An open letter to my non-Black, class-privileged peers in Greek life

Opinion by Sarah Lee
June 3, 2020, 8:55 p.m.

To my non-Black, class-privileged peers in Greek life;

For many of us, a typical Greek spring quarter at Stanford is a season of youthful, selfish paradise. We fork over two, three, four hundred dollars in dues in return for sunny afternoons spent luxuriously basking on pristine green lawns, dancing on beer die tables while drunk off White Claws and flirting with potential spring flings at fraternity-sorority mixers that exclusively promote heteronormativity. We assemble our newest pledge classes, recruiting eager frosh that fit the neat molds of each chapter that can, too often, be so easily determined by a cursory glance at a full-chapter portrait. We take Grey Goose shots and laugh raucously with our peers, drunk off our own excess privilege as we dance on stolen land.

This spring, things have been wildly different yet the same all at once. Different because most of us are stuck at home; the same in that the pandemic pushed us out of the Stanford bubble and back into the ones we have sat comfortably in for years. Meanwhile, over a hundred thousand Americans have died at the hands of a virus and failed leadership. Healthcare workers, essential workers, Black Americans, indigenous communities, senior citizens, impoverished Americans — those who are most vulnerable — have all been hit the hardest. We are told that these are “unprecedented times,” and so we nod, sulk and lament the spring quarter that never was, the undrunk White Claws, the darties that were never brought to fruition. I am at fault for these trivial complaints, too.

However, recent events have shown these aren’t unprecedented times after all.

On February 23, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was running in his neighborhood when he was hunted and fatally shot by two white men. Arbery’s killers were not arrested until over two months after his murder.

On March 13, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was fatally shot at least eight times in her own apartment by Louisville Metro Police Department officers carrying out a no-knock warrant raid in the middle of the night.

And on May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was murdered in Minneapolis Police Department custody after a white police officer publicly drove his knee into the side of Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on the ground.

These are not unprecedented times.

These are endless sequels to the volumes of injustice signed by Black men, women and children’s names: Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Atatiana Jefferson, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Samuel Dubose, Sandra Bland, Dominique Clayton, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray and countless more. They are echoes of the dehumanization of Black Americans that has haunted our history for centuries, from slavery to Jim Crow to our criminal justice system to our healthcare, education, housing and other social systems — and to Greek life on college campuses. Some may refer to particular years (2015, 1992, 1968, etc.) as points of comparison when considering the level of activism, protests and advocacy that we see today. To treat these moments as distinct reprises in history is to remain ignorant of the truth, which is that these cries for an unfulfilled justice have never stopped. They have been persisting for generations, crescendoing to this moment that now begs us to ask ourselves and our Greek organizations:

Will we stop and listen? Will we act with intention? Or will we assume that this movement does not apply to us, that we may continue sitting complacently in this comfortable system built to preserve spaces of white privilege and class privilege on and off our campus?

I have seen some of you protesting and being active on social media, posting meaningful and relevant resources and guides for your peers, endeavoring to better educate yourself and others on the topics of racial prejudice, police brutality and white privilege and fundraising for organizations working to support the Black Lives Matter movement in many ways. To those of you who have already taken initiative, keep doing what you are doing. Stay safe, take heart and keep fighting.

Conversely, I have also noticed the conspicuous silence of many other fellow Greek community members. This silence, a manifestation of the institutional inertia that we must overcome, has not only been incredibly deafening but overwhelmingly violent. Recognize that it takes an enormous amount of privilege to feel as though racial prejudice is not a critical concern in your life, as if your energy and social media real estate could be better expended elsewhere rather than for speaking up for Black Americans whose most fundamental human rights have been tirelessly denied. Recognize that in your silence as a bystander, you are the oppressor.

And in many ways, aren’t we all? By participating in Greek life, myself included, we have benefitted from these systems of oppression from the moment we pledged as new members. Our chapters were conceived as havens for predominantly white, wealthy students. We ritually recruit new pledge classes that only further reflect this, perpetuating a space designed to herald white privilege and exclude minority communities. We cannot ignore this truth. We cannot ignore our historical and present complacency in systemic racism and class discrimination. And so we must stand in solidarity with the Black community and take meaningful action — as individuals and as organizations.

Thus, I urge you and your chapter to take a public stand in supporting Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc., Xi Beta Chapter, our Black sister sorority, in their Justice 4 Black Lives (J4BL) campaign for mutual legal aid funds, protestor bailout funds and nonprofits fighting for major police reform and Black community health. J4BL is an initiative that is Black-women founded and Black-women led — we are here to support as allies. As part of your chapter’s allyship with J4BL, each majority-white sorority or fraternity will be required to do a teach-in or other form of active, educational discussion on racial prejudice both in and out of Stanford’s communities.

