Panhellenic sorority members have congregated and discussed issues within the Greek community through the Center for Gender Equity’s sorority liaison program since 2011.
CGE director Rita Jones said a staff member who was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta created the program to inform members of her chapter and other Lehigh sororities about the resources available at the CGE, formerly known as the Women’s Center.
This semester, Zeta Tau Alpha member Morgan Handwerker, ’19, is the new leader of the program. She selects topics for biweekly meetings based on responses from the 17 sorority liaisons, with some Panhel chapters represented by multiple liaisons.
“The girls who are involved are leading the discussion,” Handwerker said. “They are telling me what’s interesting, and we talk about the issues.”
Jones said past topics have ranged from sexual assault to Panhel recruitment. Jones recommends the liaisons focus primarily on meaningful discussion rather than event planning. She views the liaison program as a way to bridge gaps between different Panhel chapters as well as between CGE and the Panhel community.
“It’s a way to strengthen outreach to sorority chapters to learn a little bit more about what women who identify as sorority members on campus are dealing with, and help make communities across chapters and provide support from our end,” Jones said.
Jones said the sorority liaison meetings are more casual than Panhel meetings. There are no reports or attendance, as the group focuses on open discussions between the liaisons and other sorority members who attend.
Handwerker said the meaningful conversations are her favorite part of the meetings. She hopes the group will strive to achieve a specific goal this semester, potentially involving unity within the Panhel community.
“I want liaisons to come in with an open mind and be willing to participate, and not be afraid to share their opinions and not be closed off to other people’s opinions, because I really think that’s the way we are going to get work done,” Handwerker said.
In addition to creating a project for the liaisons, Handwerker and the CGE staff are hoping to start a similar program for fraternity members. Jones said the program was attempted last semester, but the minimal feedback from fraternities created some issues.
“Some of that needs to come a little bit more from within the fraternity community in the way that the sorority liaison came from someone in sorority community,” Jones said. “It really does have to be something that the fraternities say, ‘Hey, this is something we really want. Can you help us form this?’”
CGE staff member Dean Zimberg, ’20, has been involved with the center for almost a year and said a fraternity liaison program will break down some of the stigma around the stereotypical fraternity member.
“In a lot of ways, the masculinity and the persona that is tied in with being in a fraternity doesn’t align with the goals and the future of a more progressive world,” Zimberg said. “In that case, it’s hard to get individuals who seemingly want to be involved on a personal basis but they are kinda masked by a front of being in the fraternity…We want to make it clear that you can be in a fraternity and also be progressive.”
Handwerker said she hopes the group comes to fruition and that a fraternity liaison program will allow for better communication across all Greek chapters.
“Ideally, we could get the sorority liaisons and the fraternity liaisons to work on a project together and bring the whole Greek community together,” she said.
Jones has overseen the program for seven years and believes the liaison initiative should be a national best practice.
“Very few college and university women and gender centers have this kind of relationship with Panhellenic sororities on their campuses, and the fact that we have such a large percentage of our undergraduate women involved in the Panhellenic community speaks a lot to the collaboration of our spaces on campus,” Jones said. “I think other campuses should consider this kind of program.”