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Fraternity houses on Penn's campus. Credit: Mona Lee

Penn's Interfraternity Council has established its first scholarship fund to reduce the burden of membership fees. New members joining fraternities in spring 2020 will be able to apply for the new scholarship, which aims to promote diversity and inclusion.

The IFC will offer about 10 scholarships to new members, depending on the amount of applicants and financial need. Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion and Engineering sophomore Majesty Uwagerikpe, who is overseeing the scholarship fund, said the main priority of the scholarship is to promote diversity and to eliminate financial barriers. All new members will be invited to apply starting next spring.

The IFC wants to ensure that the scholarship "invites members who are permitted to further opening up our community," Uwagerikpe said. One of the essay questions for the scholarship application also asks students to brainstorm an initiative their fraternity can implement to improve its diversity.

Another goal is to lift some financial burden from individual chapters who had been solely responsible for helping members pay dues through their own scholarships or other internal funds. Thirteen of the 26 chapters under the IFC currently offer chapter-wide scholarships to students.

Engineering sophomore Majesty Uwagerikpe

At the April monthly forum, where all fraternity chapter presidents and the IFC executive board met, the student leaders unanimously agreed to the scholarship fund. At the meeting, the IFC also voted to establish its first VP of Diversity and Inclusion's position, taken on by Uwagerikpe. 

The establishment of the new position comes after IFC said last year that there is no need for a diversity chair. 2019 IFC President and College junior Brian Schmitt said after he reviewed the positions on the IFC board, he thought that the position of the VP of New Member Recruitment could be refocused into a diversity chair position. Uwagerikpe, who was elected the 2019 VP of New Member Recruitment before the change in his position, began planning IFC diversity initiatives in February.

Uwagerikpe, VP of Administration and College sophomore Roberto Kern, and Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life advisor Jon Bell will review the applicants and choose who receives the scholarship. The committee plans to award the scholarship to roughly 10 applicants, though Uwagerikpe said the number will vary depending on the financial need and number of applicants.

While the first year of the scholarship will only be available to new members after they accept a bid from a fraternity in spring 2020, Uwagerikpe said he hopes to open it up to more members in the future.

“Especially as a student on financial aid myself, I remember being very nervous about whether or not I’d be able to pay dues," said Schmitt, who has worked with Uwagerikpe to establish the fund.

Uwagerikpe said that 2018 IFC President and College senior Reginald Murphy introduced the idea of allocating a certain amount of IFC funds to scholarships last year before Uwagerikpe and Schmitt carried out the project.

Wharton and Engineering junior and member of Pi Kappa Alpha, Joe Churilla. (Photo from Joe Churilla)

Students in fraternities said the scholarship will help alleviate the financial pressures of participating in Greek life. 

College junior Bill Kalish, who is also Phi Gamma Delta's treasurer, said paying for dues is a point of concern for many students.

“Obviously fraternities at Penn can be pretty expensive,” Kalish said. “To have that burden lifted and to have anybody to be able to rush and join a fraternity is huge for us."

Wharton and Engineering junior Joe Churilla, a member of Pi Kappa Alpha, said the scholarship was a “phenomenal first step in the right direction."

“I think it’s important that the IFC and Greek organizations as a whole keep in mind that there is a place for students of all socioeconomic, religious, and racial backgrounds in Greek life,” Churilla said.

Some students, however, said they hoped the scholarship could be open to students of all years.

George Russell (Photo from George Russell)

College junior and Alpha Chi Rho member George Russell said that while the scholarship was an excellent initiative, the IFC should be aware that second, third, and fourth year students may also demonstrate financial need, and that the scholarship needs to be fair to all fraternity members.

Kalish added that, as treasurer for his fraternity, his job is to collect dues from members and to work with members who demonstrate extra financial need.

“Even among our members, when we tell them the dues' prices, there’s always a bit of a shock and we explain that we’re not going to kick anybody out if they can’t pay full dues," Kalish said, "Our goal is to have brothers pay what they can but it's definitely a concern on everyone’s minds."