Fraternities to adapt LGBT-focused member education
By Eillie Anzilotti
This year’s new fraternity members will have a better understanding of what it means to be gay at Penn.
A new member education program designed to promote sensitivity toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in the Greek system is currently in the works.
A similar program began two years ago, according to the then-Interfraternity Council President David Ashkenazi, who graduated from the College and Wharton in 2009. However, the LGBT education workshop was not featured last year.
Currently, the LGBT Center, the Interfraternity Council and the Lambda Alliance - Penn’s umbrella organization for the LGBT community - are combining to educate new fraternity members about showing acceptance to brothers who identify as LGBT.
“It’s a two-way problem,” College freshman and Lambda Alliance Vice Chair for Finance and Development Hugh Hamilton said. “On one hand, there are some - not all - houses that have a less supportive atmosphere. On the other hand, a lot of LGBT people are very apprehensive about rushing. We want to make sure frats are open and accepting toward LGBT members.”
While this year’s program focuses specifically on educating fraternity members, a similar program is anticipated for sororities in the future, according to Hamilton.
Discussions are also underway to create an LGBT and Greek constituent group under the Lambda Alliance.
“The LGBT members of the Greek system need representation,” Wharton junior and incoming IFC President Harris Heyer said. “We need to know what the demand for that type of group is.”
The proposed constituent group would “send a signal to people outside the Greek system that it is an accepting place,” said Engineering and Wharton sophomore Andrew Staniforth, who expressed interest in joining such a group.
Meanwhile, there has been debate among LGBT fraternity members concerning the necessity of the LGBT new member education program.
College senior and Phi Kappa Sigma, or Skulls, fraternity brother Adam Thompson said, “this training isn’t necessary” because the new member education process itself “does a great job fostering relationships and instilling brotherhood.”
He added that having a program like the LGBT-focused education “might encourage homophobia.”
However, LGBT Center Director Bob Schoenberg noted that there is “definitely a reason to encourage sensitivity” through the education program.
Discrimination against LGBT members in fraternity houses can be “subtle,” he said, adding that members may not be fully cognizant of its occurrence.
College junior and Vice Chair of Political Affairs for the Lambda Alliance Victor Galli said the situation in fraternity houses may differ for gay members who are “out” and those who “change their public sexual expression after they’ve already been in the Greek system.”
The program aims to promote sensitivity toward “those who are not only out of the closet but also in,” he said.
Heyer emphasized that the LGBT education program reflects the nature of the Greek system on campus. “We are supposed to make everyone feel welcome, because they are,” he said. The program is “a way we can make our freshman aware of our mission as an organization developing good citizenship.”