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Senior Ryan Guloy spent three years as a member of the UW chapter of Theta Xi before leaving the house to focus on his education. Looking back, Guloy said that he, along with many others, has the perception that the Greek community isn’t representative of the university’s diversity.
“I think, racially, it’s not that diverse,” Guloy said. “I’d say clearly it’s a majority of white people. Other than race, I think a lot of people come into it as their own person, but over the course of a few years, a lot of people do get sucked into that mold of what you see on TV.”
Natalie Santos, director of the Pacific Islander Student Commission, said she has felt uncomfortable on Greek Row because of her ethnicity.
“You don’t really see a lot of people of color on Greek Row, especially ones that are bigger-set,” Santos said. “When I’d go with friends, you’d see people staring at you like, ‘Why is this person here?’ At least, that’s how I felt.”
Though there are no demographics within the Greek community to counter these perceptions, some within the community still believe diversity is present.
Grant Blumenstein is the vice president of new-member recruitment for Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. He feels that his Jewish fraternity is sometimes in a confusing place as a religiously oriented house in the traditional Greek community.
Diversity in the Greek community
Max Teitelbaum, president of the UW chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) — the only Jewish fraternity house at the UW — said he considers his fraternity’s cultural background to be a leverage point when reaching out to new members.
“We’ve sort of actually been able to leverage the fact that we’re a culturally significant fraternity,” Teitelbaum said. “I think as far as rushing goes, we definitely have sort of a niche market as being a Jewish fraternity.”
With 62 live-in members and about 20 members outside the house, the UW chapter of AEPi is one of the largest in the nation, along with being one of the largest fraternities in the UW Greek community.
Grant Blumenstein, vice president of new-member education for AEPi, agreed that the Jewish culture is an important part of their identity; however, he was careful to emphasize that a member’s identity is not limited to his heritage.
“Obviously, AEPi is a Jewish fraternity, and when you’re dealing with something like the Greek system, where everything’s changing all the time, putting labels on yourself that are static — such as just the Jewish fraternity — is kind of dangerous,” Blumenstein said.
He added that being a religiously oriented house can sometimes conflict with being in the Greek community.
“I’ve seen people fall for their beliefs about a house just because they have a religious connection,” Blumenstein said. “Maybe that’s what they’re about — they’re just about that — and they don’t see the full picture.”
Blumenstein said his responsibility in the fraternity is to educate incoming members about their role in the Greek community and about how their Jewish culture can fit into that role.
“What we teach them is how the Judaism that we connect to is more of a cultural thing, and it has a lot to do with Jewish values,” he said. “If nothing else, it’s the first conversation you have with anyone in the house. ‘Hey, I’m Jewish, you’re Jewish. Let’s start there.’”
Blumenstein recalled an anti-Semitic remark made by a member of another fraternity during his freshman year. He emphasized not that the remark itself was significant, but rather what came afterward.
“What ended up happening was actually quite positive,” Blumenstein said. “The fraternity [member] that made the remark was actually extremely apologetic, I believe.”
Blumenstein thought there was a limited view of AEPi in the Greek community when he first entered the fraternity. Now, in his third year in the house, Blumenstein said this has “changed tremendously” and that others in the community are more accepting.
“For AEPi, it’s because our house has grown a lot, and so people actually interacted [with us],” Blumenstein said. “It wasn’t like a second-hand point of view; it was a first-hand point of view. We know people now, so they get to make real first-hand impressions of us instead of just standing from a cliff and looking and seeing what they think we’re like.”
Matthew Skurnik, the UW Interfraternity Council (IFC) vice president for public relations, said that the Greek system is a very diverse community and attempts to build cohesion between different communities within the Greek system.
AEPi is far from the only house that considers diversity in its members, said Matthew Skurnik, the UW Interfraternity Council (IFC) vice president for public relations, and Lesley Schreiber, the president of the UW Panhellenic Association.
“I think there is quite a lot of diversity,” Skurnik said. “Not just diversity as far as those categorical things, either. There’s a lot of diversity in terms of life experiences; we have in-staters; we have out-of-staters; we have a lot of diversity in terms of what sort of degrees people are studying. And there’s plenty of racial diversity … ethnicity diversity, but also religious diversity.”
Schreiber said the Panhellenic community promotes diversity and is accepting of all members. However, she said Panhellenic would never support a diversity requirement.
