Sunday, January 03, 2010

7413: It’s All Greek…

From The Miami Herald…

South Florida fraternities, sororities become more multicultural

By Laura Figueroa

Over at Florida International University, the South Asian and Caribbean brothers of Sigma Beta Rho raise money for tsunami and hurricane ravaged countries.

At Nova Southeastern University, the brothers of Alpha Nu Omega gather weekly to host Bible study sessions.

And online, the plus-size sisters of Chi Zeta Theta chat about self-esteem issues.

Whether it’s the fraternity for gay men at FIU or the multicultural sororities at the University of Miami, the options for brotherhood and sisterhood at South Florida’s schools have seen a growth in organizations catering to a wide array of beliefs and lifestyles.

“Miami is so diverse, it’s only natural that there are more multicultural-minded groups out there,” said Adrian Macatangay, chapter president of Sigma Beta Rho, a South Asian/Multicultural fraternity at FIU.

Macatangay, who is Filipino, heads a chapter of nine brothers hailing from India, Guyana, Bengal and Trinidad. To share their diverse cultural roots, they’ve done everything from organize fundraisers for tsunami victims in the Philippines to organizing brotherhood dinners focused on cultural cuisine.

Sigma Beta Rho is one of nine organizations that make up FIU’s Multicultural Greek Council—three of those groups, including two Latina sororities and a multicultural fraternity, were admitted in the past year.

Most of the culturally based sororities and fraternities say they offer an alternative to student clubs because their smaller size creates a tight-knit sense of family. That sense of family is cultivated over several weeks, as prospective members spend time getting to know the organization’s members before committing to pledge and pay membership dues.

“You’re joining a family, so you want to take your time making sure you feel at home,” Macatangay said.

FIU is also home to the state’s first fraternity for gay men—Delta Lambda Phi.

“We’re not that much different than the other fraternities,” said Christian Rodriguez, a 20-year old psychology major and brother of Delta Lambda Phi. “The only aspect that makes us different is we take pride in homosexuality.”

Rodriguez said he originally joined his fraternity because he did not feel the other fraternities at FIU were as “accepting” of his sexual orientation.

That has changed, Rodriguez said. Now his chapter of 25 brothers attends other fraternity parties and community services without feeling isolated.

Administrators at other South Florida college campuses are taking note of the demand for such diverse groups. Several say the smaller niche groups—which usually range in size from 5 to 20 members—help minority students adjust to life on a large urban campus.

“I think a lot of the growth with these groups has do with the students really owning who they are and what they’re looking for,” said Chini Camargo, director of student services for Nova Southeastern University in Davie.

Camargo said over the past two years, NSU’s fraternity and sorority options have grown to include two Latino groups and four historically black fraternities and sororities.

More growth could be on the way at NSU, as three other culturally based groups have petitioned the school for permission to establish a chapter. Countless others have also reached out for more information about recruiting members at the school, Camargo said.

“They’ve been pounding on our door trying to get in,” Camargo said.

While the smaller groups don’t have a house, they host their chapter meetings at the student union. Toga parties are replaced with dance lessons in everything from salsa to bhangra, and movie nights have become a venue to showcase foreign films, from African action flicks to Japanese animation.

“There are some things you can’t learn from books, only from people,” said Cushla Talbut, 18, president of Lambda Theta Alpha, a Latina-based sorority at UM. “These are lessons and relationships that will last a lifetime.”

UM’s campus is now home to five Latino and multicultural-based fraternities and sororities. This semester the campus welcomed its newest addition, Delta Epsilon Psi, a South Asian fraternity.

“There has never been a period of growth like this before,” said Walter Kimbrough, author of Black Greek 101 and president of Philander University in Arkansas. “I call it fraternalism on steroids. Especially now with the advent of the Internet, it’s easier to start a fraternal organization than ever.”

Starting up their own sorority from scratch is just what a group of Florida Atlantic University students did in 2005 when they formed Chi Zeta Theta—a sorority for “plus-size” women.

“Just because you can’t fit into a size 2 doesn’t make you a bad person,” said Rosemary Austin, president of Chi Zeta Theta. “I’ve met a lot of plus-size women who are insecure about themselves. Our goal is to motivate these women to see their true beauty.”

With a membership of 25 sisters spread throughout the United States, the group’s sorority experience relies heavily on the Internet and phone. Members are recruited from social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Since there aren’t any chapters charted at college campuses, weekly chats on online forums and regional community service events help the sisters stay connected.

“We strive to be the best sorority for our members and our community,” Austin said. “We’re not concerned with being like any other sorority.”

While some look for a support network, others like Fermin Vasquez, 20, look for a more divine connection.

The search for an unconventional fraternity led Vasquez, a NSU biology major, to bring a chapter of the Christian fraternity Alpha Nu Omega to his campus.

Now Vasquez, 20, spends Tuesday nights hosting Bible study sessions for Nova students with his fraternity brothers.

The group also performs step-routines at local community centers and churches.

“I found a brotherhood that would allow me to get closer to my faith,” said Vasquez, who serves as chapter president. “My brothers motivate me to try and be a better Christian, a better person overall.”

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