On January 22nd, Greek Council, the collaborative governing body of the Greek community, joined Alpha Theta Phi alumna Kate DeSantis, in welcoming a service opportunity at a NASCAR race for an organization called Revolution Youth Advocate. RYA is a non-profit organization led by president Jason Evan and based out of San Bernardino. This organization strives to assist underprivileged teens living in the Inland Empire by building positive self-esteem and creating opportunities. Current Alpha Theta Phi president and senior, Melanie Moreno, clarified that the ideologies sponsored by RYA during their presentation are separate from both Alpha Theta Phi and alumni DeSantis’ philanthropic organization.
The president of Panhellenic Council, senior Shyenn So began by saying,
“It was just another regular Greek council meeting, we always have speakers come in and most of them try and advertise new service opportunities. I didn’t think anything was different in the beginning.”
However, as Evans began to market his organization to the audience, members of the Greek community said they began to feel uncomfortable with his presentation. Evans began using words such as “ghetto” when referring to the teens his organization helped and members of the Greek community reported that his willingness to divulge intimate details regarding the lives of the students he works with, such as molestation and incest, was both unethical and deeply troubling.
As Evans’ speaking time came to a close, the president made a final effort to recruit volunteers for supporting RYA.
“Who here is a redneck?” Evans asked. “Come on, who’s a redneck? I have a free gift for anyone that will raise their hand and admit to being a proud redneck.”
At this point, people began to raise their hands to receive their free gifts.
“Check out these hats,” Evans said. “They’re super cool and racist. They have the Confederate flag on them and everything.”
Greek Council attendees reported that the mood in the room became uncomfortable as people realized they were holding baseball caps with Confederate flag logo. For many, the Confederate flag serves as a reminder of the long history of white supremacy ideology.
“There was a very awkward setting in the room,” Moreno said after the hats were passed out.
Moreno further reported that Emma Wade, president of Alpha Chi Delta, was the only individual in attendance to directly respond to the hats. Wade asked if the hats would be present at the service event hosted by RYA and further explained that if so, Alpha Chi Delta would not be participating in the event. After the presentation, So got up and apologized for Evans’ words and actions, and the meeting continued on as normal.
“It was really hard to continue the meeting because of how taken aback I was,” So said.
So explained that when it comes to bringing organizations such as RYA to present at Greek Council,
“There usually isn’t a protocol for bringing organizations to campus besides looking through the emails sent out to council and discussing the organizations with our leadership team.”
When asked whether or not protocol would be changed in light of recent events, Director of Greek Life Christy Clinton reported,
“I think that’s definitely a discussion. I don’t know.”
Additionally, Clinton said that she did not feel comfortable commenting on whether or not the Greek community would continue to work with RYA after this incident.
Both So and Moreno reported that their organization, Alpha Phi Theta, did not support this particular event. However, So said that,
“If people decided to participate in this event, the Greek community would not judge them.”
In efforts to initiate a dialogue surrounding this incident, Associate Director of Diversity and Inclusion Zack Ritter was invited by Wade to talk to Greek Council about being an active bystander. Furthermore, Wade invited the Greek community to a forum to openly discuss the incident and how to move forward in being more inclusive and understanding as a community. This discussion did not come to fruition due to most organizations not responding to scheduling options.
“I feel like I’ve done all I can but I mean I am willing to do more but I’m not sure,” So said.“I want to have more educational events but in my personal opinion, I’ve never seen this in Greek Life before so I’d have to talk to Christy about it more. I want to reach out to other organizations about diversity and inclusion because that’s not my forte.”
Moreno elaborated on responses within the Greek community by saying,
“We’ve tried to focus our efforts towards other philanthropy events instead. Yes, as a Greek community we are not supporting this NASCAR event, but we want to take the time that was potentially dedicated to this event and put it towards other forms of service. Yes, we did have a conversation about being active bystanders but I think moving forward we should put our efforts towards something else. I know that Wade reached out to a lot of people about sponsoring the mission of RYA, helping kids in San Bernadino, and trying to find other outlets to help them. What happened, happened. You can address it, acknowledge it, and do various educational events on it. However, I personally think the best way to learn and grow from this event is to come together as a Greek Community and put our efforts towards other productive things.”
When asked if Greek Life should take a more active role in discussing these types of issues, So replied,
“I think we should, but I don’t really have a game plan to make that happen right now.”
[Images courtesy of Madison Ryan, Redlands Bulldog photographer]