Greek life may not have the best reputation with diversity and inclusion issues, and you are well entitled to your opinion, but at this time when an office that helps so many students is being threatened it is essential for us to voice our support for it as well. Panhellenic women are part of organizations that were formed so that women would have a place to belong in an age when they were an undervalued minority at universities. This is the exact same opportunity that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is trying to offer to every single student here at the University of Tennessee.
When I first came to the university, I was terrified that I would not be able to find my place because I was younger than everyone else. However, by participating in Ignite, and getting involved in things like SGA and my sorority, I found that I was stronger because of my differences. I had a lot of support that first year, and a large reason I took up the role of Panhellenic President was because I wanted to positively impact our community to become a more welcoming place.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion is important for our community as women. Within the office there is specifically a Commission for Women, which has been supporting Women in STEM, critiquing new sexual misconduct policies, and finding innovative ways to ensure that we are afforded equal opportunities. Defunding the Office of Diversity and Inclusion would hinder these efforts immensely, and I worry that many students would not have that same support that got me through my first year here.
While women still have room to grow, we are no longer the group that feels most excluded. Yet our Panhellenic organizations remain to give women a home away from home, to foster friendships, to empower each other to do the best we can, and we do not get defunded because of that. Why then would it be permissible to say that students with different backgrounds, skin colors, sexual orientations, or gender identities should not be able to have the same support that we in our communities have been given?
Defunding the Office of Diversity and Inclusion would cause the recruitment and retention of the students who enrich and strengthen our community to plummet. Just looking at the student groups who are speaking out right now, they are driven and powerful individuals. It is prejudiced, unwelcoming, and hostile to say that we should not have an office that has worked to support so many students. The university’s budget should be used to encourage us to think critically about the world around us, not pretend like problems do not exist.
To the Panhellenic community, I encourage you to examine your privilege and use it to overcome our stereotype. Women are part of this too, so this is not a time when we can sit idly by. It would be beneficial for the University, our Volunteer community, and our fellow women if we each had a desire to support the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
To the University of Tennessee students who are skeptical of Panhellenic, I promise that we are not apathetic to this issue. Every year we become more diverse, and are constantly working to improve what we recognize as a flaw. We are trying to reach out to different groups of students, make our community more accessible, and educate our members on the importance of diversity. If there is anything I can do, or if there is anything that I can encourage my community to do to help, I would be happy to have that conversation. It may seem like I am speaking out now only because this is a hot topic, but I want this to be something that Panhellenic continues to work on regardless of whether or not this passes, and I want you to hold us accountable.
And to the Tennessee Legislature, I encourage you to hear the student voice. Many students would be affected very negatively if the Office of Diversity and Inclusion were to lose its funding, and it is not right for you to decide what our experience holds. If you want us to learn to stand up for what we believe in, to excel in the real, diverse world around us, and to graduate from a university whose diplomas truly hold some value, then this bill should be stopped immediately.
Panhellenic Council, President