Over three weeks ago, George Floyd's murder was the spark that ignited protests against police brutality and racial discrimination toward Black people across the country. While many have taken to the streets to march, others have resorted to creative ways of supporting the cause remotely. In tandem with the physical protests, social media feeds were flooded with posts meant to support the Black Lives Matter movement and share educational resources on the issue of racism.
Penn students and organizations have publicly spoken out, standing in solidarity by issuing public statements, sharing educational content, or creating fundraisers. OAX—an independent women’s organization comparable to an on–campus sorority—is one of the many groups on campus that has decidedly taken a stand.
Not being tied to a national organization doesn't deter OAX from focusing on philanthropy. They organize events throughout the school year to support Women Against Abuse, a Philly-based organization that seeks to provide services and support to women experiencing domestic violence.
In a similar way to traditional on–campus sororities, OAX members pay annual dues. This year, however, part of their dues were left unused as Penn students finished the semester remotely. OAX members saw this as an opportunity to use these resources to make a positive impact during this time by matching donations made by their peers.
Members started circulating Instagram stories encouraging people to donate to Black–led organizations supporting anti-police brutality efforts. After submitting a screenshot of the proof of donation to OAX through a Google form, OAX would honor its pledge to match these donations to their full capacity.
OAX Diversity Chair Alison Millman (C ‘21) spoke about the organization’s decision to create a public fundraiser: “We were really hesitant about making it a public fundraiser because we know that donations and money are not equal to full support and full allyship, but we decided that, as our first course of action, this was a way that we could make a meaningful impact.”
In addition to this fundraising project, which largely focuses on garnering external support, OAX has also made it a point to make internal efforts to educate their members and create meaningful conversations.
Morgan Taylor (C ‘21) who served as diversity chair before Alison, discussed the way these initiatives came to be. “I’m African American, and we have a specific group called BLOAX which is Black OAX members, and within that there were a lot of conversations about what we were feeling, what was going on, and what it meant for our white counterparts and non-Black people of color that are in OAX,” she says. Due to the current situation, she decided to step up and spearhead internal education initiatives, working together with Alison to tackle the problem, both at large and within their organization.
With regard to internal efforts, OAX members have compiled a list of helpful resources to capitalize on the importance of staying informed on the issue. The goal is to encourage members to be educated in order to have informative conversations.
During a time when social media plays such a major role in the daily lives of many, there exists a concern that some may be reposting information as more of a “performative” act, feeling like they have to share something because everyone is doing so and not because they are actually making an effort to become informed. By circulating and engaging with these informational resources, OAX members are taking an extra step to ensure that these important topics are properly addressed and discussed within the organization.
“When I watch [informational content], if I don’t have someone to talk it through with, it doesn’t normally have the same impact. So, I feel like having that network where you can feel comfortable asking questions and just talking about your reaction to the film, it can really help to actually have an effect on what you’re absorbing, what you’re gonna feel, and what you’re gonna look at going forward,” Morgan says. “So I feel like that’s a lot of what we’re focused on right now: how we’re gonna keep this momentum going, and even though we’re coming up with these great resources right now, making sure that we hold each other accountable to not only continue to grow our own knowledge, but also to become better allies.”
Even though the organization has made efforts to be more inclusive and informative, especially during rush season, they are working to ensure that these efforts transcend the current situation, and want members to learn information that can be applicable to make the organization more welcoming in the long run.
Morgan addresses how imperative it is for students to have these conversations, especially those who are a part of larger organizations. Even though students are advocating for every campus organization to speak up, there has been a specific watch on Greek organizations’ actions. Due to their history with racial discrimination, and as predominantly white spaces on campus, students are demanding that they speak up—not just about the current situation, but about amplifying Black students’ voices and creating welcoming spaces free of racial discrimination.
“I feel like something that we need to have more of across Greek life is getting comfortable talking about the uncomfortable, and this is one uncomfortable thing that a lot of people try to act like isn’t a problem anymore when obviously it is, and we face racism within Greek life itself,” she says.
OAX members acknowledge that, despite speaking up now, on– and off–campus Greek organizations must continue to work hard to create an actual, beneficial change, as well as recognize past inaction towards the issue.
Dozens of other organizations have joined the cause, creating their own projects to help. Students have even teamed up to share resources that support organizations both at Penn and the greater Philadelphia area through a website called Speak Up Penn, which has a matching system in place to increase students' donations.
“We’re really proud of our efforts and we hope to continue this matching as long as we can, but we also acknowledge that we are far from the perfect organization. Greek life can be inherently anti–Black,” Alison says. “I hope it’s encouraged other organizations to take action, or supported other organizations to take action, but really in the long term we want to continue to learn how to be better allies, how to support our Black members, how to educate ourselves, and how to listen actively.”