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Monday, May 13, 2002

Diverse greek chapters look to work together

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In 1930, with racism rampant on university campuses, several black fraternities and sororities from the University of Indiana and Howard University joined together to form their own umbrella organization separate from the all-white Interfraternal Conference.

More than 70 years later, after many milestones have been reached in the fight against racism, fraternities and sororities that historically cater to minorities still have a separate governing organization than the ones that historically cater to whites.

"The idea of any kind of segregation is outdated," said Andy Knopp, president of Kansas University's Interfraternity Council, which includes traditionally white fraternities. "If we were going to start a greek community today, we wouldn't have separate organizations."

Greek organizations that predominately have minority members are part of the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Historically white sororities belong to the Panhellenic Assn., and historically white fraternities belong to the Interfraternity Council.

At KU, the five KU sororities and five fraternities that focus on minorities don't have houses, as most of the predominately white groups do. They meet weekly at other sites.

The 10 chapters belonging to the National Pan-hellenic Council have about 100 members. There are about 3,400 members of fraternities and sororities at KU total.

A different focus

Amber Sellers, Wichita junior and president-elect of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, said both sets of greek organizations focus on service and leadership. But she said the specific goals were different enough to warrant the separate governing councils.

"You'll see the black greek letter organizations center their community projects to the minorities on the campus and the minorities of the community," she said.

Several new greek organizations on campus are attempting to bridge the gap between whites and minorities.

The Asian Brotherhood Assn. is attempting to start Lambda Phi Epsilon, a fraternity that will focus on Asian culture.

Edward Ham, Dallas sophomore and president of the association, said he'd like the group to be under the predominately white Interfraternity Council. And he'd like the group eventually to have a house.

"It's sort of stupid," he said of the racial split. "There's so much potential if we put people together. But people feel more comfortable with people like them.

"A couple of our members have tried to join a white-based fraternity. They pledged, but during the pledges they felt uncomfortable because they were all white. I know (the fraternities) don't want it like that, but it is like that."

He said he hoped the fraternity would include men of all races.

"It's open to all races," he said. "It doesn't matter. The more diverse the better. There's a lot of chapters who have more blacks and whites and hispanics than Asians."

Making progress?

Another group, Mu Sigma Upsilon, is a multicultural sorority that started this year. Its seven members include black, white, Asian and hispanic women.

Sarah Zaragoza, Leawood junior and sorority president, said Mu Sigma Upsilon offers women an alternative to traditionally white sororities.

"Many times they see the mainstream sororities and that's not what they want," she said. "They want a sisterhood that's acceptive of all women. They don't feel comfortable. It could be the race, it could be the class, it could be the whole social aspect of it."

Knopp, of the Interfraternity Council, said the informal recruitment process of historically white fraternity houses which involves members calling prospective members whom they know doesn't help diversity.

That's part of the reason why KU's fraternities this year have begun a formal recruitment process, where incoming freshmen can check a box on their student paperwork if they're interested in joining a fraternity.

He said historically white chapters want to recruit more minorities but didn't want to hurt membership of National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations.

Angie Carr, KU's coordinator of greek programs in the Office of Organizations and Leaderships, said KU was following a national trend for more minority greek groups.

"Nationwide, culturally based groups have been growing and at a faster rate in the last five to eight years," she said. "Nobody really knows the reason why, but we're in support of any culturally based organization, because it adds more to our diversity."

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