In an effort to get to know other Asian students in a more connected setting, Bryan Dosono, a junior majoring in informatics, joined Lambda Phi Epsilon, an Asian fraternity at the UW since 1999.
While many students join clubs and fraternities or sororities in the hopes of finding a group of people that share their morals, interests and backgrounds, some students turn to nontraditional fraternities and sororities in the UW Greek community. These houses are often defined by the members’ common heritage, religious beliefs or lifestyles.
“Ethnic fraternities were first developed as sort of a need to celebrate cultural experiences and differences,” Dosono, now vice president of Lambda Phi Epsilon, said. “The reason why I wanted to join an Asian-specific fraternity was to really get a close sense of community … [and] brotherhood, and I felt like I couldn’t get it with large ethnic clubs.”
Jacob Bloom, the vice president of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity, says that joining a nontraditional house was not something he was planning on as an incoming student.
“I was not interested at all,” Bloom said, “but after I went [to Alpha Epsilon Pi], I had such a good time that it made the decision pretty easy.”
Bloom said that a common issue for nontraditional houses is stereotyping about Greek communities.
“A Jewish house is not something you would think of when you think of a classic fraternity,” Bloom said. “That is a big hump that our rush chairs have to get over in the rush process.”
Though Bloom said most of his brothers are Jewish by heritage, the fraternity still hosts a diverse group of students.
“There are a lot of varying interests and lots of different types of people, and that’s what drew me to it in the first place,” Bloom said. “It ranges from people who are wannabe rabbis to people who have never had a Bar Mitzvah.”
Senior Mickey Balderas is the newly-elected president of Delta Lambda Phi, a fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive men. He joined the organization three years ago and credits it for giving him greater self-assurance.
“I’ve become a lot more comfortable with myself,” Balderas said. “[At first] I was still very much formulating my identity. … I was very cautious and guarded about it. Being involved in Delta Lambda Phi has really given me confidence.”
Balderas said that Delta Lambda Phi is a departure from other queer groups on campus.
“Delta Lambda Phi is of interest specifically to queer men because of the perception that a lot of the queer student life is very female-centric,” Balderas said. “This is a place for queer men to meet and to get to know each other in a non-romantic, non-sexual setting.”
Delta Lambda Phi has been an active fraternity at the UW since 2004, after a nearly 30-year absence from the campus. Balderas said that in its first incarnation in the 1970s, the fraternity faced some backlash from the university community, receiving negative responses when Delta Lambda Phi would try to advertise events. Since then, the fraternity was successfully rechartered and has become one of the strongest chapters in the nation.
Like traditional Greek houses, these fraternities run their organizations in a similar manner and are active participants in philanthropy.
“One of the preconceived notions [about] nontraditional houses is that … we are not as structured or we’re not as developed, but we really are,” Dosono said. “We hold our weekly meetings just like any other Greek house, and we do a lot of events on campus.”
These houses often hold meetings and charitable events that correlate with their house, involving issues that impact their unique values.
“We have a Jewish identity chair who speaks during chapter and reads the Torah portion of the week,” Bloom said. “We also volunteer for the Jewish Student Union and Hillel. [We are] trying to get involved in as many ways as we can.”
Similarly, Lambda Phi Epsilon completed a successful bone marrow drive this past fall.
“We work with the Asian-American donor program, which helps bring awareness to issues that [pertain] to blood stem cells,” Dosono said.
While Alpha Epsilon Pi thrives from having a residential house, Lambda Phi Epsilon and Delta Lambda Phi are at a disadvantage in not having residential houses, and must find other places on campus to meet and make their presence known.
“It’s really hard for nontraditional houses to get our names out there, just because of the closing of facilities like the HUB,” Dosono said. “We have to find different resources on campus, whereas the fraternities and sororities that have houses can hold their events there. So that’s been sort of a challenge.”
The disappearance of the HUB and HUB lawn have also impacted Delta Lambda Phi members, who now hold meetings in available classrooms and often host their events at members’ homes.
Though these houses are labeled nontraditional, they still face the same misconceptions as traditional houses do.
“We don’t all burn couches,” Bloom said. “We’re not a bunch of drunk animals. When [anything] happens in the Greek system, it’s sort of amplified because of the stigma.”
Balderas agreed with Bloom.
“Every time we do a fundraiser, people ask us, ‘Oh, is this just for money to buy beer?’ No, we’re going to send ourselves to a convention, [or] we’re going to help people,” Balderas said.
Dosono said the UW’s traditional Greek community and nontraditional houses serve different communities.
“I feel that minorities in general are very underrepresented in the Greek system,” Dosono said. “I hardly ever see the Greek houses mix with the Ethnic Cultural Center, and even programming between the [Residence Hall Student Association] and the Greek community hasn’t been as strong as it should be … I don’t blame it on the leadership of both, but it’s hard for communities to interact when they have different goals and serve different students.”
Matthew Skurnik, a Zeta Psi member and vice president for public relations of the Interfraternity Council (IFC), said that there is diversity represented in traditional Greek houses.
“There is a lot of diversity within the Greek houses, it’s just that often the members are busy with fraternity activities and other things so they don’t end up participating as much in multicultural activities,” Skurnik said.
He added that there is a place for everyone within the Greek community: “I think it’s important to point out that there really are a lot of different types of people represented in the UW Greek system, and it is a huge community. In such a huge community there is always a place for all sorts of people regardless of ethnicity or sexual preferences or anything. There’s always a place for them to find their own niche and their own group of friends and their own smaller community within the larger Greek community and within the UW community.”
Bloom, like Dosono, recognizes such discrepancies, but feels that the Greek experience is what the individual chooses to make out of it.
“As far as I’m concerned, there are certain people in any sampling of humanity that will be elitist and exclusive,” Bloom said. “[But] if you want to be in the Greek system, there is a place for you. You can be who you are and find a place where you fit in well.”
Reach reporter Candace Winegrad at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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