“There’s no requirement, or there’s no quota, or there’s no specific member-number targeted toward a certain type of person, race, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, whatever,” she said. “There’s no cap or requirement for anything. Definitely no affirmative action.”
Neither IFC nor Panhellenic record demographics within the houses of the Greek community. Schreiber said she doesn’t see a need for it.
“For me personally, diversity isn’t just race,” she said. “Diversity is diversity of thought, diversity of socio-economic status. It’s diversity in public opinion and political opinion. Diversity could be that I like Crest toothpaste, and you like Colgate; I think that’s diversity of thought and diversity of ideas.”
This brings into question what defines diversity.
President of the nontraditional Asian-interest sorority Chi Sigma Alpha, SeEun Kim commented that diversity does not always guarantee an emphasis on cultural awareness in the Greek community.
SeEun Kim, president of the nontraditional Asian-interest sorority Chi Sigma Alpha, said she feels members of the Greek community don’t fully understand the diversity that exists within the Greek community.
“I would say there is a lack of understanding, not lack of diversity,” Kim said. “I’ve seen Asians that are in the traditional sororities and fraternities; I’ve seen Jewish people; I’ve seen African-Americans; I’ve seen people from all different backgrounds and different colored people that are in the traditional sororities and fraternities.”
Kim noted that having diversity within the community doesn’t guarantee “an awareness of the difference in culture.” Schreiber, however, said she sees this conversation about the meaning of diversity happening frequently and informally in Panhellenic sororities.
“I know that there’s a lot of dialogue and discussion about what diversity means, how we can make it so that we are as diverse and open to anything as possible,” Schreiber said. “And I know that a lot of different chapters focus a lot on how to make themselves unique, and how to be accepting of everybody’s ideas and background.”
Schreiber emphasized it was the sororities’ recruitment process that defined them as “open and accepting of all members.” Schreiber thinks that summer orientations, for example, should be a time to show that becoming a member of the Greek community is something in which anyone can be interested.
“Different sororities have conferences, and then the content of those conferences — a lot of them are focused on recruiting and what we look for in a member and what we want our members to be,” Schreiber said. “We want all different types of women — well-rounded, different backgrounds, different families, different lifestyles, all different types of things.”
There is an ongoing discussion about whether the UW United Greek Council (UGC), the umbrella organization that represents minority and nontraditional fraternities and sororities on campus, is “legitimate,” UGC President Jeff Wang said.
Fraternities and sororities are most often referred to as traditional because they are located on Greek Row and are a part of either IFC or Panhellenic. Nontraditional sororities and fraternities, meanwhile, are Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) and receive most of their funding from their own fundraising and from their national boards.
“There’s tension in the sense that some groups feel that the UGC, since we don’t have as established traditional roots as many of the mainstream Greek houses do, since a lot of our ways and policies are different than the mainstream Greek traditional houses as well, a lot of people don’t consider the UGC as real Greek houses,” Wang said.
UW alumna Kathy Chin encountered a lack of coordination among UGC, IFC, and Panhellenic during her time as president of UGC from 2009 to 2010.
“I think that’s a large part of the misunderstanding from both sides — not necessarily the leadership on both sides, but the people within. Because you have a huge number of Greeks under IFC and Panhellenic that may or may not want to have UGC involved,” Chin said. “But I think the desire is there among the leadership, but not necessarily among other members.”
While the UGC and Panhellenic continued to have meetings to further build the connection, Chin said the plan for more interaction between UGC and Panhellenic failed to follow through because a “small minority group of people on both sides” didn’t support it.
“You can’t force people to be educated on something; you can’t force them to want to learn about something they don’t want to,” Chin said. “I know that there has been no interest in the minorities’ sororities and fraternities to become a part of Panhellenic and IFC. From my own organization (Chi Sigma Alpha), I know that we don’t have the intention of joining Panhellenic because they uphold to different standards that we don’t necessarily agree with.”
Those standards, Chin said, were often centered on finances — including the fees associated with having a physical house — although that wasn’t the only difficulty members of Chi Sigma Alpha faced when they considered joining Panhellenic sororities. Forming a community of students who share the same work, school, and family obligations has also helped members of Chi Sigma Alpha bond.
