The Rise of Multicultural Greek Life at UNC-Chapel Hill
Most people, whether they’ve been to college or not, have been exposed to the distinctly American cultural phenomenon that is Greek life. In movies, television shows, young adult literature and even family stories, the stereotypical image of a Greek Letter Organization, or GLO, includes blonde sorority sisters, frat boys in boat shoes, and huge houses littered in Solo cups and beer cans. While these are indeed negative preconceptions of Inter-Fraternity Council and Pan-Hellenic Council organizations that have unique and successful individuals within their membership, a lesser-known branch of GLOs is on the rise to further reimagine what brotherhood and sisterhood look like.
Rooted in Integration and Solidarity
At most universities where GLOs are present, active chapters on campus can be organized into various governing bodies. The “traditional,” or historically predominately white fraternities and sororities fall under the jurisdiction of the Inter-Fraternity Council and Pan-Hellenic Council, respectively. Beyond that, there are historically black GLOs with chapters at hundreds of colleges and universities around the United States, Caribbean, and even Japan. Nicknamed “The Divine Nine,” the 5 fraternities and 4 sororities in this council fall under the NPHC (National Pan-Hellenic Council). Black fraternities and sororities started around the time when schools were recently integrated. During a time when black students had a disproportionately low retention rate because of discrimination and intolerance at their newly-integrated universities, having a support group of “frats and sorors” to rely on alleviated some of the added difficulty of higher education to students of color. For the same reasons of racial solidarity as well as academic excellence, other groups of color formed Greek Letter Organizations modeled off of NPHC chapters, whose membership intake processes, performances, and lingo differed distinctly from IFC and PHC groups.
At UNC-CH in particular, the Greek Alliance Council, or GAC, presides over all of the campus’ multicultural GLOs.
Click below to learn more about how Carolina Greek life has grown to be more diverse and inclusive.
One of the earliest multicultural Greek organizations to proliferate after the NPHC was Pi Alpha Phi, the first Asian-interest (but non-exclusive) fraternity to charter at the University of California at Berkley in 1929. Asian American Greek life quickly gained popularity throughout the west coast, with alpha Kappa Delta Phi being the first (and only) Asian-interest sorority not only in the U.S., but internationally as well. These organizations as well as other Asian-American sororities and fraternities like Pi Delta Psi, Delta Sigma Iota, Alpha Sigma Rho and Sigma Omicron Pi are under the national jurisdiction of NAPA, or the National APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American) Panhellenic Association. And, similarly to NPHC organizations, the founding brothers and sisters of NAPA organizations started their chapters because of the lack of and need for a place in their communities to call their own. Not only do all of these organizations aim to develop a sense of belonging within and among their members — each organization is committed to service towards their communities, academic excellence, meaningful philanthropy, and cross-cultural awareness and tolerance.
UNC-CH has 4 active chapters of NAPA-member organizations; Pi Alpha Phi, affectionately known as “The Pineapples” or PAPhi, have been on campus the longest and supported the founding sisters of the UNC chapter of alpha Kappa Delta Phi (aKDPhi) when they first brought the sorority to campus. More recently, however, Lambda Phi Epsilon, another Asian-American fraternity, has built it’s own presence on campus. Michael Sosa, a brother of Lambda Phi Epsilon (or “Lambdas”) talks about what its like being part of such a relatively knew but bustling tradition at the university.
If you ask anyone in the GAC what they thought about Greek life before they joined, most likely one would hear what has become a cliche in the community; “I never thought it was for me,” or “I really never saw myself as the ‘Greek’ type.” But for those who “aren’t the type” and still went out on a limb, they learned that the GAC is a safe place for anyone at UNC who would like to join a brotherhood or sisterhood where they can make deep connections and learn about various perspectives of minority students in the collegiate space.
Yasmine Mason, a senior English major at UNC-CH, joined aKDPhi after she transferred from community college. The transition to a large public university like Chapel Hill was definitely a jarring one, and left her feeling lost in a Carolina blue sea.
“I identify as African American but I do have some Japanese heritage, and joining aKDPhi was my way of trying to learn more about that part of me,” said Mason. She thinks that joining aKDPhi was one of the biggest things that made the university “feel more like home” and prepared her for success in her post-graduate career. “We really value academic rigor and sisterhood, which, when put together, leaves you with a really useful networking resource after you graduate.”
Members of GAC Greek life also use the community as a means of exploring their passions and developing career, leadership and interpersonal skills. Carl Balberan, a brother of PAPhi, joined in Fall 2018 and has since used his leadership positions within the house to develop skills that are in high demand not only in the Greek community, but in the broader work force as well.
As graphics and photography chair, he is in charge of creating digital content, whether it be banners, flyers or photos, to creatively promote events for his chapter.
“It’s really cool because I’ve always loved photography but now I get to do it for an end goal… and [his designs] are actually being seen by people all over the Greek community,” Balberan said. It’s also what he calls “a great resume-builder, if that’s what you care about.”
The Greatest Takeaway
The bonds that are made in any fraternity and sorority are highly valued by any member of course, but with the history behind multicultural Greek life, there’s another level of boning that comes along with the letters.
For many new members, joining an Asian, Latinx, Black or even Native American GLO may be the first time in their lives that they’ve been around people who look like them, or share traditions with them. The intersection between culture, community, and belonging that can be found in NAPA and other multicultural Greek organizations is unique and very special to brothers and sisters.
Cross country road trips are not uncommon within these organizations, making it easier for members to find people all over with whom they can relate and share a common goal.
In times of need, frats and sorors are quick to rally in support of various causes, whether it is a chapter’s fundraiser for their breast cancer philanthropy or carpooling for concerts.
While GAC organizations are generally smaller and lesser known than larger, older, historically white GLO’s, the connections that can be made are just as strong, if not stronger, and last decades beyond when members cross the stage at commencement.
Credit: Matthew Booth of Purikura Photo, UNC Delta Sigma Theta, UNC-Charlotte Pi Alpha Phi.
All other photo, graphics, and video are my own unless stated otherwise.