By Kelly Matyas Magyarics, Pittsburgh, Fraternity Public Relations Chairman
Every day, we see photos on social media sites of smiling sisters at recruitment or sisterhood events, silhouetted in front of a setting sun, and posing in far-flung places during a semester abroad. Many of these images contain a common element: members “throwing what they know,” i.e., using their hands to represent the letters KKG. Likewise, each day we receive via email photos of members proudly displaying this Kappa hand sign, and asking us to share them on the Fraternity’s official social media sites.
For sure, Kappa Kappa Gamma is not the only women’s group whose members have adopted an unofficial hand sign; a quick Google search will return photos and articles with many NPC groups “throwing what they know.” We are positive that all of these photos are meant to highlight unity, friendship and sisterhood, and the pride that members feel to belong to the membership of Kappa Kappa Gamma. But as we know, social media is not just about intention— it’s also about interpretation.
A member of my family (who needs to remain anonymous due to safety and security considerations) works for an organization that investigates gangs and hate groups. As an experiment, I sent him a photo I found online of two Kappas posing together while doing the hand sign. I explained to him that it’s a current trend among sororities to post photos with hand signs on social media, and asked for his thoughts on the concept. I also polled him to see if Kappa’s sign is similar to any that an unsavory organization might use. This was his response:
“Do they resemble gang hand signs? Sure they do. That’s what members of such gangs do to represent their crew by throwing up their sign. So I guess it’s not too surprising members of sororities and/or fraternities, who see themselves as close-knit groups (just like gangs do), may adopt a similar display of representation.”
Again, a quick Google search for hand signs will render photos of hand signs by members of organizations that promote violence and intimidation. Just as with Greek hand signs, these are designed to show unity, solidarity and loyalty to an organization to which these members took a pledge or oath. However, when my family member pointed out to me that Kappa’s hand sign is startlingly similar to one used by a white supremacist group, I was stunned. He sent me two images of this group “throwing what they know,” accompanied by the following explanation:
“They’re throwing up the SS bolts, a common white supremacist symbol. In fact, it even looks a little like the Kappa hand sign—it’s just that they don’t have their fingers open in the pics below, like those for Kappa do. That may be compelling to make them want to stop doing it.”
Compelling, indeed. Did you ever stop to think that the photos with hand signs that members of our Fraternity take, post and repost—which are meant to show Kappa pride—could be misconstrued as a symbol of white supremacy? Or that the very concept of a hand sign may be associated by the general public as not a symbol of membership in a Greek organization, but in an organization that uses violent and intimidating tactics? Again, we always need to be mindful of interpretation, not just intention, when posting online or to social media sites.
Starting now, the Fraternity will no longer post any photos on our website or our official social media sites of members displaying this hand sign. We encourage you to help this trend fade away by not posting images with it on your chapter or individual websites or social media sites, either. As a symbolic representation of Kappa Kappa Gamma, this hand sign is unnecessary to show our loyalty. Instead, continue to share with us those images that show your chapter’s personality and tell a story. Those are the compelling photos we want to share with the world.