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Fri Oct 20, 2023, 01:45 PM Oct 2023

Why Sororities Should Admit Nonbinary Members

Why Sororities Should Admit Nonbinary Members
10/19/2023 by Alanna Gillis and Fabián Guzmán
Sororities reproduce the same gender-based discrimination their founders faced as women by denying nonbinary students today. It’s time to end the cycle.

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Gender nonconforming, nonbinary and transgender children, teens and adults have been increasingly subjected to restrictive legislation and policies that deny their gender, their bodily autonomy and their agency. On college campuses, sororities could offer close friendships and a deeper sense of belonging on campus, if it weren’t for national policies that often restrict membership based on sex assigned at birth.

Fabián (Fa) Guzmán was thrilled to join a sorority in August 2022. They had been attending St. Lawrence University, a predominantly white institution, as a nonbinary Latinx international student for two years. After a traumatic incident and struggles with mental health, they found their support group in a sorority and became an honorary sister in spring 2022. When they considered formally rushing, some people Fa spoke to expressed uncertainty: As a nonbinary student not assigned female at birth, were they eligible? After months of reviewing the membership guideline documents, getting approval from nationals, and having the university double check approval, the consensus was in: Fa could be offered a bid!

. . . .

Sororities were founded in response to the sexist environment women encountered academically and socially, being forced to create “women’s fraternities” due to their exclusion from traditional men-only fraternities. Sororities today continue to play a role in helping people oppressed by the patriarchy. Men continue to dominate the economic, political and social positions in society. Being part of a sorority counteracts some of the exclusive power of the “old boys club” by helping those excluded to network together. Many women break into fields dominated by men like business, law and politics in part thanks to their sorority membership. Members additionally gain access to professional development, friendship, a group with shared values, and emotional support.

A school-wide performance at Jackson State University on March 25, 2017. Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) is the first intercollegiate historically African American sorority. (Charles A. Smith / JSU University Communications / Jackson State University via Getty Images)

. . . .

We argue that sororities should take a proactive stance: If they amend their bylaws to explicitly include expansive definitions of women and nonbinary students, they can protect themselves from such lawsuits if there is no room to argue whether or not such students can join. It would also prevent joy from turning into devastation when members like Fa are permitted to join and then kicked out when someone changes their interpretation. It seems like this change is unlikely to be initiated by the national leadership. So how could the change happen? Sororities that are affiliated with national organizations have regular conventions where members can propose new changes.

Unfortunately it’s too late for Fa: Fall 2023 is their last semester of college, and despite creating a petition, they will not be reinstated in the chapter or as recruitment chair. Their pain is profound from the loss of the social connections to the invalidation of their identity. Nevertheless, they hope their legacy is one that inspires change: Fa’s former chapter is inspiring other chapters to support a proposal to next year’s national convention to vote to make nonbinary students eligible to join. Now’s the time for sororities to simultaneously stay true to the historical mission and move into the 21st century of gender inclusion and empowerment.

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