The fifth iteration of Greek Ally Week took place on Duke’s campus last week. The annual programming—which includes panels, ally training sessions and HIV testing—dates back to the efforts of numerous factions within the Panhellenic Association and the Interfraternity Council in 2014.
Although the events were “founded to promote healthy dialogue around allyship and the experiences of LGBTQ+ folk in Greek organizations,” Greek Ally Week hasn’t been without understandable controversy. Recent critique has even come from those who have participated in the program itself. Although proponents of the events defend Greek Ally Week as steps toward changing the system of sororities and fraternities from the inside, the programming has yet to make substantial, visible inroads in repairing the serious conflicts between Greek life and values of inclusion.
In practice, Greek Ally Week serves more as a ritual penance that attempts to absolve Greek organizations from taking responsibility for the gender and sexuality stereotypes they perpetuate every other week of the year. From sorority pressure to maintain a feminine appearance and heteronormative date functions to the inherent reproduction of the gender binary through the fraternity-sorority divide, most of Greek life rejects the virtues they broadcast once per year.
A central conundrum of Greek Ally Week, however, isn’t how a social organization based in gender division could aid the struggle to fight transphobia and homophobia. It’s in the question 'who is Greek Ally Week for?'
This year, the bulk of the week’s events were trainings and discussion break out groups—with 101 and 201 levels available—as well as a student panel. Although the panel is open to everyone, the trainings and discussion groups are explicitly aimed at Greek life members. With many of these events not advertised toward to the general public, it’s unclear if they are meant to just serve LGBTQIA+ fraternity and sorority members—an affiliation that already lends itself to a outsized proportion of white and wealthy queer people represented—or to help cis, straight members to feel woke for having attended Ally 101.
What it means to be an "ally" to an oppressed or marginalized group has become diluted and obfuscated due to incorrect overuse. As a result, the title no longer means anything beyond the empty claiming of an identity as "ally to X group." What changes have come about from five years of Greek Ally Week programming, and do they stretch beyond queer peers who share their social circle, class wealth and favorite ski resort? How about those who are queer and non-affiliated?
This is not to exclude other selective social groups on campus from this critique. SLGs don’t even go so far as to hold the pretense of a week tackling the homophobia and transphobia that exists within their ranks.
One week of the year dedicated to providing a crash course to those within Greek organizations who choose to attend doesn’t exonerate the patriarchal system foundational to Greek life. Whether you believe the system can be fixed from the inside or not, it is clear there are significant flaws with both Greek Life and attempts to reform it. Ultimately, Greek Ally Week and its shortcomings pose an existential question to IFC and PanHel as to what it stands for in the light of the regressive gender and sexuality norms it perpetuates.
This was written by The Chronicle’s Editorial Board, which is made up of student members from across the University and is independent of the editorial staff.
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