Julia Perry ’20 and Shannon Mullins ’19 were in the audience at the Alpha Epsilon Phi biannual convention in Norfolk, Virginia, this summer when a big announcement went out: From now on, all 50-plus AEPhi chapters nationwide would extend invitations to anyone who identifies as a woman, regardless of gender assigned at birth.
Everyone gasped, said Perry. And then applause broke out.
“It seemed like something that we would hear at Emerson so it’s normal for us, but to hear it on a national level was really cool,” said Perry, vice president of finance for the Emerson AEPhi chapter and a Business of Creative Enterprises major.
“I haven’t heard of anyone who wasn’t excited [about the move], which is a good thing,” she said.
With AEPhi’s announcement, all four of Emerson’s sororities now officially consider anyone who identifies as a woman, and nine of the campus’s 10 Greek organizations explicitly admit women or men regardless of gender assignment at birth.
“They don’t have to be out at home, they don’t have to be out at school yet, but if they self-identify as a female, they’re welcome here,” Perry said.
About 250 Emerson students are pledged to one of 10 sororities or fraternities, according to Jason Meier, director of student engagement and leadership. The majority of Emerson’s Greek organizations are locally controlled, meaning they can set their own policies according to their individual constitutions, he said, and all of those groups are explicitly inclusive of transgender women and men.
It’s a little trickier for individual chapters of national organizations to declare themselves inclusive—or make any local policy decision, for that matter. The one Emerson fraternity that does not yet have inclusive language in its constitution, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, is one of 230 chapters and colonies across the country. But even so, Meier thinks it’s “a matter of time” before that fraternity also makes it an official policy at the national level.
Not that constitutional language necessarily needs to come before inclusion. Emerson made headlines in 2013 when one of the College’s local fraternities, Phi Alpha Tau, raised money for a brother’s gender affirmation surgery, despite at the time having no “official” policy on welcoming transgender men.
Addy Rose ’18, president of Sigma Pi Theta, said for two or three years at least, her sorority’s constitution has declared itself a “support group for all women, female-identifying and nonbinary people.”
But the 19-member organization has never really been about definitions, she said.
“For us, it’s more about someone who fits our values and someone who would grow or gain from being in Sigma, and if that person is transgender or nonbinary, we want to open our doors to them,” said Rose, a Writing, Literature and Publishing major. “I think the great thing about Sigma is I’ve become sisters and good friends with people I wouldn’t necessarily have gotten to know because we’re all different majors and we do different activities.”
Perry, of Alpha Epsilon Phi, said after the sorority announced its policy decision at the national conference, they shared the news on social media. But back on the Emerson campus, the only real surprise was that inclusion wasn’t already codified.
To her knowledge, no one who was not a cisgender woman has ever rushed AEPhi at Emerson, but based on her time in the sorority, she doesn’t believe the chapter would have turned down anyone for that reason, constitution or no.
“I honestly think [the policy change] is more critical on the national level,” she said.