Forming a community
Despite the differences between the UGC and the other Greek councils, there is one fraternity that is a member of both the UGC and IFC and has a house: Sigma Beta Rho.
“Being a part of the UGC, all of us know that all of the houses have a lot of tradition and solid structure backing our houses,” Wang said. “But the only thing is, it’s different from what the mainstream Greeks are like.”
The main reason not all UGC fraternities and sororities have houses on Greek Row, Wang said, is that with so many fraternities and sororities already established there, it was much more difficult to find the space. Kim said that while there are no barriers against her sorority getting a house, the group decided against it.
“We have the funds to do so; it’s just that we choose not to,” Kim said. “One reason is because, when you have a house, it has a lot of fees that are attached to it. … You can benefit from having a house because everyone’s living together, but we’re just choosing not to because it’s not a priority for us.”
In Wang’s opinion, whether or not a fraternity or sorority wants to be directly on Greek Row varies from house to house within the UGC.
“I feel like there is a very strong cultural identity of UGC that we’d like to consider unique from the mainstream Greeks,” Wang said.
Bryan Dosono (second from left) is the president of Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity. He said that part of the reason he joined the fraternity was due to a lack of cultural awareness in the traditional Greek system.
Lambda Phi Epsilon, an Asian-interest fraternity on campus with an active membership of 15 to 20, has historically had a house, though its location changes from year to year. The fraternity’s current house is on Greek Row.
Bryan Dosono, the fraternity’s president, stresses, however, that Lambda Phi Epsilon doesn’t “feel that brotherhood should be confined within the boundaries of four walls.” However, Dosono said having a house on Greek Row has been beneficial for the fraternity.
“It has helped us gain [a] presence within the community,” Dosono said. “So in a sense, we feel that because we are on Greek Row, we have been able to put ourselves out there and … show the traditional houses that we are open for collaboration.”
While collaboration exists between UGC and IFC/Panhellenic, Kim said it can sometimes be difficult to initiate. She said her own house, Chi Sigma Alpha, has historically worked with other minority fraternities and sororities under UGC.
“This doesn’t mean that we don’t reach out to [IFC and Panhellenic houses], or we don’t like to communicate with them, but it hasn’t happened in the past, so it’s more of a difficulty for us to do,” Kim said.
Although collaboration between IFC and UGC is not a main focus of IFC, Skurnik said that it has been a long-term goal.
“It’s something we’ve kept in mind,” he said. “I think it’s important to build cohesion between the separate communities.”
Skurnik used last year’s spring concert with Mike Posner as an example of how collaboration between the two groups has had positive results.
However, Dosono remarked that one of the main reasons he joined Lambda Phi Episilon was the lack of stress placed on cultural awareness and diversity within the traditional fraternities and sororities.
“If you go to a traditional Greek fraternity on Greek Row, you really don’t see a lot diverse programming,” Dosono said. “You don’t see a lot of cross-collaboration with organizations affiliated with the Ethnic Cultural Center, or Greek organizations that are affiliated with cultural organizations on campus. I know that a lot of things are being done to promote diversity in Greek Row, but I don’t think it’s [at] the forefront of their agenda.”
The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) is the fourth council for Greek life at the UW. It has nine fraternities and sororities on campus, none of which have houses on Greek Row. NPHC organizations are, as former NPHC Vice President Janel Brown described, “historically black, but not exclusively black.” Brown agreed that when “Greek life” is mentioned, it’s most often associated with IFC and Panhellenic organizations.
“When those words are mentioned, IFC and Panhellenic are the councils and organizations being referred to,” Brown said. “There are many reasons for this, some of which have to do with money and ownership, but the UW could do more to ensure that all four councils (UGC, IFC, Panhellenic, and NPHC) are represented when Greek life is presented to the campus community.”
But Brown emphasized how important it was to take into account what diversity means and looks like.
Kim also noted the importance of understanding how diversity is represented within the Greek community, whether that community is defined by the UGC, IFC, Panhellenic, or NPHC.
“We say there’s diversity on campus, but diversity doesn’t mean anything if we’re not interacting with each other and sharing different experiences and different backgrounds,” Kim said. “That’s the purpose of having diversity. That’s why people develop communication skills and become more understanding of each other, and that’s what this country is about — creating that melting pot.”
Reach reporters Lauren Kronebusch and Jillian Stampher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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