as much more accepting than it is. Two of the three sources can be diluted to ‘I felt a fraternity would fit me better than a sorority’, and ‘at least the other members of my fraternity are no longer transphobic directly to my face’. While yes, the author’s third source maintains the positive experience they had with their former sorority, there was no thought to mention the absolute failure of administrative integrity which was brought to light earlier this year. For the author to cite only these three sources- two of whom have little more to say than an acknowledgement that things aren’t quite as shitty as they expected them to be, and a third whose positive experience was at one point heavily overshadowed by a negativity not even brought up here- is belittling and neglectfully misleading.

    While the article doesn’t directly attempt to incite harm against genderqueer students, it does little to protect them from it; serving more than anything as a set of blinders which would seek to distract from the bigotry Greek life has brought about in the past. It’s irresponsible and careless to submit that information as an exploration of the relationship students have with the organization. More than anything else, it speaks to a lack of care for the Wire itself- completely spitting on the role the paper plays as a source of reputable information for students. Writers for the Wire take on the responsibility of the publication’s name each time they sit down at their keyboards, and they should be cognizant of that when reporting on a topic that for others is highly sensitive.

    The author’s work here doesn’t ring with the journalistic integrity seen in previous explorations of the transgender experience on Whitman campus. It’s a hollow attempt to paint a remarkably complex situation as little more than a shallowly inclusive place for people to find community, and shows a complete disregard for an experience the author clearly doesn’t understand. Maybe next time, a bit more thought should be exercised about the position of privilege from which this information is being shared, or whether an author who puts in such little effort is equipped whatsoever to write on topics as important and relevant as these.

    • L

      Lazy AuthorOct 1, 2023 at 3:51 pm

      Thank you for your response. You make some great points, but I’d like to address a couple of key things.

      I am not a member of greek life and had no intentions of “defending it” with this article. The students I interviewed shared their positive experiences with Greek life, and while it may challenge your perspective, it’s crucial to acknowledge that experiences in Greek life are diverse. Reducing this complex topic to black-and-white extremes doesn’t do justice to the nuances involved.

      Your suggestion that my article was simply an attempt to meet a word count is quite off the mark. I’m committed to responsible journalism, and my goal was to provide readers with authentic insights into the experiences of genderqueer people in Greek life.

      Labeling me a lazy writer because my work contradicts your views is, in itself, a close-minded approach. Dismissing the experiences of these students based on your preconceived notions is counterproductive to open and constructive dialogue.

      It’s essential to recognize that diverse voices exist within any community, and my article aimed to amplify three of those voices. It’s regrettable to hear that you’re disappointed in the positive experiences shared by these students. Personally, I find it encouraging that some genderqueer individuals feel welcomed within Greek life. I would have hoped for a similar sentiment on your part, but it appears that your strong stance on abolishing Greek life might be clouding your perspective. Suggesting that I shouldn’t write about this topic because I’m not genderqueer seems to lean heavily on identity politics, which can limit our ability to have meaningful conversations about important issues.

      The Wire covers a wide array of topics, including critical examinations of Greek life. Prospective students and readers can explore these various articles to form a well-rounded perspective. Journalism’s fundamental principle is to showcase diverse viewpoints, ensuring that readers can make informed decisions without being confined to a single opinion.

      -Amelia Leach