‘How can we do better unless we educate ourselves and then hold ourselves accountable?’

February 17, 2021

The Phi Sigma Phi chapter president is developing a fraternity education and outreach plan that includes learning gender pronoun usage and bringing in educators within the Black, Indigenous and Persons of Color community.

Graphic showing Phi Sigma Phi's DEI efforts

James Parriet, a junior studying human resource management, says most people want to support diversity and equity initiatives. But they might not have the knowledge or understanding of how to create an inclusive environment.

The Phi Sigma Phi - Epsilon Lambda chapter president knows this from experience. As a gay man, he’s been around people who were discriminatory, sometimes unintentionally. Parriet’s also been the person who’s made mistakes — he still thinks about how he hurt a peer by misusing transgender pronouns.

Photo of James Parriet

“I need to do better. We all need to do better. But how can we do better unless we educate ourselves and then hold ourselves accountable? Our nation, as a whole, has demonstrated a reduction in acceptance of marginalized communities. We cannot sit back and allow these actions to continue.”

So Parriet reached out to Phi Sigma Phi’s national office, the recruitment-focused organization PhiredUp, and the Lambda chapter of Phi Sigma Phi chapter at Eastern Michigan University to inquire about putting specific actionable goals behind the fraternity’s statements regarding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). 

He says that Phi Sigma Phi is an inclusive organization, but Parriet wanted a strengthened commitment to welcoming Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color (BIPOC) and transgender males. In addition to “just being a decent human being,” Parriet says he is inspired by the university’s commitment to DEI in its strategic planning process.

Starting in the fall 2020 semester, Parriet worked with Phi Sigma Phi-Epsilon Lambda Chapter Adviser Maya Barak, a Criminal Justice assistant professor, on developing a plan for fraternity education efforts and outreach. He also reached out to Women and Gender Studies Associate Professor Amy Brainer, who is the campus PRIDE adviser, and whose class he took in the Fall 2017. Most of Parriet’s Phi Sigma Phi brothers graduated in 2020; the organization is recruiting new members based on their interest in “discovering the best within themselves and encouraging others to do the same.”

“James wants to be intentional in his actions and create a community that respects identity,” Barak says. “He came to me about his concerns that even in trying to create inclusive spaces, we can sometimes still be exclusionary without realizing it. That’s why it’s important to continue educating ourselves and acknowledging our mistakes. We are all learning.”

Additionally, Parriet wants to bring in educators within the BIPOC community to share their points of view regarding DEI initiatives, to teach new members about gender pronoun usage, and to enforce a zero-tolerance policy for fraternity members who choose to demonstrate ignorance despite these inclusion efforts. 

UM-Dearborn Student Life Coordinator Caitlin Parker says all 15 campus fraternities and sororities approach their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives differently. But most do have DEI statements and policies related to gender inclusion, sexual orientation and non-discrimination. She says Phi Sigma Phi has shared their DEI efforts with the Office of Student Life and she’s glad that they have a detailed commitment. 

“This is a great opportunity to recognize the chapter,” she says. “Fraternities and sororities are among the few groups that have an exemption from Title IX in regards to their membership selection practices, so the evolution of gender inclusive policies and language is ongoing.”

Parriet agrees with Parker and says in his experience campus Greek Life is a welcoming place. It’s why he joined a fraternity. But knowing that discrimination exists everywhere, he wanted to use his voice and leadership role position to advocate.

“We need to keep pushing ourselves to do more,” he says. “Everyday that we wait is another day we are sending the wrong message of hatred instead of a message of acceptance, love and positivity.”

To learn more about Phi Sigma Phi and their DEI initiatives, you can contact them at phisigmaphi.org or by emailing Parriet at jparriet@umich.edu.