Fraternities, Greek organizations push for diversity

(Photo Illustration by Alexis Macklin)

(Photo Illustration by Alexis Macklin)

Delta Upsilon President Patrick Seip’s fraternity has become more than just a social outlet. It’s a way to learn about other cultures and understand his brothers and friends better.

Delta Upsilon, which is part of the Interfraternity Council, has 14 members and five are from traditional minorities. Seip, a junior studying economics, said members will take each other to cultural events on campus so everyone is exposed to new ideas and ways of life.

“I think rather than diversity, it’s more awareness through informational events or more mixed events with cultural groups would help (decrease racism and cultural ignorance) rather than just adding diversity,” he said.

 

 

In January, Tau Kappa Epsilon lost its recognition as a fraternity after several members participated in a so-called “MLK Day party” where they drank from watermelons and wore baggy clothes.

Eduardo Pagan, vice provost of academic excellence and inclusion, said the party appears to have been thrown in a moment of bad judgment and is a complex situation.

“We are kind of at this point where we have generations of youth that are growing up without context of some of the charged symbols of some of the history we have been through as a nation,” he said. “It’s not the first thing they think about when they do something like this.”

Since the event, some people have questioned ASU’s diversity and how to prevent similar situations from happening again.

A Diverse Campus

For the fall 2013 semester, the University reported that 36.3 percent of undergraduate students were from a minority 20 percent were Latino, 5 percent were Black, 5.8 percent were Asian and 1.5 percent were American Indian.

This is approximately a seven percentage point increase from 2009, when the total minority was 29.5 percent of ASU’s undergraduate population.

On all accounts, Pagan said ASU has seen great strides made in increasing its diversity but can still increase to come closer to Arizona and national levels.

“No, we haven’t reached parity, but we are doing pretty good,” he said. “We are heading in that direction.”

According to the 2013 census data, Arizona was 45.9 percent minority. The data shows 30.2 percent of Arizona residents were Latino, 4.5 were Black, 3.1 were Asian and 5.3 percent were American Indian.

While ASU is nearly at parity with its ratio of African-American students and is above parity regarding those of Asian descent, they are under parity in their percentage of Latino and American Indian students on campus.

In order to promote a diverse campus that fosters cultural inclusion, Pagan said the University offers racial sensitivity training that colleges can use in ASU 101 classes, supports cultural organizations and requires students to take classes with a cultural element.

“It’s not just about racial sensitivity,” he said. “It’s really coming to terms with our humanity. How do we understand our differences, but also our similarities? That’s a far more complex questions, but one that is necessary.”

Fraternal Diversity

At ASU, Greek life is made up of five councils. Two of the five councils, the IFC and Panhellenic councils, are the more traditional fraternities and sororities that have a combined total of 35 chapters and 3,900 members, Assistant Director of the Memorial Union Jameson Root said in an email.

While the Greek life councils do not keep track of the racial diversity of their organizations, Root said they represent the wide range of diversity present at ASU.

“The community does represent the rich diversity of ASU and students of all backgrounds participate in the experience,” Root said. “In addition to the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council, ASU has three culturally-based governing councils … which consist of 23 chapters, including fraternities and sororities with Latino/a, African-American, Native American, Asian American and LGBTQA focuses.”

While the IFC declined to comment and the Panhellenic Council did not respond to repeated attempts to contact, several other fraternities said they feel Greek life and the traditional fraternities and sororities on campus are racially and culturally diverse.

Chemical engineering junior Alexander Mallison said in his interaction with other fraternities as Phi Gamma Delta president he has found the other fraternities and IFC are very diverse. The wide range of cultures, races and religions is also reflected in his own group.

“We have every type of person you can think of in our fraternity,” Mallison said.

The area the groups can improve on is increasing the presence of students from the Middle East, he said. This would make everyone more well-rounded.

“Having a diverse group helps you have a broader mind and a better understanding of the community, especially at ASU,” Mallison said.

Psychology sophomore Eric Alexander, president of Chi Phi, said in an email that his fraternity has 27 members and is focused on “building better men.” They welcome diversity, because it makes everyone better.

