by Maria Thomas, News Editor
In response to the growing momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement and national reckoning with systemic racism in America, Manhattan College’s chapter of Sigma Delta Tau has instituted a new diversity and inclusion committee.
The committee is headed by Senior Nicole Nunez, vice president of diversity and in- clusion. Junior Gabi Panassol is the assistant to Nunez. Two other sisters — Jilleen Barret and Molly Prior — are also on the committee, consisting of four sisters total.
With the creation of a new position comes a trial period in which responsibilities are still being established. Nunez has been figuring out the logistics of her position with each passing day.
“My position is a new one to our chapter so I am in an interesting position where I get to write my own job description,” Nunez said. “But, in its most basic description, my job is to foster a diverse and inclusive chapter for women of all backgrounds to feel comfortable and included.”
Panassol has been a member of the sorority for a year, after rushing last August. She recounted how the sorority sent out an email at the start of the national BLM protests making their support for the movement clear. Panassol felt the email was not enough, and did not want the sorority to engage in performative activism.
“I spoke out in our group chat being like, I don’t think this is enough because I feel like it’s a lot of saying and not a lot of doing,” Panassol said. “And then Ireland [Twiggs] came to talk to me. We had a great conversation, she listened to my ideas, and I could definitely see that she wanted to be more than what we are now.”
As for now, Panassol simply assists Nunez in any way possible.
“If she asks me to do something, I’ll do it for her. It’s still very new, so we’re both kind of like, we don’t know exactly what to do,” she said. “But I just help her out when she needs it and I kind of shadow her.”
The first thing the diversity committee has pioneered since their creation is a “Diversity Inclusion Media Club” within the sorority.
“Nicole or me or any other sister can recommend a movie, a documentary, anything that interests them, and we watch it,” Panassol said. “It’s like a book club, but not only with books, and then we have a whole discussion about it.”
On Thursday, Sept. 10 the Diversity Inclusion Media Club had their first meeting. Prior to the meeting, sisters in attendance were asked to watch a Dave Chappelle special entitled “8:46” about the murder of George Floyd.
“I started our media club to help sisters consume media created by BIPOC authors, directors, podcasters etc.,” Nunez said. “I hope that sisters can make connections to the media that we choose and use it as they go out into our community at Manhattan College.”
While the meetings are not required for sisters, there is a large incentive for members to attend, given that they are ranked highly on the sorority’s point scale.
In addition to the Diversity Inclusion Media Club, Nunez hopes to implement several other initiatives which will promote diversity and inclusion within the sorority.
“We have strengthened our no-tolerance policy for discriminatory behavior in our chapter,” she said. “We are going to have mandatory workshops that work on getting to know our sisterhood and our community so our chapter can explore diversity and see how we can apply the things we learn to our chapter and our recruitment process.”
While the initiatives from the sorority are positive and exciting changes given the history of greek life organizations being exclusive or discriminatory in America, some students may feel the council was long overdue. Nunez speculated that the sorority chapter’s age could have something to do with why it has taken this long to implement a committee devoted to diversity and inclusion.
“Our chapter is really young in comparison to the other greek organizations on campus — 7 years this fall,” she said. “When we were founded, we only had the Executive Board positions that nationals required us to have. This position is unique to our chapter, the current executive board made the decision to add this position and I hope that other chapters do something similar.”
Ireland Twiggs, Sigma Delta Tau’s president, noted how the death of George Floyd by police brutality acted as a catalyst for the creation of this committee.
“I feel like what occurred back when George Floyd was murdered is it kind of woke us all up and shook us to our core,” Twiggs said.
“It makes me sad that it has taken this long to wake up and look at the kind of wrongdoings of the organizations we’re a part of, but I’m happy that we started and Nicole has done such a fantastic job.”
As for now, the two fraternities on Manhattan College’s campus, Delta Kappa Epsilon and Alpha Phi Delta, have yet to follow suit in addressing racism or creating a VP of Diversity and Inclusion role.
“I felt like these conversations were always mentioned at meetings, but no one ever took the steps that were necessary,” Twiggs said. “I think it comes from a comfort thing, which is inexcusable but kind of like the rest of the world in that we had fallen into this level of comfort with the standards that we had set.”
The establishment of a VP of Diversity and Inclusion is one of several steps being taken by the sorority in an overarching anti-racism action plan headed by Sigma Delta Tau’s national organization.
The plan involves each executive board position shaping their role to become more inclusive and welcoming of BI- POC and LGBTQ+ women.
In the example of recruitment, Twiggs mentioned how Vice President Stephanie Zandell revamped the majority of her materials.
“We tried to be more inclusive in our language in terms of talking about hair and beauty standards,” Twiggs said. “We tried not to focus super heavily on the Eurocentric beauty ideals that we’ve seen in a lot of sororities.”
With the creation of Nunez’s position, other executive board members can now consult the diversity and inclusion committee when they have questions or ideas.
“I think that having a VP of Diversity and Inclusion is essential to our organization,” Nunez said. “Greek life as a whole across our country has a terrible reputation for being an exclusive organization that excludes women like me, and that has not been my experience in our chapter. However, I know that we can improve our diversity and having my position is meant to help.”