February 18 marked a new chapter in the history of sorority and fraternity life at Illinois State University. Collectively, students from the College Panhellenic Council (CPC), Interfraternity Council (IFC), National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC), and United Greek Council (UGC) joined together to support Sorority and Fraternity Life, a unit of the Dean of Students Office, in the community-wide initiative to establish anti-racism training for sorority and fraternity members campus-wide. The groundbreaking initiative was formulated with an innovative partnership with the Harbor Institute, a Washington, D.C., educational consulting firm that works with companies, institutions, and organizations to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). A record number of over 700 students attended this first educational experience which was titled “All We Do is Step, Stroll, and Hop? What is a Black Greek?TM” 

“Putting anti-racism training in the context of the students’ own sorority and fraternity experience is an ingenious idea,” said Shawn M. Dowiak, Ed.D., the assistant dean of students who oversees sorority and fraternity life at Illinois State. “I think that our two-year partnership with the Harbor Institute to provide six customized inter-council and interdisciplinary power sessions a year, assessment, and curriculum development, plus additional consulting support to our sorority and fraternity members, is cutting-edge student affairs practice, Not many institutions are engaging in this broad or deep of an attempt to educate their fraternity and sorority community on the principles of being anti-racist.”

Student leaders within the community had positive things to say about the first program as well. Alejandra Reskala, a sister of Gamma Phi Omega International Sorority, Inc. and the United Greek Council president, described the first program as “Leaving you wanting more…I wanted the program to run longer.” Naudia Williams, a sister of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. and the National Pan-Hellenic Council president, said, “Racism and its systems have plagued the world for centuries, but we as a Greek community are seeking to combat that and make change.”  It was the four governing councils that oversee and give a voice to the sorority and fraternity community on campus that voted to mandate anti-racism training for the community. 

Support from all councils for this program has been robust, and large attendance numbers for the first program swelled above the mandated minimum numbers for the community. The reason for this robust support, according to CPC president and member of Delta Zeta Lexi Showalter, stems from the values of Greek organizations. “As noted in the Panhellenic Creed, our principles as a community include to ‘develop our character’ and to have ‘mutual respect’ for others. However, we cannot strive toward those tenets without finally confronting our racist past and progressing from it.” Dowiak added to this, “Students in Greek letter organizations must recognize daily that the history of these organizations are pasts of exclusion. Coming to term with those pasts and helping to dismantle systems of racism today is what it means to celebrate the pillar of sisterhood and brotherhood that the community expects of all Greek letter organizations.”  

Rasheed Ali Cromwell, Esq., president and founder of The Harbor Institute, the educational consulting firm partnering with Illinois State University to develop this anti-racism hybrid of assessments, consulting, training, and programming over the next two years stressed the importance of these type of partnerships: “For years, fraternity and sorority life is noted for their leadership, service, and philanthropy to the community. The amount of impact and influence this community generates is broad reaching and life changing. We embrace that same energy and spirit to collectively address the deeply rooted and institutionalized challenges that we face in an ever-changing world. Who else is better situated to impact not only the Illinois State University community and the Normal community? This partnership is powerful, because it empowers communities and students with real-life cultural competency skill sets to also support their own professional development. It is a win-win for all.”

Jacob Rottinghaus, IFC president and member of Sigma Nu Fraternity, agreed with Cromwell. “This unique partnership helps us learn and grow in the most important way possible.”

Rottinghaus added, “Without donors who support the [Greek Areté—Greek Leadership] Fund that provides capital for educational partnerships in the Greek community, we wouldn’t be able to host innovative programming like this. I’m especially thankful to the [Eric and Karin] Burwell family and other donors who have endowed a leadership fund for this community and who support important opportunities like this.”