The Cavalier Daily
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A New Chapter

Latin by tradition, not by definition.

The women of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc. resolutely practice their binding code. Their sisterhood is about academic advancement, minority empowerment and cultural exploration. It's about appreciating the sorority's roots, but it's not about exclusion.

"We pride ourselves in a diverse group of members," President Daniela de la Piedra said. "We look for women, period. We look for motivated women, women who aspire to be the best they can be in their environment and community. Ultimately it's not going to be the color of your skin that makes you a sister, but the passion for the sisterhood."

This commitment to diversity attracted fourth-year College student Kalani Hornbeak. With Native American and black parents, Hornbeak grew up in a multicultural environment and said she felt comfortable with the sisters of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc.

"Just because the word Latin was in the name, it never deterred me," Hornbeak said. "One of the founding sisters at U.Va. alone is Chinese, and I appreciated that."

Within all facets of the Greek system, students are promoting "the importance of diversity and the need to continue to open our minds and challenge our assumptions," said Aaron Laushway, assistant dean of students and director of fraternity and sorority life.

With four separate Greek councils that govern more than 60 fraternity and sorority chapters on Grounds, the Greek system as a whole offers a wide range of diversity among the chapters. They differ in their philanthropies, secret handshakes and social schedules. They differ in their history and cultural roots.

Yet aside from a small percentage of students like Hornbeak who venture outside of their race to find sisterhood, the diversity within the chapters often is lacking. Every member of the current Black Fraternal Council is black, and Laushway confirmed that the 33 Inter-Fraternity Council chapters and 16 Inter-Sorority Council chapters remain predominantly white.

"Other organizations will tell you that they don't discriminate, and they don't, but they also don't actively seek to get a diverse group of members," said de la Piedra, whose sorority is part of the Multicultural Greek Council.

The racial composition of the ISC did not deter fourth-year College student Afiya Jones, who is black, from going through its recruitment process three years ago. Now, when Jones tells people that she joined a sorority, she said they often ask whether she's in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. or Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., two historically black sororities. She clarifies that she's in neither -- she's in the Chi Omega sorority.

"I rushed because I heard it was fun, I wanted to meet more people, and a lot of people I already knew were in sororities," Jones said. "I knew there would probably be very few black people, but I deal with that every day."

Second-year College student Erica Lancaster said she joined the Pi Beta Phi sorority through the ISC in January for the sisterhood and for a social outlet. Her choice of a sorority had nothing to do with her biracial background.

"It takes people who are able to step out of their norm and not be determined by what they look like," Lancaster said. "If they enjoy what they are doing, they're not going to be afraid or cautious or worry that they don't belong."

Lancaster said the most important thing for her is that her friends enjoy the same things that she enjoys -- the same music, the same TV shows -- and that they share the same sense of humor.

"It's not like they're my friend because they're black or they're my friend because they're white," Lancaster said.

It's other people who often make that distinction. Lancaster said that when she tells people she is in a sorority, they also have assumed she is part of a historically black organization. Her decision to join Pi Beta Phi sorority was based solely on the fact that she "enjoyed the group of girls," she said.

"I'm not a representative for the black race in the ISC, and I'm not a representative for the black race in a black sorority," she said. "I'm a representative for myself."

Michael Dunkley serves as the co-chair of the BFC, which governs and promotes unity between the nine historically black Greek organizations on Grounds, and he said he could see why people are drawn to different organizations within the Greek system.

"For African-Americans who join IFC and ISC organizations, it all comes down to where you're comfortable," Dunkley said. "If you're comfortable as a minority in a majority culture, that's good for you."

Yet Dunkley also said he appreciates the unique environment provided by predominantly black groups -- groups that were founded nationally in the early 1900s when blacks were excluded from other Greek societies because of racial discrimination.

"My personal view is that desegregation happened yesterday," Dunkley said. "My parents' generation was barely allowed to come to U.Va. in general, much less join a white fraternity. By African-American students joining African-American organizations, they can speak to and relate to likeminded individuals who share common experiences and common goals."

Laushway added that students join BFC organizations because of "their pride in the African-American experience and a strong desire to serve the African-American community for a lifetime."

Every Greek organization endorses membership as a lifelong commitment, which adds to the intensely personal decision for choosing a house and a brotherhood.

"In the end, everyone wants to identify with the people you call your brothers," IFC President Phil Trout said. "It's not racial issues that are most pertinent in deciding who you fit in with. Just because you're white, black or Asian doesn't determine if you can fit in with a certain group of people."

Trout said the IFC offers minorities a different set of opportunities for its members.

"An obvious difference between the IFC and any other fraternal council is the living arrangements," Trout said. "Other groups mainly focus on service, but I think everyone could benefit from the all-encompassing experience IFC organizations offer -- to live in a house together, plan social events, be on a sports team and also do service projects."

Minority students no longer are precluded from certain parts of the Greek system because of their ethnicity, yet Dunkley said he believes there is still a demand for BFC organizations. Whether it's fostering cultural pride while serving the community or carrying on a family legacy, Dunkley said students will continue to turn to the BFC.

"A dad, a grandparent and a great-grandparent could all be in the same fraternity, so why would you break that lineage," he asked. "Tradition plays a major role in the continuing legacy of the nine organizations."

For de la Piedra, the tradition of the Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc. plays strongly into its goals and mission. The founders wanted to provide Latina women with a sense of belonging, but over the years that purpose expanded to a belief in womanhood and minority rights in general.

Through her sorority, de la Piedra said, she has found that "there's a lot to be said about diversity enriching your soul."


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