Growing up as an African-American, there were always a lot of people who looked like me, but not in my classes. I was always searching for a way to fit in beyond the typical label of being an “Oreo.” Aside from my family, I wasn’t around many Black kids growing up; consequently, I learned to hide aspects of myself and my heritage, and to believe the glossed-over, sugarcoated textbook narratives supposedly teaching the history of my people.
Coming to VCU, a PWI (predominantly white institution) where 51 percent of students are Caucasian and 16 percent are African-American, I could often count on one hand the number of students in my classes who looked like me. Because we come from a background comprised of fewer advantages than people of lighter skin, I think it is important for Black students to see each other succeed, grow and recognize it is okay to celebrate who we are.
I never desired being lumped into any group of people, so I made the decision not to join a historically Black sorority and instead rushed with one of the chapters in the Panhellenic Council. I joined my sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, in fall 2015 with the understanding it was predominantly white. VCU is a fairly progressive school and I expected a certain amount of acceptance — if not, at least, some level of open-mindedness. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
At first, I found the group of women in AOPi to be very loving and accepting, but I eventually began to notice micro-aggressions here and there, but nothing that was quite enough to make me want to leave. Our chapter has always been very “hush, hush” when it comes to these topics to avoid truly addressing the persisting problems by either denying the issue or agreeing it is not important.
This was extremely hurtful to me, especially since diversity was something my chapter frequently advertised — making me feel like a tokenized individual within our group. My chapter has always been adamant about respecting each others’ opinions, especially on social media, so I personally never took the time to explain why these things were offensive to me.
I have seen sisters post statuses on their Facebook accounts ranging from memes mocking the Black Lives Matter movement to Tomi Lahren videos, to articles about using Colin Kaepernick’s jersey as a doormat. Although I personally find these things extremely offensive, I thought there was an understanding that we each have a right to expression and our own opinions, and that these opinions would be respected.
But all this changed when I decided to post a Facebook status of my own, making a strong statement about the American flag in response to the article about using Kaepernick’s jersey as a doormat: “TBH if I had an American flag, I’d use it as a doormat.” Twenty minutes later — chaos.
It started with a few comments here and there on the status.
I was called “ungrateful” and “disrespectful.” I was told I am “lucky that I live in a country where I can post this sh*t.” I was told I was disrespecting our soldiers — that I should be grateful for what this country has given me. I was threatened. All from women I was supposed to be able to call my sisters. I had active sisters and alumnae adding me on Facebook just to tell me how ungrateful I was; to tell me they know the history of my people better than I do; to tell me there is no such thing as “my people.”
If these girls took the time to try and understand what it is like to grow up in a country that sugar coats an entire historical narrative; to have your classmates constantly make jokes about you because you’re the only Black person in class; to be consistently told racism ended long ago when my mother went to a segregated school, or now, when innocent people are being gunned down on American soil by facets of the state who are sworn to serve and protect all people — this situation may not have escalated to the point it did.
I understand it’s hard for people who have seen the world one way their entire lives to stop and think for a moment what it’s like to be someone else … to think about what it is like being told to respect a flag that was also flown, not even a lifetime ago, when my people were being lynched, torn apart and taken home as souvenirs. Undoubtedly, these conversations are necessary not just for my chapter but for all of Greek life, the university even — about how we can collectively make the college experience better for people of color.
I can only hope VCU’s chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi will grow into a more accepting group of women and learn what it truly means to celebrate diversity. It is sad, and extremely hurtful, that an organization that claims to celebrate diversity would have so many women who are closed-minded and uneducated about the disadvantages all around them, but do not affect them.
Heart-breakingly, I have decided to leave my chapter because I no longer feel safe within a group of women that should have made me feel empowered and strong, regardless of my race. This continues to pain me, but I find strength in knowing I can sit and share this with you. It deserves to be known that this treatment is not okay. And I deserve to be able to say I was hurt and, no matter what, I have no regrets for standing up for myself, my history and my heritage. And that is something they can never take away from me.
Symora Thomas, Senior
Latest posts by admin (see all)
- Virginia politician honors Martin Luther King by discussing fair housing practices - January 30, 2019
- “The Kid Who Would Be King” is the hope we need right now - January 30, 2019
- What’s happening: Jan. 30 events calendar - January 30, 2019