This spring, while the faces of sororities and fraternities change with the addition of new members, one thing is likely to remain the same — ethnic diversity in the Greek community.
“It’s really not diverse at all,” said Wharton freshman Nanette Nunu, who joined Sigma Kappa this semester. “It’s diverse in the way that there are a lot of white people and Asian people — then there’s me and the two other black people in my pledge class.”
Nunu’s experience is not surprising, given the trends across the Greek system.
While the ethnic makeup of the Greek community at Penn largely reflects the overall undergraduate population, groups such as black women report lower numbers in the Greek system than in the overall Penn community, Director of the Office of Student Affairs/Fraternity Sorority Life Scott Reikofski wrote in an email.
Black students make up 8 percent of Penn’s undergraduate population but only 3.6 percent of sorority women. Similar discrepancies are seen in the Asian community, which comprises 18 percent of undergraduate students. Only 12.3 percent of fraternity men and 14 percent of females in the Greek system identify as Asian, Reikofski wrote.
The numbers have remained fairly consistent, varying slightly each year for the different houses, he added.
The low levels of diversity “would be difficult for students who are feeling that they’d like to be part of a community with others like them,” said College senior and SK member Megan Red Shirt-Shaw, who identifies as American Indian.
Red Shirt-Shaw, however, said her experience in a Panhellenic Council sorority has been “very positive.”
“I’ve never felt uncomfortable, never felt I couldn’t express myself,” she said, adding that she has had the opportunity to share her culture with some of her sorority sisters.
Nevertheless, some people may “feel out of their comfort zone” in Greek organizations because of the lack of fellow minority students, and “might not want to be considered a token,” College sophomore Victor Scotti said.
Scotti, a member of the black-interest fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha — one of the 14 Multicultural Greek Council organizations — said “fraternities and sororities are organizations in which you might look for people who are more like you.”
The similarities that people seek “unfortunately can be based on race,” he added.
For students like Scotti and Engineering junior Geraldine Uy, the MGC chapters provide a sense of unity, “because we all have the same background,” said Uy, a member of the Asian-interest sorority Sigma Psi Zeta who serves as public relations chairwoman on the MGC board. “We understand our families and values based on our cultures.”
When Uy came to Penn, she was initially drawn to the Panhel sororities because “she didn’t want to be in groups with just other Asians.” However, she eventually chose Sigma Psi Zeta because its pledge class is less than half the size of a typical Panhel chapter’s.
“If you’re blocking yourself from other races, it’s a problem,” Uy said. But her bond with her Sigma sisters comes from more than “just being Asian together.”
While some students self-select into MGC organizations to circumvent the issue of diversity in the Interfraterniy Council or Panhel, Nunu said she never had interest in joining a multicultural sorority because she didn’t want to seclude herself.
The lack of diversity is “not a problem if you don’t make it one,” she added.
College freshman Chris Yamamoto agreed, saying that he was drawn to pledge Sigma Phi Epsilon, an IFC chapter, because “you don’t have to try to fit into a stereotype and you don’t have to try to impress anyone.”
While he described his Sig Ep pledge class as very diverse, he added that “at the moment, there are definitely fraternities where they’re all one type of guy.”
“There are a lot of fraternities that are very well established” as organizations that attract certain types of people, Engineering freshman and Sig Ep member Nader Jouzy said, “and I don’t think that’s going to change.”
However, the system overall “could implement some kind of program to push people toward having more diverse houses,” Yamamoto said.
The Greek community “could do more in terms of promoting diversity and making people feel more comfortable,” Red Shirt-Shaw added.
A step toward more diversity, Uy said, could be achieved through further integrating the MGC, Panhel and IFC communities. The MGC, she said, “is working to get our presence known because the MGC is, a lot of times, put in the background.”
While there have been mixers between MGC sororities and IFC fraternities, “a next step could be mixing with Panhel sororities on philanthropy,” Uy said. “It requires effort on both parts.”
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