Editor’s note, Oct. 7, 2:30 p.m.: This story has been updated throughout.
A small room in the basement of the Hughes-Trigg Student Center was bustling Tuesday night as students filled the room for the LGBT Greek panel discussion.
“The purpose of tonight is to bring people of the Greek and LGBT community together,” said Val Erwin, program advisor for the SMU Women and LGBT Center.
Some LGBT students believe there is a divide between the Greek and LGBT communities. They say they don’t always feel accepted by Greek organizations. The dialog on this night was meant to bridge that divide, said organizers and participants.
“Inclusion of the LGBT community is not a topic of discussion in most Greek national chapters,” said Jessica Mitchell, who is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
About 30 students laughed and chatted over Roly Poly sandwiches and cookies while they waited for the six student panelists to take their seats. The panel included members from Alpha Phi Alpha, Panhellenic Council, Multicultural Greek Council, Kappa Delta Chi, Sigma Phi Epsilon, and Alpha Kappa Alpha.
The discussion began with panelists sharing positive and negative experiences they had during their time at SMU.
Jacob Conway is a senior and openly gay member of Sigma Phi Epsilon. He said during his time at SMU he’s seen a chain reaction. Once one member came out, other members felt more comfortable about coming out. He is positive that a LGBT community is beginning to form.
The panelists agreed the LGBT and Greek communities are taking steps in the right direction, but acknowledged that there is still a long way to go.
Although most Greek organizations have policies banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, panelist Emily Tribble said that the existence of rules and implementation of those rules are two separate things. Tribble is the vice president of administration for the SMU Panhellenic Council.
Conway added that he thinks one of the biggest struggles for the Greek community is overcoming what masculinity or femininity means.
“It’s hard because it’s what these organizations have been built around. It’s not a bad thing in itself, but it can be the root of some of the problems,” Conway said.
The panelists all agreed that education is the key to bringing these communities together.
Ryan Stoker, a senior and openly bisexual member of Alpha Phi Alpha encouraged students to reach out to the SMU student group SPECTRUM. The group will coordinate a panel or individual to come speak to any organization and facilitate conversations about this topic.
“The qualities that make you, are the same qualities that make your organizations,” Stoker said. “It starts with us.”