Finding Your Niche
Everyone comes to the University looking for a niche. Some find theirs in intramural sports or acting troupes, others, in a cappella groups and the mainstream Greek system.
Other students have to cut out their own niche - from scratch.
Ray Hsieh, a second-year College student, found himself in this challenging situation when he arrived at the University in the fall of 2000.
"Lambda Phi Epsilon was something I wanted to do. It wasn't offered at the University so we kind of decided, 'Hey, let's start something,'" Hsieh said.
Hsieh said he hopes to establish a chapter of Lambda Phi Epsilon, an Asian-American interest fraternity, by the end of this semester.
If he and his interest group of 13 are successful in their efforts, they will join two other Asian-American interest Greek organizations: alpha Kappa Delta Phi Sorority Inc. and Sigma Psi Zeta Sorority Inc. under the Multicultural Greek Council.
Within the University's Asian-American community in particular, these groups provide an alternative source of camaraderie, leadership, service and scholarship.
Aaron Laushway, assistant dean of students for fraternity and sorority life, said he sees the emergence of new multicultural interest Greek organizations as positive and "enriching."
aKDPhi, Sigma Psi Zeta and the Lambda Phi Epsilon interest group "are trying to establish groups of likeminded people, and trying to bring fraternal groups that celebrate multiculturalism to the University," Laushway said.
The need for such organizations sprung from fruitless searches - like Hsieh's - for a group that identified with Asian-American interests.
Meverly Malixi, an aKDPhi charter member and fourth-year Commerce student, looked into sororities under the Inter-Sorority Council, but she could not find one to suit her individual needs.
"I didn't feel I had enough in common with a mainstream sorority and their ideals, it wasn't my background or my culture," Malixi said.
Hanna Tieu, fellow charter member and fourth-year College student, had a similar experience.
"When I got here I wanted to meet other people and get to know people who had the same cultural background I did that I wasn't able to explore back in high school," Tieu said.
The two joined other interested women in search of a sorority that would promote Asian-American awareness and sisterhood.
They began researching a series of Asian-American interest sororities in the spring of 1998.
Their ultimate choice - alpha Kappa Delta Phi Sorority Inc. - is promoted as "the first and only nationally recognized Asian-American interest sorority."
Third-year College student Sophia Ni and her four fellow founders of the Lambda chapter of Sigma Psi Zeta had similar experiences searching for an organization to meet their exact interests.
While aKDPhi already was established, Ni felt the University's Asian-American population was large enough to provide women with "an additional option."
In the year and a half in which the five founders worked to establish a Sigma Psi Zeta chapter, they came to view aKDPhi as a model, not a competitor.
"aKDPhi is like a big sister to us," Ni said. "We see them as a guide and we hope to work together to make both our goals possible."
For these organizations, uniting and giving voice to the University's Asian- American students is key to their purpose.
Hsieh said that while CIOs such as the Vietnamese Student Association and the Chinese Student Association represent individual ethnic groups, Lambda Phi Epsilon will transcend these separate identities.
"Under Lambda Phi Epsilon there would be a common organization that takes its people from all ethnic backgrounds," Hsieh said. "It'd be a stronger voice."
Former aKDPhi president and fourth-year College student Amy Chun agrees.
"aKDPhi gives a voice to Asian-American women," Chun said. "It shows [the University community] that Asian- American women aren't the stereotypical passive, quiet females. I think a lot of ethnic Greeks started because they needed to give a voice to certain ethnic groups."
Malixi said she hopes that through this increased Asian-American awareness, a sense of community within the University's Asian-American population will develop, leading to more unity among the Asian community.
"When I came to the University as a first year, I noticed that there was a lot of segregation among the different ethnicities among the Asian-American community here, and people seemed to be content with that," she said. "Maybe an Asian-American interest sorority would bring them together and encourage the community to integrate more by breaking down barriers."
Yet Hsieh is quick to point out that while these Greek organizations are geared toward promoting Asian-American awareness, not all members must have Asian backgrounds.
Lambda Phi Epsilon "is only an Asian-American interest fraternity, it doesn't mean it's Asian only - fraternity stresses brotherhood more than anything else," Hsieh said.
And Hsieh is not alone in his view of what a fraternity truly should be.
"Many people think that by promoting Asian awareness that we're promoting self-segregation," Ni said, "but Asian awareness is more on a personal level and we're not saying to separate ourselves."
In further response to this criticism, Ni offered her own intentions in founding Sigma Psi Zeta.
"Because I grew up in New York City, I don't know much about Asian culture," Ni said. Sigma Psi Zeta "is a way to learn sisterhood and unity, as well as to grow Asian heritage and culture."
Though Sigma Psi Zeta and aKDPhi are focused on their individual goals and interests, they stand in a friendly relationship to one another.
"It's not a matter of competing because we are different," Malixi explained. "I think it's a matter of making sure that when we recruit new members, it's girls that fall into what the interests of aKDPhi are, versus the interests of Sigma Psi Zeta."
"Our sorority is more community service oriented, but when it comes down to it, it's whoever feels more comfortable with us," Ni said of Sigma Psi Zeta. "We attract different crowds."
Fourth-year College student and aKDPhi charter member Jennifer Na said she feels an increased number of cultural interest Greek organizations can only strengthen the University community.
"I think its good and I think it's important that there's more multicultural Greek organizations on campus," Na said. "I think each organization has their own flavor to them and I think by increasing that number you're giving more students the opportunity to become immersed into the Greek system."
Ni concurs, and stresses the importance of collaboration within the MGC.
"Being part of the Multicultural Greek Council is wonderful," Ni said. "It connects all minority fraternities and sororities together. It is a support system."
Laushway said he feels that such feelings of connection will continue as new cultural interest fraternities and sororities make their way on Grounds.
The MGC "is welcoming new expressions of fraternity life representing increased, diverse interests at the University"