Greek Life in Regards to Race and Racism

by Joy Lim

Joy Lim is a Sophomore from Dallas, Texas majoring in Rhetoric/Communication Studies + Sociology and minoring in Anthropology. She is involved in the Westhampton College Government Association (WCGA), Alpha Phi Omega (APO), Delta Gamma (DG), Korean American Student Association (KASA), YouthLife, and is a mentor in the Peer Advisors and Mentors program (PAM). This is her first year working with the Race & Racism Project but she is interested in continuing this work in the future. She hopes to explore social justice issues not just on the University of Richmond campus but around the world as she continues her studies.

Reading over the exhibit of Racism in UR Fraternities was incredibly intriguing to me, as someone who identifies as Korean American, lower class, and female. Before applying to the University of Richmond, I knew very little about campus culture and next to nothing about the social climate surrounding student life. Before setting foot on campus all I knew was that the 2019 edition of the Princeton Review ranked the University of Richmond as the 9th most segregated campus in the nation. I didn’t think much about this issue as I wasn’t quite sure what a “segregated” community would feel like. Growing up in Dallas, Texas, I was surrounded by a diverse community, and I had the capacity to experience my Korean culture through multiple different outlets. Moving to campus was a culture shock due to its lack of culturally expressive opportunities, a dominating white demographic, and an exclusive social atmosphere. However, I found that joining student government (Westhampton College Government Association, known as WCGA) as a first-year student was remarkably rewarding as I had the opportunity to listen to student concerns and witness changes happening on campus first hand.

Due to the social pressure on campus, I was pushed to join Greek Life and participated in the rush process my second semester at the university. The racially charged student concerns that had appeared throughout our student government meetings became real-life for me as I began to dread the daily events that I had to attend throughout rush. Before I heard about the Race & Racism Project at the University, I had already been interested in researching sororities’ histories, solely because of how uncomfortable I felt throughout the whole rush process and the fact that I couldn’t quite place a finger on the exact reason why I felt this discomfort. I am relieved that there is an exhibit that focuses on Greek Life but I’m disappointed that it only spotlights the fraternities on campus. Different sororities on this campus have reputations of being extremely exclusive and I would like to see that issue be brought to the forefront of race and racism within student life.

These digitalized archival items – such as news clippings and yearbook pictures – are astoundingly powerful and add evidence to truth to back up the claims written in the exhibits. As Greek Life’s history on campus is found through documents, pictures, and other material resources, the project would most likely be categorized under archival research, rather than an oral history project. Despite this fact, researching and interviewing alumni of color who have participated in Greek Life at the University of Richmond could be incredibly resourceful interviews for an oral history project.

I “went down the rabbit hole” when exploring the Oral History Collection. I came across interviews with UR alums Marilyn Branch-Mitchell and Greg Mitchell. I found the transcripts for their joint and separate interviews, which were more convenient than listening to the full audio interviews. In the joint interview, they mentioned fraternities on campus but nothing about the sororities. The first mention of a student of color involved in Greek Life on campus is in the picture of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity in 1970. Barry Greene, the first black residential student on campus, is seen posing in the picture alongside his fraternity brothers. There is no mention of Greek Life pertaining to the history of race and racism in sororities, although there are some women in pictures alongside fraternity brothers. Therefore, I am interested in researching issues of race and racism within white sororities on campus, similar to the exhibit that exists on racism within white fraternities.