Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, April 21, 2018

Q and A: AU Panhellenic Council President Jenna Shaw

Shaw aims to make Greek community more diverse, intersectional and inclusive

Q and A: AU Panhellenic Council President Jenna Shaw

Jenna Shaw, president of the AU Panhellenic Council, never thought she would join a sorority. A self-proclaimed “social justice wonk,” she thought it would interfere with her academic goals. Shaw soon changed her mind about sororities; seeing the Panhellenic community as an involved and philanthropic group of individuals. With that, Shaw joined Sigma Delta Tau whose members later elected their chapter’s president.

In this role, Shaw fell in love with the other AU sororities’ similarities and passions; ultimately deciding she wanted to run for AU Panhellenic president.

As president of AU Panhellenic, Shaw says her main goal is to build an inclusive community, eliminating division and embracing intersectionality. As she enters the second half of her term as president in the fall, Shaw shared via email what she believes being AU Panhellenic president is all about.

Eagle: What is AU Panhellenic?

JS: AU Panhellenic is the governing and unifying body over the nine Panhellenic sororities on campus. It holds chapters accountable mainly for rules governing recruitment and philanthropy. There is a weekly meeting made up of my executive board and a delegate from every chapter. Here is where chapters can work through problems together and make each other aware of each other’s events. It is one of three councils on campus under FSL (Fraternity and Sorority Life). [The others are] Intercultural Greek Collective and Inter Fraternity Council.

Eagle: How does AU Panhellenic work with other Greek and non-Greek organizations on campus?

JS: Because Panhellenic makes up such a large percentage of the school, members of the chapters are involved in tons of campus organizations, so it makes a ton of partnerships through that. For Greek Week, we built it to be campus inclusive and open to non-Greeks, so (the Residence Hall Association), for example, sponsored one of our events this past year and we work closely with the Counseling Center and Wellness Center. In terms of working with other Greeks, we work closely with the other two councils. The three presidents are always talking through our plans, discussing ideas and thinking through ways our programs can work for all three councils. This year, Greeks United for inclusivity, diversity and equity is a great example of how all three councils have come together around a cause.

Eagle: What is Greeks United?

JS: Greeks United for Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity is a national coalition of students from chapters from all three councils working on putting on programs and making sure Greek life is a safe space for people from different backgrounds. This is the first full year so it’s going to really be taking shape this year.

Eagle: What do you do as president of AU Panhellenic?

JS: I am the liaison between the University and the chapters, so I work with the administration, the Greek office, the Wellness Center etc., to lobby and create programs that benefit chapters. I also have the chance to work with my board to make these types of programs happen, so we plan the large scale type of initiatives and events that the chapters cannot necessarily afford to put on. I oversee small coalitions and groups that are both for affinity like the LGBT group, but also for planning like the Accessibility Coalition

Eagle: Who is your board?

JS: My executive board. We have two weekly meetings and they are very much focused on how far we can push the boundaries and still be successful.

I lead the weekly Panhellenic meetings and this year we started focusing on leadership development and asking the big questions, so I lead and facilitate a lot of conversations around issues of sexual assault in Greek life, hazing prevention and privilege, just to name a few, and then work to connect the chapter leaders with the right resources. A lot of my role is just supporting them in their endeavors which is really fun.

Eagle: What kinds of challenges have you faced as president of AU Panhel? What have you done to overcome them?

JS: Greeks don’t always have the most positive reputation, so it’s hard to counter that rhetoric and work towards change. This also comes with national headquarters. I work very closely with sorority chapters’ national headquarters, but I have seen that AU is very far ahead of the curve in terms of creating a progressive Greek life. This makes things challenging when communicating with people who still view Greek Life the way it was when it was founded.

Eagle: How do you communicate, what you see as AU’s progressive version of Greek Life to the community?

JS: I frame AU’s Greek life to many as a social justice club that is bound through sisterhood, but staying true to that message is something my board and I are working on this year. We are trying to reframe the understanding of this through awareness tabling, i.e. eating disorder awareness and working with chapters to add more meaning to philanthropy and understand why they went greek and that we have a position within the community. A lot of that comes through partnerships which we are also working on. By creating partnerships with other clubs it is easy to have a one-on-one honest conversation about Greek life’s successes but also shortcomings. I think being honest with myself but also idealistic has helped me frame Greek life on campus.

Eagle: What goals do you have for AU Panhellenic and the AU community in general?

JS: I could write a novel about this one, but the short is to build a truly inclusive community. Coming in, I knew it would not happen overnight, but building spaces for people outside of their chapter, that meet them where they are at, is a huge way to build community. With this, also comes a push for inclusivity and accessibility to and within Panhellenic. This means not tokenizing members, creating safe/brave spaces, and having the more lofty conversations that people often avoid. People need to feel as if they have a voice within the Panhellenic community, or else, in a lot of ways, it is like they are joining a gym--pay for services and show up-- so, I would say that’s my overall theme.


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