Gamma Sigma fraternity writes new campus narrative with adoption of gender-neutral pronouns
Students may know Gamma Sigma as the lot to cut through behind the Scott Hall bus stop to get to Union Street, but fraternity siblings know their house as "Big Blue," a symbol of hope and a message to always stand up for the rights people deserve.
In their most recent effort, the fraternity, Gamma Sigma, is incorporating gender-neutral pronouns into all official documents.
Non-binary members, who neither identify as male nor female, will feel the comfort and respect cisgender individuals have, said Fil Wojcik, the president of Gamma Sigma and a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
“Gamma Sigma is doing a lot of cool work in demonstrating that fraternities can be very progressive places,” he said.
As a fraternity at Rutgers, Gamma Sigma was the first to accept Jewish members at its foundation, the first to accept black members shortly after and the first to accept female members in a fundamental breaking of gender norms during the 1970s, he said.
“We are the only social fraternity at Rutgers to remain coeducational to this day, even though this decision had caused us to break ties with our former national charter," Wojcik said. "We remain independently funded as pioneers of diversity.”
In March of 2009, Wojcik said the house suffered a fire that destroyed the fraternity's property on Union Street.
It left them unable to occupy the residence until multiple expensive reconstruction efforts were made. After six years of gathering enough money through hard work and determination, the house reopened this March.
Wojcik said siblings of Gamma Sigma still continue to push the boundaries of acceptance and equality.
A non-binary sibling of Gamma Sigma, Niji Hernandez-Rives, who chooses to use the gender-neutral pronoun "they" and "them," said Gamma Sigma has always been a safe space where diverse people have felt a draw and where the fraternity has always chosen to treat them with consideration.
The fraternity's goal is to be an example for greek culture, said Hernandez-Rives, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
“It's up to the others to choose for themselves whether or not they're going to follow our example,” they said. "Since the very beginning, Gamma has been absolutely wonderful about my gender and pronoun usage, more so than anywhere else in my life."
Hernandez-Rives said they cannot even begin to explain how much the shift toward gender-neutral pronouns means to them.
At first, they said they were actually nervous when first pledging and on the brink of official membership. Hernandez-Rives said they were so scared that they had to have a friend tell other Gamma Sigma siblings about about their gender identity.
The reaction was better than they imagined, they said.
"The motion to change the documents to be more inclusive came up almost immediately, and whenever any documents were discussed that hadn't been changed yet, the membership was sure to mention that they were only written that way because they were outdated," they said.
The reaction from Gamma was so positive, in fact, that Hernandez-Rives felt shock when they had to visit their hometown over break where their brother and friends from high school are not as understanding.
That is one of the bittersweet drawbacks of being a sibling of Gamma Sigma, Hernandez-Rives said.
“You get so used to being around a group of people that are so good and respectful, and then you get spoiled for the rest of the world where things aren't as nice,” they said.
As for how realizing their identity, Hernandez-Rives said they had to try on gender-neutral pronouns for size and explore gender to figure it out.
“An analogy I like to use is wearing shoes that are just half a size too small,” they said. “If you wore those shoes your whole life, you might just think that that's what shoes are supposed to feel like, but once you try on shoes that are the right size, you are shocked by how comfortable they feel.”
James Carroll, publicity chairperson of Gamma Sigma and School of Arts and Sciences senior, said the change of pronouns in fraternity documents was a relief.
“The fraternity’s spoken language had evolved much quicker than our documents, which built up a tension,” he said. “For rules and processes to be effective, they need to be both legitimate and comprehensive, which gender-limited documents are not. ”