“Increasing diversity between organizations not only helps the individual members but adds different perspectives to the organization that would have been previously overlooked,” Alexander said. “We welcome any other demographic present in society to join our fraternity, provided they demonstrate the potential to become a better man.”

While Alexander said he could not speak for all fraternities and the IFC, he felt like they understand the importance of diversity within their organizations.

“Organizations like IFC and fraternities cannot grow progressively without introducing diversity to the system,” he said. “I do believe that the Greek community at large recognizes this fact and practices this when looking for new members.”

Multicultural Councils

Economics senior Cody Staats, president of the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations, said he thought that Greek life was fairly diverse, but it was not at the level it could and, perhaps, should be.

“I believe the representation is there,” Staats said. “It could be stronger. It could be bigger. Our organizations could be better represented as part of the population.”

NALFO is a relatively new council made of six fraternities and sororities and has 75 members. They are a smaller and newer council dedicated to academic excellence, community service, helping each other succeed and sharing their cultural values.

“(The advancing of culture) for any minority is a very important and very worthwhile goal. It doesn’t immediately come easy.”

While the fraternities and sororities within NALFO are historically Hispanic organizations, they are not exclusive. Staats said he is not of Latino descent, but decided to join his fraternity, Lambda Theta Phi, because he valued its goals.

“As funny as it is, and it’s a great joke … I want our organization to be well represented and spread cultural diversity to so many people that could have their lives enriched,” he said.

One of their goals is to increase representation and share their culture with those organizations and people they interact with, Staats said.

“I do believe our proportion in regard to IFC and Pan is not perfectly representative of the multicultural and diverse community that ASU has,” he said. “We as an organization are always trying to find more ways to spread that diversity and make it a more forefront part of our organizations.”

Global studies graduate student Rudy Calderon, president of the Multicultural Greek Council, said they are also dedicated to talking about different cultures and multiculturalism.

“I think (diversity) is important for not just other Greeks but everyone on campus,” Calderon said. “Multiculturalism is important. It’s not a fad. … It’s not a check mark. … It’s a way of life and a style of living.”

MCG is made of 12 organizations and 125 members. Within these 12 chapters there are Asian, Native American and LGBTQ organizations as well as chapters founded on multiculturalism.

Calderon said he feels like some of the smaller councils are sometimes forgotten about because they are not always thought of as the traditional Greek life groups.

Even though sometimes people think that ASU and Greek life is not diverse because of incidents like the TKE party, Calderon said he thinks talking about other cultures could decrease the chance of similar events happening in the future.

“I think a simple conversation, a simple forum would be able to prevent similar cases,” he said. “Knowledge is power, and I think after that incident we in the multicultural world felt a bigger responsibility to provide these forums to other Greeks.”

Positive Changes

After news of the TKE party reached the Internet, journalism senior Ja’han Jones posted a letter he wrote to the fraternity on his blog. The letter was a way to express his feelings of sadness over the incident.

Jones, who is also the president of the African-American Men of ASU, said he was inspired by the letter Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from jail.

“I am concerned that your fraternal structure is transforming into an echo chamber for racism,” he wrote in his letter. “And further, I am concerned that not a man stood among you brothers with the foresight to predict the shame such an event would heap upon your organization.”

In his blog post, Jones expresses an interest to speak with the fraternity, or others, to better understand the issues behind the party. His post got 50,000 views, while others on his blog typically average 50 views.

Jones said he thinks it is necessary to support the minorities present at ASU in order to ensure they can be successful and further increase the diversity on campus.

This is one of the goals of AAMASU — to support the retention and social consciousness of African-American men at ASU — because with the relatively small number of African-Americans on campus, it can be difficult to find people they can relate to culturally.

“Arizona State University is kind of a microcosm of America in that the demographics are probably somewhat similar,” he said. “In fact the African-American community is probably less represented at Arizona State University than it is on a national scale.”

Issues such as what happened with TKE, while highly unfortunate, create opportunities to talk about race and reach a better understanding of the cultures on campus, Jones said.

“I hope that we can prevent things like (the TKE party) from ever happening again just by mentioning them,” he said. “The optimistic side of me wishes for that. The realistic side of me says talking about it is a good start, but we need to have people really committed to changing their behavior.”

Reach the reporter at sgslade@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @shelbygslade