Your chapter leadership should have already received an email from the J4BL team, which consists of student support from all four Greek councils at Stanford. If they have not mobilized your chapter already, please inquire with them and press for your chapter’s active and sustained involvement in J4BL. Below this article is an in-depth explanation of J4BL’s fundraising efforts and how you can take action. I implore you to read this section in its entirety and partake in each step.

Please remember that this moment in history must be part of a greater, long-term movement composed of thoughtful action and meaningful change, not just in our nation as a whole but also within our Greek communities. We must go beyond expressing solidarity with the Black community and Black members of our chapters. We must denounce the ways in which Greek life has institutionalized and cemented racism, anti-Blackness and classism in our campus culture. We must create and promote tangible ways in which we can better educate our members and the Greek community at large, with the goal of dismantling the system of division and oppression that we sit in. This momentum cannot end here; we must commit to driving towards a goal for a more equitable Greek system for future generations of college students.

I urge your chapter to start organizing now if it hasn’t already. Countless Greek chapters across the nation have been silent on their platforms for multiple days, rendering us complicit in a system of white supremacy, racism and police brutality. We must face the irreparable costs of time squandered and hold each other accountable. If I have made you uncomfortable at any point throughout this article, then I have accomplished my goal. Learn to address this discomfort and to reflect on the privilege that you have been granted. As individuals and institutions, we are in a continuous process of learning, becoming and reforming.

In the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates: “It is not necessary that you believe that the officer who choked Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.” 

As non-Black, class-privileged members of Greek life at this elite institution, I ask you to question what power we hold and what legacies have been forced upon us. I ask you to choose to actively use that power to rectify injustices and to rewrite those legacies, both at and beyond Stanford. 

Thank you,

Sarah Lee ’22, New Member Educator at Stanford Tri Delta, Omega Chapter

The J4BL team is raising money for Black Lives Matter organizations and causes in three ways. 

First, J4BL is leading a Venmo and Paypal campaign with an initial fundraising goal of $50,000 as of June 3. Participants may donate directly to the J4BL Venmo: @Justice4BlackLivesFund or Paypal. J4BL is also running an Instagram bingo campaign that everyone can take part in. Any support is much appreciated, but I encourage you all to think critically and creatively about how your chapter can maximize support beyond individual donations. How about reaching out to chapter alumni whom, like us, were privileged enough to spend thousands of dollars in quarterly dues? Or contacting other chapters across the country to ensure their active engagement in this movement? Or taking advantage of our own personal (and for many of us, powerful) networks, whether that be family or friends?

Second, J4BL is boosting the above Venmo and Paypal campaign with a corporate employer matching initiative. Numerous companies offer generous donation matching programs for their employees that J4BL can utilize. Over 70% of match-eligible donors are unaware of the fact that their company offers matching gift programs. Most companies with these programs match donations at a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio, but some match at even higher ratios of 3:1 or even 4:1, which significantly magnifies the impact of donations without any extra cost. For eligible employees who can participate, J4BL envisions redirecting a portion of our Venmo fund to you to donate so that they can utilize your philanthropy matching benefits. A member of the team will work closely with you in this process. On the first day of the campaign, an anonymous employee was able to turn $1875 into $6000 (he also added in $125 as his personal donation).

Some of these companies include Google, Microsoft, McKinsey and Dropbox. As mentioned earlier, many of us are fortunate enough to have powerful networks filled with powerful people, particularly in the corporate world. Reach out to those individuals. Spread the word. All information on corporate matching and how you can sign up is here

Third, J4BL is promoting a “Silence is Violence” sticker fundraiser led by Stanford student and Greek life member Clara Spars in partnership with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Xi Beta Chapter. All proceeds will go to the organization linked on the product page at the time of your donation. Organizations may change in effort to most effectively direct funds with considerations for developing needs.

Follow Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Xi Beta Chapter and J4BL’s organizing efforts on Instagram: @akaxibeta

View more resources and donation options by using the following Link Tree compiled by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Xi Beta Chapter.

Donate via Venmo: @Justice4BlackLivesFund or Paypal

Corporate matching specific link.

“Silence is Violence” sticker fundraiser link.

Answers to common concerns people have about police and protests.

This article has been corrected to note that George Floyd was 46, not 59, when he died. The Daily regrets this error.

Special thanks to Celine Foster ’21 and Allison Tielking ’20 for their contributions and support in writing this letter.

Contact Sarah Lee at sarlee ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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