Allison Blackman, the newly elected vice president of diversity and inclusion for the University of Maryland's Panhellenic Association, doesn't think sorority-girl stereotypes accurately portray the reality of the Greek community.
"Both of my parents are immigrants; I don't come from a wealthy family," said Blackman, a member of Sigma Kappa. "I'm not blonde, tall or tan. What you see from sorority girls on TV — they're all basically the same. That's not what happens in our chapters; we're all from different backgrounds."
Blackman's role, modeled after a similar position at the University of Washington, was created this semester by the PHA to highlight these differences and bring discussions about diversity to the forefront of conversations in Greek life. The Interfraternity Council is in the process of creating and filling a similar position.
The goal is to use the diversity already present in chapters to the community's advantage as a source of knowledge and understanding, said PHA Advisor Kahlin McKeown. Officials heard about the University of Washington's idea and thought it would be well-suited to this university's diverse student body, she said.
IFC President Bryan Pfeffer said he also hopes to see the council strengthened with a position dedicated to thinking about diversity and inclusion at all times. The IFC is currently interviewing candidates to put before the chapter presidents, and it plans to vote on someone to fill the position in the coming weeks.
"Having someone focused on this one issue, advising all 10 [other board members] on how to work that into our roles, is important — it keeps it in the front of people's minds, instead of it falling behind normal priorities," the junior accounting and finance major said.
While the ultimate goal is to highlight diversity within the Greek community, Blackman, a junior kinesiology major, said she also hopes to draw more diverse students to the PHA.
In the past, when she's suggested some students rush, she said she has occasionally gotten answers such as, "I'm not the type of girl who would fit into a sorority."
"That's the idea that we have to change: that there's this cookie-cutter mold people need to fit into," Blackman said. "There are so many different people in Greek life. We could all use some more understanding about that."
Blackman and the future IFC vice president of diversity and inclusion will use the final weeks of the semester to facilitate conversations with other Greek leaders to understand the community's needs. They likely will begin arranging programming and meetings during the fall semester, Pfeffer and PHA President Maddy Bruffy said.
Bruffy, a junior psychology major, said she hopes the position will help sorority members think about different aspects of diversity in their daily lives — race, religion and socioeconomic status — and how it might affect them and others.
"It's about recognizing the differences in our community and creating more of an open dialogue," Bruffy said. "We want to change some of the mindsets that currently exist, to create more openness for the future."