- College campuses have historically been hostile to LGBTQ+ students.
- However, a new study found 88% reported their overall Greek Life engagement as positive.
- Even so, the study suggests 4 ways all colleges could improve LGBTQ+ students in Greek Life.
Throughout history, LGBTQ+ college students have encountered assumptions, policies, and exclusionary practices that have often hindered their overall well-being and sense of belonging.
Dating back to the first half of the 20th century, college administrators developed policies to mandate LGBTQ+ mental health counseling and restrict their access to dormitory residency due to both physical and mental health concerns. This environment of prejudice and exclusion contributed to many LGBTQ+ students keeping their sexual and gender minority (SGM) identities concealed on campus.
Over time, efforts have been made to address LGBTQ+ prejudice and exclusion on college campuses. Expanded Title IX policies and campus climate surveys have played crucial roles in this regard. These initiatives have aimed to identify and rectify discriminatory practices, fostering a safer and more inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students.
However, private campus clubs, such as Greek Life organizations, remain largely unregulated due to their nonprofit and off-campus status. This exemption leaves LGBTQ+ students potentially vulnerable to discrimination and exclusion within these organizations.
To further explore LGBTQ+ Greek Life within contemporary contexts, I collaborated with Zachary Hopkins, a recent undergraduate student at Adelphi University, and Eric M. Rodriguez, social science chair at the New York City College of Technology (CUNY), to qualitatively explore 50 LGBTQ+ students’ Greek Life experiences from a Transformative Intersectional Psychology (TIP) approach. Recently published in the Journal of Homosexuality, the study utilizes narrative analysis to identify how participants actively pursued an authentic self, friendship, leadership, and transformative social change, despite the heteronormative and gendernormative challenges inherent in Greek Life.
Of the LGBTQ+ participants surveyed, 66 percent characterized their Greek Life experiences as positive. This indicates that, despite the prevalent challenges, a significant majority found value in their involvement. Moreover, an overwhelming 88 percent reported that their overall Greek Life engagement had a positive contribution to their college experience. These findings challenge the deficit models that have historically positioned Greek Life as a barrier to LGBTQ+ students' well-being and development.
In addition, 74 percent of participants held leadership roles within their Greek Life organizations. This demonstrates the active engagement and agency of LGBTQ+ students in shaping the dynamics of Greek Life. Of those in leadership positions, 46 percent reported that their Greek Life experiences positively intersected with their LGBTQ+ identity. Suggesting that, for many participants, Greek Life provided a platform for both personal and collective empowerment, allowing them to integrate their authentic selves into their leadership roles.
What we found to be particularly striking about the study's findings is that participants' meaningful engagement in Greek Life was not prompted by external research inquiries. Rather, LGBTQ+ emerging adults demonstrated their agency and proactive approach to direct their own development and create systemic change within Greek Life.
By challenging existing norms and advocating for inclusivity, LGBTQ+ students in Greek Life demonstrated their commitment to reshaping these organizations to better serve the needs of diverse individuals.
Recommendations for Research, Counseling, and Administration
The study's findings have significant implications for research, counseling, and administrative practices on college campuses:
- LGBTQ+ Affirmative Counseling: Mental health professionals can be more inclusive by integrating LGBTQ+ affirmative counseling approaches when working with LGBTQ+ college students in Greek Life. This involves creating a safe and inclusive space where individuals can explore and discuss their intersectional LGBTQ+ Greek Life identities.
- Education on LGBTQ+ Issues: Greek Life organizations would benefit from incorporating comprehensive education and awareness programs on LGBTQ+ issues. This can include workshops, seminars, and guest speakers, who can provide insights into the experiences and challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals. Such initiatives can foster empathy, understanding, and allyship among fraternity and sorority members.
- Inclusive Policies and Practices: Greek Life administrators can review and revise their policies and practices to ensure they are inclusive of LGBTQ+ students. This includes implementing nondiscrimination policies that explicitly protect individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as providing gender-inclusive housing options and accommodation for diverse gender expressions within Greek Life housing.
- LGBTQ+ Leadership Development: Greek Life organizations can actively encourage and support LGBTQ+ students' leadership development. This can be achieved by creating opportunities for LGBTQ+ students to assume leadership roles within their respective chapters and providing training and mentorship programs that specifically address the unique challenges and strengths of LGBTQ+ leaders. By nurturing LGBTQ+ leadership, Greek Life can become a platform for personal growth and community impact.
In sum, it is crucial to recognize and acknowledge the positive experiences and personal growth LGBTQ+ students can achieve within Greek Life. While challenges persist, we must also expand our focus to include the possibilities for growth and LGBTQ+ emerging adults’ agentive decisions to contribute to Greek Life.
By amplifying the voices of LGBTQ+ students, embracing their Greek Life leadership, and implementing policies that ensure equal treatment, colleges and universities can create campus experiences that are transformative, empowering, and beneficial for all students.
Etengoff, C. & Hopkins, Z., & Rodriguez, E. (2023). Transformative LGBTQ+ Growth and Leadership within Greek Life. Journal of Homosexuality, 70(10), 2226-2252. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2022.2059966