roundtable: queering greek life

Queering Greek Life with “Frat Boys” and “Sorority Girls”: Rhetorical Structures of Gender & Sexuality in Greek Life
Friday, October 6, 9:00-10:45am
Marriott Ballroom

Roundtable Leader:
Patti Hanlon-Baker, Stanford University
Courtney Peña, Stanford University

Use this LINK to sign up by September 15th.

Nationally, Greek organizations receive a great deal of media attention regarding their treatment of women and their inherently heternormative and white spaces (DeSantis 2007).  Here at our university, under scrutiny of the administration, the Greek community created a new self-evaluation policy titled “Standards of Excellence.”  Some policy goals aim to change Greek life culture and how genders interact. Internally and as a larger community various Greek organizations are attempting to educate themselves on issues regarding gender and sexuality but are not necessarily enrolling in feminist and gender studies courses that might help them further interrogate rhetorical and social structures of gender and sexuality. 

This roundtable will present our university’s Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program (FGSS) attempt to queer Greek life. FGSS created a course series, offered annually for the Greek community to provide spaces and time for them to reflect on gender, sexuality, and identity in Greek life and in social structures more broadly; the courses ask them to interrogate the ways their discourse—fliers, event titles, websites—shape perceptions of them from outsiders as well as reinforce rolls within. Institutions of higher are, “microcosms of the larger societal struggle” (Mihesuah, 2004) and serve to reinforce structures of power. Thus the course also requires them to make links between their own rhetorical choices and those broader structures to consider closely how their organizations’ discourse reinforces larger cultural structures of power around gender, sexuality, and gender identity. Holding courses in fraternities or sororities, sites that powerfully recreate structures of power and larger societal values, is meant to bring the conversation to students but also disrupt the nature of the single gender space and ask questions about gender, rights, access, and experience.   

Driving questions behind our work include: 

  • How do Greek organizations’ rhetorical moves in fliers and recruitment practices reinforce social expectations of gender? How does teaching feminism in those spaces disrupt them and challenge those structures? 
  • How do Greek organizaions reinforce heteronormative and patriarchial structures that reinforce distinctions “between” genders as binaries? 
  • How does naming and resisting power structures in a masculine space built on power alter that power? Reshape that power? Force those within to pause and ask questions? 

We’d like to use the roundtable to consider not only what has worked with this project but we can expand and improve? How does feminist scholarship and how do feminist teachers potentially support students in their attempts at social change in spaces that are so tied to binary structures of gender? How does having theory offer students the language to ask questions about their roles in this structure? 

The Associate Director of the program will provide the history of this course series. The graduate TAs will discuss differences in sections between sororities and fraternities. The students TAs who also took the courses will discuss community impact as they are part of the organizations hosting the course. We look forward to discussing potential versions of this and further consider how we might better build a course that moves students to engage with social change.

About the Roundtable Leaders
Dr. Patti Hanlon-Baker is the Associate Director of Stanford’s Program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (FGSS) and formerly a lecturer in Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric. She leads the FGSS Honors Writing Program – bringing two areas of scholarship together – writing and feminist studies.  Since joining FGSS, she has taught courses on Gender & Sports, the rhetoric of feminist and LGBTQ social movements, and introduction to feminist and LGBTQ studies. For the past several years, she has taught courses in various residencies around campus – frosh dorms and housed Greek organizations; the topics for these range from current issues, masculinity, and gender & sexuality in Greek life. She is currently researching how disrupting gendered spaces to interrogate gender impacts how students in those spaces negotiate and frame gender & sexuality.

Courtney Peña is a doctoral candidate at the Graduate School of Education in Social Sciences, Humanities, and Interdisciplinary Policy Studies (SHIPS) under the advisement of Dr. Guadalupe Valdés. She focuses on Race, Inequality, and Language in Education (RILE) and has completed a PhD minor in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (FGSS). She holds an M.A. in Bilingual Education from Arizona State University. During her time at ASU, she worked several years as a research assistant at The School of Transborder Studies, collaborating on a variety of projects ranging from immigration policy to community health in South Phoenix. Courtney’s current research looks at intersectionality in education. Her dissertation work is developing pedagogical theory relating to culture in schools, specifically secondary education.

Use this LINK to sign up by September 15th.