Bringing an Equity-Centered Framework to Sorority and Fraternity Campus Professionals

by Danielle Sosias

The sorority and fraternity life (SFL) field has dramatically changed since the renewed racial justice awakening that occurred after the brutal murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, by Minneapolis police officers. Since 2020, our field has seen increased attention to racism, prejudice, and discrimination. In response, many institutions and organizations have committed to and adopted practices to increase organizational diversity, inclusion, and equity practices. The Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Advisory Committee delivered a report in 2021 that examined aspects of the association through a DEI lens and provided recommendations on how the association should be responsive to the needs of its diverse membership. One recommendation was to reconsider “working across differences” within the Core Competencies to transition from a transactional approach (i.e., volunteering with an unfamiliar organization) to honoring humanity (Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, 2021). To promote inclusion and sense of belonging among Culturally Based Sororities and Fraternities (CBSF) and students of color, SFL campus-based professionals must prioritize DEI work and consider the lived experiences of members through the development and implementation of a SFL curriculum. In this context, I define curriculum as a series of planned experiences or programs created by SFL campus-based professionals and presented to students in the SFL community. Examples of planned experiences include, but are not limited to: SFL 101, risk management training, recruitment training, and leadership programming.

Being equity-minded in SFL gives students an active voice in their success. Examining and dismantling oppressive systems should be a significant focus of the curriculum to promote equity and transformation (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002). It is not enough to solely draw attention to the discrepancies; those designing the curriculum should also analyze and challenge the existing institutions that maintain inequities (Andrews et al., 2019). Examining, identifying, and treating the underlying causes of racism and injustice is the only way to end them.

With this context in mind, campus professionals must depart from how we have always done things and acknowledge our curriculum may privilege some groups and marginalize others. The following framework will help SFL campus-based professionals demonstrate the application of DEI in practice through the SFL curriculum.

Campus-Based Professional. Campus-based professionals’ biases, social identities, and SFL affiliations can impact their advancement and implementation of curricula (Reyes et al., 2022). How campus-based professionals view and prioritize DEI can greatly impact how they put anti-racist methods or techniques into practice. SFL campus-based professionals should understand the causes and mechanisms of racism and oppression, hold values and beliefs supporting equality and justice, and can implement anti-oppressive methods (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002). A person can acknowledge these aims through critical consciousness and introspection, and reflection. Campus-based professionals should ask themselves the following questions:

  1. How do your social identities inform your work?
  2. How does privilege, especially whiteness, appear in your work?
  3. How do your worldview and values manifest in your work?

Development of Curriculum. To address equity gaps and center students of color in the curriculum, an equity-minded approach is crucial to enact transformative and systemic change (Lundquist & Henning, 2020). The content of the curriculum presented should resonate with students from diverse backgrounds. Patton (2016) suggested that regardless of topic content, most curricula operate with a bias toward “cannon” knowledge that ensures whiteness remains embedded. SFL campus-based professionals must put intentionality in the curriculum’s development, enabling them to better connect with their students and promote identity formation and cultural awareness within the SFL community. Students of color and students affiliated with CBSFs will be more engaged when they see themselves represented in the curriculum. They can resonate and apply their relevance to the real world and lived realities. The inclusivity of student voices provides a collaborative experience between campus-based professionals and students which allows for a checks and balances system and holds campus-based professionals accountable to meet the needs of students of color and students affiliated with culturally based organizations. An intentional approach is necessary for effectively incorporating DEI into curriculum development. Campus-based professionals can ask themselves how to effectively incorporate DEI into curriculum development through the following questions:

  1. How does your curriculum address the history of whiteness in sorority/ fraternity life and the creation of organizations founded in response to white clauses and maintained segregation?
  2. How does your curriculum address how whiteness appears in policies which may provide privileges to some and marginalize others?
  3. How can CBSF and students of color be coproducers of the curriculum and knowledge presented wherein?

Implementation of Curriculum. Intentionality is not only critical during the development stage of the curriculum, but it is imperative in the implementation stage. Implementation and participation in the curriculum should extend beyond online modules and lecture-based sessions. Offering opportunities for students to participate in discussions where they collaborate as co-facilitators to measure their sense of belonging, equity, and diversity issues can significantly enhance their learning experience. SFL offices can offer programs which empower students to participate in forms of storytelling, such as panels, where they can share their experiences, counternarratives, and lessons learned from their leadership positions and cross council-collaborations. Although implementing the curriculum is the focus of this framework, we should consider external factors which impact how students can access the curriculum. As an act of social justice, campus-based professionals should interrogate the curriculum annually and ensure students can access it. Campus-based professionals and students should critically evaluate the curriculum through annual surveys and focus groups. By incorporating data collection in the curriculum, campus-based professionals can see trends in the community and respond accordingly and advocate for students of color and CBSFs in the act of social justice. Campus professionals should ask the following questions to understand the curriculum and ensure student accessibility.

  1. What access do students have to target facilities (e.g., parking, common areas in gated residential areas, etc.)?
  2. What are the financial resources students have to participate (e.g., purchase parking, pay registration fees, etc.)?
  3. How have student voices and experiences shaped the implementation and outcome of the curriculum?
  4. How can other mediums be used to implement a curriculum that connects participants to others from diverse backgrounds?
  5. Through critical reflection, how can one achieve social transformation through a balance of external and internal accountability efforts?

Implementing an equity-minded curriculum requires communities or individuals who are affected to be driving forces of direct changes to better impact their experience within the SFL community. To transform and liberate the SFL curriculum, campus-based professionals must partner with their community (e.g., chapters, individual students, etc.) most affected by the curriculum.

 

About the author

Danielle Anne Sosías is an Associate Director of Fraternity Sorority Life at Arizona State University. Danielle is a first-generation Latina, rising scholar and practitioner, and doctoral student in Leadership and Innovation at ASU. In her professional role and research, she strives to create equitable, culturally relevant practices and outcomes for students. Danielle serves on La Mesa Directiva, the national board for Lambda Theta Nu Sorority, Inc., as the Director of Cultural Affairs. Originally from Denver, Colorado, she now makes her home in Tempe, Arizona, where she enjoys the company of her faithful companion, her dog Shadow. Connect with Danielle at dsosias@asu.edu.

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