Lawmakers question UNC-Chapel Hill over diversity program for fraternity, sorority members

Posted November 4, 2021
Updated November 11, 2021

— Dozens of state lawmakers sent a letter this week to University of North Carolina officials questioning the "indoctrination" that was part of a diversity program that UNC-Chapel Hill fraternity and sorority members recently attended.

"It is reckless and irresponsible to promote the theory that a person (in this case a college student) should feel guilty simply because their skin is a certain color," Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, wrote in a Nov. 1 letter to UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz.

Copies of the letter, which was co-signed by 52 other Republican House members and 18 Republican senators, were sent to UNC President Peter Hans and members of the UNC Board of Governors and the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.

The focus of Hardister's criticism was an Oct. 18 program provided by a group called Social Responsibility Speaks for UNC-Chapel Hill fraternity and sorority members.

"[They were] talking about how grocery stores were oppressive if you can’t reach the top shelf and how airplanes are oppressive if you can’t fit into the seats, and then it kind of a parlayed from there into white privilege," Hardister said Thursday. "There were some aspects of this training seminar that, in my opinion, were very inappropriate, that I think would result in division and animosity for students."

Officials with several fraternities and sororities declined to comment Thursday when WRAL News stopped at their houses. One student who spoke privately said about 30 members of each fraternity and sorority were required to attend the session, and the speaker's tone was very aggressive.

Officials with Social Responsibility Speaks didn't respond to WRAL's request for comment.

Cassie Hughes Thomas, assistant director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at UNC-Chapel Hill, said no one was required to attend the diversity program, which is part of a series requested last year by some chapters. She said the fraternities and sororities themselves set "general levels of required participation for each chapter," which usually range from one to 15 people, depending on the size of the chapter.

"Fraternity and Sorority Life is hosting an ongoing educational programming series based on eight dimensions of wellness, which range from financial skills to career building. Our recent meeting focused on intellectual wellness," Hughes Thomas said in a statement.

The $4,000 speaker fee for the program was paid for with fraternity and sorority membership fees for programming and events, she said.

Some UNC-Chapel Hill students said diversity training is sorely needed on campus, especially for people in the Greek system.

"If you were to think about a certain stereotype on campus that might not be very culturally aware, I think that a lot of Greek life has that stereotype," Aliyah Carrion said.

“So, they’re making an effort to be more diverse? How is that a bad thing?” student Andrew Cresbo asked.

Hardister said he's "all for diversity and inclusion," but the program went beyond that.

"I think it needs to be more in line with the Golden Rule of treating people with respect and not discriminating and not being judgemental," he said. "I think the majority of families out there are concerned with this type of training. I would put this in the category of, essentially, critical race theory, and I think most Americans and North Carolinians are pushing back against that kind of social indoctrination."

The lawmakers' letter wants UNC-Chapel Hill officials to address "concerns related to politically-motivated indoctrination on campus," and they want to know what steps will be taken to prevent such incidents in the future.

"I think we have to take a deep dive and determine what type of training seminars are out there [and] what are they training," Hardister said, "and determine do we need to somehow have a conversation about directing this into a productive direction?"