Karmen Jones, English Rhetoric and Africana Studies major in the class of 2021, and Claire Donelan, Business Management major in the class of 2022, became active in SGA as members of the First-Year Council and also served on the Diversity Affairs Committee during the 2018-2019 academic year. In the coming 2019-2020 academic year, Karmen will serve as the director of diversity affairs, and Claire, sister of Chi Omega sorority, will serve as the sorority village senator while continuing to be a dedicated member of the Diversity Affairs Committee.
Karmen and Claire used their platform as Diversity Affairs Committee members and Claire’s connection to the Panhellenic community to connect with Panhellenic women through speaking engagements. Karmen explained that topics included “inclusive language, racism, the “n-word” (the history behind why black people use and reclaim the word)” and Claire added, “we talked about what being an ally is, as well as resources and programming on campus that supports marginalized communities.”
These difficult conversations with the Panhellenic community arose from a series of incidents on campus including a Snapchat video of a Panhellenic woman using a racial slur and a photo showing students in black-face. Immediately following the incidents, Karmen and Claire discussed the recent campus events and came up with the idea to talk to Panhellenic sororities. Karmen and Claire knew these incidents were not representative of the Panhellenic community or larger student population, but they presented a great opportunity for education and discussion of these important topics. The speaking engagements started small with Claire’s sorority, Chi Omega, and grew from there. Claire stated that she and Karmen “had the goal of wanting to reach communities that are usually not diverse; we wanted to explain where minority students were coming from and show them to the Panhellenic community.” Although sorority and fraternity life and the Student Government Association may seem like two student organizations at times disconnected from one another, Karmen and Claire used a negative experience to positively educate and inform their peers.
Together, they certainly accomplished what they intended to do as members of the Diversity Affairs Committee which meant reaching students through programming for Karmen and using her privilege to help others who did not for Claire. We are thankful for student leaders like Karmen and Claire on Rocky Top and in SGA.