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Greek system concerned with diversity

Jack Warburton, former president of Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity, said only nine out of 40 members in Pi Lamb are minorities - yet Pi Lamb is one of the most ethnically diverse fraternities at the University.

The reason for the under-representation of minority membership, according to Sitha Ngan, one of the few Asian brothers in Pi Lamb, is due to the low number of Asians, blacks and Latinos that rush the system in the first place.

"Minorities don't rush because they are intimidated by the stereotypically white Greek system," Ngan said. On the other hand, "a lot of minorities do rush, they are just more comfortable hanging out with people of the same ethnic background."

Some minorities will rush but ultimately choose not to pledge one of the traditionally white fraternities. Whatever the reason, the end result is a traditional Greek system that is predominantly white.

No individual fraternities, sororities or the Inter-Fraternity Council or the Inter-Sorority Council keep minority statistics for the Greek system, but some fraternity members said they feel the low number of minorities within the Greek system is indicative of larger problems.

"The low number of minorities is a problem, not just in the Greek system, but for the school as a whole," Warburton said.

Adam Abatzis, former president of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, said the low minority population is "due to the school as a whole being segregated, not just the Greek system."

Other fraternity leaders said they feel minorities might be discouraged from rushing primarily because some students mistakenly think fraternities favor white members.

"IFC fraternities are often unfairly labeled with the stereotype of being primarily Caucasian interest groups. Although no one in the system actively promotes that stereotype, I believe that it might deter minority interest in our system, and I see that as unfortunate," said Inter-Fraternity Council President Justin Saunders.

Other student leaders said they feel the low percentage of minorities stems from the large number of members within the fraternities and sororities.

"The traditional Greek houses are so large that it is hard for girls to form a bond with so many members," Michelle Le, President of Kappa Delta Phi, the University's only Asian sorority, a part of the Fraternity and Sorority Council, said.

Le said one of the strengths of Kappa Delta Phi is its smaller size.

"Because we are a smaller group, we have a very strong sisterhood," she said.

But some sisters in the traditional Greek sororities said they do not feel their larger membership detracts from their sense of sisterhood.

"I don't think size matters. Sigma Kappa is a community within U.Va.," said Lisa Ogren, a member of Sigma Kappa sorority. "I might not be best friends with all the girls, but I have a special bond with each one of them."

Although she is president of Kappa Delta Phi, Le said she supports the traditional sorority system.

"It has a lot of history, and I admire how strong the system is. And a great many women at the University, they feel comfortable with the system," she said.

Kappa Delta Phi has a predominantly Asian contingency, but Le said she would welcome and encourage white females to join Kappa Delta Phi.

"There are actually Caucasian females at other chapters of our sorority. As long as they are strong women and agree with our mission, then they are welcome to join us," Le added.

Yet some women feel that although they may be welcome to join other minority based sororities they would feel out of place as members since Kappa Delta Phi was founded primarily for Asian women.

"Since the Asian sorority was formed solely to be an Asian sorority, I think I would feel uncomfortable joining," Ogren said.

Although IFC and ISC are traditionally dominated by white students, current members are committed to making the houses as diverse as possible in future years.

"It is always our goal to increase all numbers in our system," Saunders said. "From an IFC standpoint, we can encourage minority participation by illustrating and publicizing the diverse interests of our current houses."

The ISC is implementing new ideas to spread interest in traditional sororities to all races at the University.

The ISC will have "greater contact and interaction with the resident staff," ISC president Allison White said.

She said the ISC is planning to have a roundtable discussion with the resident staff and the Office of the Dean of Students to talk about these issues.

Just as minority-based organizations encourage people of other ethnic backgrounds to join, so too do many of the traditional Greek fraternities.

"We judge guys on personality and character, not on their ethnic background," Abatzis said.

Despite the possibility that minority students and white students feel more comfortable joining fraternities and sororities where the members are the same race, some minorities are discouraged from joining minority organizations because of their primarily black, Asian or Latino composition.

"I felt joining the [traditional] Greek system as opposed to other minority organizations, opened up new doors for me. It gave my life diversity," said Ngan.


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