Vision Staff Writer and PAUL LaMONICA Elizabeth Melendez can't remember a time when there was not racial tension in the University's Greek system. The Sigma Lambda Upsilon sister recalled that, during her freshman year, a campus fraternity advertised a party using a flyer reading, "Don't be a bum. Come to our party." Under this slogan was a cartoon depicting a "lazy Mexican," a man in a sombrero resting with a beer in his hand. Images such as this might explain why 58 percent of 377 students surveyed in a poll sponsored by The Vision and The Daily Pennsylvanian don't think the Greek system has a positive effect on race relations at the University. Only 13 percent of the students polled think the Greek system has a positive effect on race relations while 29 percent had no opinion. Results were consistent across all racial groups. Yet leaders of the Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Council and Bi-Cultural InterGreek Council all said recently they don't think the Greek system helps or hinders race relations any more than other campus institutions. Outgoing IFC President Morris Massel doesn't think the Greek system causes any tensions. He thinks the "three groups just all operate in their own ways." "Fraternities and sororities on a whole tend to function in their own microcosm," the College senior said. BIG-C President and Kappa Alpha Psi brother Floyd Houston pointed out that the main reason for the separation of the three groups is due to the "different goals" minority organizations have. "In general, the primary agenda [of BIG-C organizations] is community service," the Engineering senior said. Outgoing Panhel President and Delta Delta Delta sister Allison Marinoff described each Greek group as a "support system" that serves a different purpose for its members. "Each system serves a different purpose. That has to be kept in mind," the College senior said. Of all racial groups polled, blacks had the highest percentage of respondents who thought the Greek system helped race relations at the University – even though only 21 percent of blacks feel this way. The University's minority Greek umbrella group, the BIG-C, may be the reason those black students think the Greek system helps race relations. Wharton junior Wayne Wilson, an Alpha Phi Alpha brother, feels the BIG-C is a necessary component of Greek life. If the three systems were combined, Wilson said, "in the end, [the BIG-C] would be operating?under a system that was not designed for our organizations." Alpha Kappa Alpha President Erica Armstrong said "having a BIG-C does not hinder race relations." Since the BIG-C, IFC and Panhel are all governed under the University's Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs,every group has an equal voice, she said. The BIG-C is known beyond the University's ivy-covered walls. Wilson, parliamentarian of the BIG-C, has met with fraternity and sorority directors from other universities. The University's Greek system is viewed as the "ideal" structural system, he said. "Everybody else is trying to accomplish what Penn has [accomplished] with the BIG-C," Wilson said. Within the IFC, Lambda Phi Epsilon, an Asian-American fraternity, does have a vested interest in minority concerns. Jacob Hsu, the fraternity's president, said since the fraternity is made up of members of a minority group, the group is presently seeking associate member status in the BIG-C. To date, Houston said, the BIG-C has not met to discuss the issue. Although leaders of the three Greek groups agree it is unfair to single out the Greek system as having more of a negative impact than any other campus group, 51 percent of the Greek members polled said the system does not have a positive impact on race relations. Armstrong said the Greek system doesn't stand out as a "beacon of integration," but segregation in the Greek system is representative of the University community as a whole. But, she admits, Greeks from the three groups do not interact very much. And when they do it can be awkward. "Even when the three groups have social events it is hard because people want to mind their P's and Q's," the College senior said. "Everyone wants to be politically correct." A lack of diversity on Locust Walk, Houston said, also hurts the idea of a unified Greek community. "If a BIG-C fraternity were to have a house on the Walk, it would increase the opportunity for interaction between members of BIG-C fraternities and other fraternities," he added. · Despite the apparent segregation within the Greek system, some individuals have challenged the racial barriers. Wharton sophomore Kelleigh Johnson, a Chi Omega sister, did not see her race as an issue when deciding to rush a Panhel sorority. Johnson, who is black, had planned on looking into both Panhel and BIG-C sororities, but after rushing her freshman year she "felt comfortable in the environment [she] was in." "I had found my niche," she said. "Therefore I didn't feel the need to look any further." She sometimes feels she has to defend her decision to the members of the black community, because "it seems at Penn that you can't be part of both communities." "You have to choose and once you choose you can't get into the other side," Johnson said. A Sigma Nu brother, who asked that his name not be used, said he was interested in the BIG-C fraternities, but was turned down after interviewing with them. His friends in Sigma Nu convinced him to rush the fraternity and this above anything else is the main reason he joined the IFC fraternity, he said. And while strangers may wonder what a black student is doing in a predominantly white fraternity, he said friends of his in both IFC and BIG-C fraternities understand and respect his decision. Frank Mora, another Sigma Nu brother, described his house as "very open." Sigma Nu membership includes two Asians, one black and two Puerto Ricans – including Mora. Mora said he felt comfortable in his IFC fraternity, adding that "the biggest fault of the [Greek] system is the division between the BIG-C and the IFC." The solution, he said, would be to join the two. Uniting the systems would help to end the segregation he sees in the Greek system as a whole. Karin Goldmark has also leaped across the Greek racial barrier. A Zeta Phi Beta sister, Goldmark is currently the only white member of the BIG-C. Goldmark said she chose to seek membership in Zeta Phi Beta because of the friends she had in the sorority. "I was so impressed by everyone in Zeta that I felt this was something I should strive for," the College senior said. Some people did not know how to react to Goldmark's decision to join a black sorority. She has white friends who do not understand black Greek life and were amazed that she was even allowed to become a member. " 'I didn't know you could do that. Is that legal?' " Goldmark amusingly recalls one of her friends asking. Goldmark sees the University as a place full of choices. "Penn gives students freedom [in choosing] where they can live, where they can eat and who they can associate with," she said. "I don't think the Greek system would be a barrier to improving race relations if people on campus decided that [improvement] was a priority to have."
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