Checklist for a Climate of Acceptance within the College Sorority

clipboardby Shane L. Windmeyer & Pamela W. Freeman

Diversity educators advocate for setting a standard of acceptance and appreciation as a normal part of an institution’s daily activities. This approach to fostering inclusiveness and respect calls for attention to diversity in all aspects of an organization’s routine. One or two token diversity programs each year will not fulfill the need for education. Building a climate of acceptance in sororities requires a commitment at all levels, ranging from individual members to the inter/national headquarters and including the university administration. The following checklist is suggested as a guide for creating a climate of acceptance in sororities–a climate where a sister who is lesbian or bisexual may feel a sense of safety and support among her sisters.

Individual Members should…

  • ___Refrain from ridiculing persons on the basis of sexual orientation, such as through jokes, name-calling, and display of demeaning images or messages.
  • ___Confront others who may ridicule or harass persons on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • ___Are committed to learning about sexual orientation, as shown through participation in educational programs and personal study
  • ___Assume responsibility for learning how to respond to a sister who is lesbian or bisexual and wants or needs to talk.
  • ___Insist that leaders of the chapter state their commitment to diversity, including that pertaining to sexual orientation.
  • ___Show compassion and support for a sister who has been victimized by harassment or sexual assault.

Chapters should…

  • ___Include expectations for appreciating diversity in training for pledges and actives.
  • ___Create a diversity statement, either from national headquarters or locally developed, which promotes respect for all people, regardless of sexual orientation.
  • ___Display prominently the diversity statement in the house and/or in printed materials about the chapter.
  • ___Develop a procedure for addressing harassing behaviors, including those directed at persons on the basis of their sexual orientation.
  • ___When incidents of harassment or sexual assault occur, cooperate with university officials in addressing the matter through provision of information, participation in hearings, etc.
  • ___When incidents of harassment or sexual assault occur, show support for a sister who has been victimized by assisting her in reporting the incident and participating in campus and legal procedures.
  • ___Contribute to the education of other chapters on campus, both fraternities and sororities, by modeling acceptance and appreciation of diverse memberships.
  • ___Support individual members who wish to state publicly their support for persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.
  • ___Sponsor and support events that contribute to understanding of sexual orientation issues; do not sponsor or support events that perpetuate homophobia.
  • ___Encourage sisters to be honest with one another by creating an atmosphere of support for differences. Remember: This leads to a stronger sense of sisterhood.
  • ___Have policies that apply to guests and alumnae, making it clear that it is not acceptable to use demeaning language or harass members on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • ___Periodically review traditions, such as songs and events, to be sure that language and actions are not demeaning to people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.

Inter/National Headquarters and Professional Sorority Associations should…

  • ___Promote understanding about sexual orientation issues through educational materials that have been prepared at the national level and made readily available through publicity to chapters.
  • ___Publicize a strong statement about appreciation for diversity and respect that includes sexual orientation.
  • ___Provide resources to assist chapters with educational initiatives that are designed to increase understanding about sexual orientation. National chapter consultants who travel to various college campuses should be prepared to address problems and questions about sexual orientation issues.
  • ___State an expectation of “zero tolerance” for harassment and sexual assault of any kind toward persons on the basis of sexual orientation.
  • ___Establish procedures for holding chapters accountable if they condone or tolerate harassment or sexual assault based on sexual orientation.
  • ___Highlight the accomplishments of lesbian and bisexual sisters in national publications.
  • ___Review periodically any publications, rituals, and traditional events that include text or behaviors which ridicule or demean persons on the basis of sexual orientation and take steps to ensure that such text and behaviors will be discontinued.
  • ___Communicate with university personnel the commitment of the sorority to fostering an environment of inclusiveness, respect, and appreciation for diversity, and offer to work with the university personnel in responding to any incidents that may occur in the sorority that would contradict this commitment.
  • ___Provide strong leadership in working with other national headquarters toward encouraging a climate of respect and inclusiveness.
  • ___Support local chapters and individuals who wish to initiate educational efforts, especially at the local level.

University Personnel should…

  • ___Communicate university standards and expectations in regard to diversity to all student organizations, including sororities.
  • ___Be available to sorority leaders to assist with planning educational efforts to increase understanding about diversity, including sexual orientation (i.e., develop a diversity peer education program).
  • ___Develop a procedure for responding to incidents of harassment and sexual assault based on sexual orientation and communicate to sorority members that such procedures are available.
  • ___Assert a position in support of diversity and individual rights when faced with political pressure to exclude gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered persons from regular university life, including jobs and benefits.
  • ___Provide educational sessions for house directors and housing corporation boards to explain the university’s standards and expectations in support of diversity.
  • ___Review periodically all institutional publications and policies to ensure that language which ridicules, demeans, or excludes persons because of sexual orientation is eliminated.
  • ___Support establishment of a Lambda Delta Lambda (a national sorority for lesbian, bisexual, and progressive women) chapter on your campus.
  • ___Inform faculty and staff who present educational programs in sororities about human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual assault, and related topics not to be heterosexist and not to assume that all members of sororities are heterosexual.
  • ___Ensure that staff in campus resource offices, such as counselors, health professionals, and advisors, are trained about sexual orientation issues (i.e., heterosexism).
  • ___Provide leadership for creating supportive campus environments for other institutions and policymakers.

Shane L. Windmeyer and Pamela W. Freeman, Lambda 10 Project, All Rights Reserved.

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