“Greek life doesn’t have to be a gendered experience,” says McCartney “Pandora” Betz, a 2022 graduate of Heidelberg University and member of the Euglossian Society (Epsilon Upsilon Gamma).
Founded in 1913, the Eugs are the university’s first gender-neutral Greek organization, after 103 years as a women-only sorority at the Tiffin, Ohio institution.
Heidelberg’s Greek societies are all locally-based – as opposed to national fraternities and sororities – which has allowed them a lot of freedom in how they operate. For instance, corollary groups are popular on campus: typically, male students join sorority corollaries and female students join fraternity corollaries. These corollary groups share in programming and philanthropic responsibilities, though they cannot vote.
In the 2015-2016 academic year, an important question was raised: was it discriminatory to have different levels of membership within a Greek group based solely on gender? Heidelberg’s Greek Life Council started a discussion around the topic.
In response, some groups disbanded their corollaries, others opted to keep their corollaries separate, and the Eugs voted to absorb their corollary members, known as the Euglos, into their organization.
Betz recalls their experience of joining the Eugs as an inevitability. “I had no intention of joining Greek life, I was not a girly sorority girl. But I inherently made friends with the Eugs because they’re a group of gay nerds, a group I naturally fell into.”
Once they got a bid from the group to join, they say, “I never once regretted the decision to join a group that has been so affirming to everyone about gender and sexuality. Never having to worry about how someone perceives someone else in the group was so comforting.”
Hollie “Kora” Dunn experienced the transition to a mixed-gender society during her first semester as an active Eug. She says, “All of the active Eugs were willing to make the change. The vote in Spring 2016 to begin the process of becoming a mixed gender society was unanimous.”
Jess “Bagheera” Reed, class of 2014, has continued to be involved with alumni activities since their graduation and was thrilled about the change. They say, “I was really excited for there to be people of all genders represented in Euglossia. I was glad to see most of the alumni of all ages and generations were accepting and supportive.”
But it wasn’t an entirely smooth process, and the Eugs had to defend their decision to some dissenters.
“There was some pushback from alumni, particularly those from older generations, but there were some really great alumni who made the process easier,” remembers Dunn. “Bagheera bought pizza for all the active members and sent us a note about being willing to make positive changes. As a new member who didn’t know any alumni at that time, interactions like that were so meaningful.”
The desire to break down the gender binary when it comes to Greek life also helped the change toward gender inclusion. Eug leadership report there has been an increase in non-binary students pledging for the Euglossian Society since the change, and more members and alumni actively redefining their gender identities as well.
“The Eugs had a snowball effect in making nonbinary students more visible,” recalls Betz.
Heidelberg previously had an annual award for Greek Man and Greek Woman of the Year, and each Greek society nominated a male and female student from their society and corollary. Betz says, “We pushed back. What about members who don’t fall into those categories?” During their junior year, the award was changed to Greek Person of the Year, and each society now recommends two members regardless of gender. “It feels like a big accomplishment,” says Betz.
The effect of the Eugs’ decision to become mixed-gender has expanded far beyond their own organization. Following their inspired example, other Greek groups on campus have adopted gender-neutral language in their constitutions, which means trans and non-binary students don’t have to choose between their authentic identity and the communities they love. 🔥