Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) member Nicole Afolabi took to social media on May 29 to denounce unchecked racism within the UC Santa Cruz sorority chapter. What started as a response to the sorority’s statement on the murder of George Floyd became a larger effort to hold Greek life members accountable for their actions.
“A lot of these racist incidents that are getting brought up, is stuff that happened two years ago, a year ago. They knew about it, but no action was taken until I started having to call people out in front of the whole chapter and on social media,” Afolabi said. “So it’s just frustrating that it takes for them to be publicly criticized for action to occur.”
When KKG posted its initial statement on the murder of George Floyd to Instagram on May 29, members including Afolabi responded with disappointment. Chapter members called the statement “tone deaf” and Afolabi documented allegations against two members for racist behavior.
The statement did not include the names of any Black people murdered by police nor make reference to police violence.
KKG’s national headquarters wrote the May 29 statement, with most of the language copied and pasted from its general statement on human dignity.
UCSC KKG member Mia Drake said the national headquarters placed constraints on what individual chapters could post, but she felt the situation called for more specificity, even if it meant breaking those guidelines.
“Do I understand that there were some constraints placed upon our chapter? Yes. Do I think our chapter should follow those constraints? Not at all,” Drake said. ”They should have stood up and said something more, regardless of any rules imposed upon them.”
UCSC KKG member Ginger Swanson also noted issues with the process for posting the initial statement.
“I’m on the PR committee, […] and so the fact that I was not consulted on anything posted to our specific chapter’s Instagram, I was pretty displeased as well,” Swanson said. “I’m one of a few Black sorority members in Kappa. And so I just felt as if there could have been a lot done to avoid that statement.”
UCSC KKG put out a second post on May 30, apologizing for the “tone-deafness” of the initial statement, writing that the chapter is working to update the guidelines that constrained its first post.
Drake pointed out similar procedural issues with the second statement. Chapter leadership asked her to help craft the statement, but when she responded that she was too emotionally exhausted to do so until the next morning, the organization did not wait before writing and posting.
After posting the second statement, UCSC KKG held a meeting on June 1 to give members space to discuss their concerns and determine what changes to make going forward.
“We have heard from our members that they desire action at the national and local level to actively fight racism, discrimination and injustice wherever we find it,” said national KKG Internal Communications Manager Lucy Gerlach in an email. “Kappa Kappa Gamma is committed to taking action to support these efforts and we will be sharing more information with our membership about our plans in the coming weeks.”
UCSC KKG member Nicole Afolabi saw this meeting as an important first step in allowing people of color to voice their opinions within the sorority, but she hopes for concrete change. She pointed to low attendance at diversity and inclusion workshops as an example of how efforts to educate members have fallen short.
“It’s just frustrating because it’s 2020, you don’t need workshops to tell you not to say derogatory words to people. You don’t need workshops to tell you that microaggressions are not okay,” Afolabi said. “They did say that they’re going to be making some changes, but I’ve heard that so many times.”
Following the KKG meeting, Afolabi posted allegations against two KKG members for racist behavior, dating back to fall 2018. One of these members responded to Afolabi with a cease and desist letter, prompting Afolabi to post on June 10 that her tweets are “non-actionable opinions.”
Racism within KKG and Greek life more broadly is not new. Despite members bringing it up in the past, little has changed to ensure accountability.
“I find it super disappointing that it took recent events for us to get together and have these conversations and finally call these people out,” said UCSC KKG member Ginger Swanson. “And it’s disappointing that it has largely lied upon Black Greek members and students of color in general to bring up these issues and that others aren’t stepping up in the way they needed to.”