Diversity in UT Greek life

By Rachel Jackson

AUSTIN- UT sophomore Lina Barakat was never really interested in Greek life until she was told about an organization that catered to her Muslim values while validating young women in business.

“I never thought joining a sorority would be a part of my college life,” Barakat said. “Then one of my friends co-founded UT’s first Muslim sorority, Mu Delta Alpha, and it really made me think about how there wasn’t really a place in the Muslim community where women were being empowered like this I had to get involved.”

According to a study conducted by USA Today, 60.5 percent of students experience a feeling of loneliness and detachment from their peers during their college experience. While, universities offer inclusive organizations that encourage students to get involved on campus, the more popular route seems to be greek life, according to the Daily Texan. The University of Texas at Austin’s sorority and fraternity listings list there are over 75 sorority and fraternity organizations affiliated with UT Austin.

“No matter your background, ethnicity, or religion, sororities and fraternities cater to the diverse culture found here at UT and create a community of people you can rely on,” Baraket said.

Greek life also serves as a gateway, exposing its members to different cultures, ethnicities and individuals they might not have come across in their everyday life, Kappa Kappa Gamma member Alina Almeida said.

“I joined greek life because I thought it would be a really great way to get a taste of the American culture,” Almeida said. “Since I am from Mexico, most the girls in my sorority don’t really have the same background as me, but being a part of an organization like this really encourages me to get out of my comfort zone and get to know people different than me.”

These organization are more than just exposure to new cultures though. It acts as a support system for its members, said Francisca Ricardo, who is the president of a Latina Panhellenic Organization Kappa Delta Chi.

“Our philanthropy [of American Cancer Society] is really close to my heart because my father just recently passed away of cancer,” Ricardo said. “Ever since I told the chapter [about my father passing,] my sisters have constantly offered their time to me so that I’m never alone during my grieving process. There is always a sister when I need one.”

Choosing which greek organization to pledge requires a self-evaluation of what you truly want out of the experience, said Kassandra Barrera, who is the president of Sigma Lambda Alpha, a Latina Panhellenic organization.

“Although I did join a Latina-based organization, my sisters are not just Latina,” Barrera said. “I think that’s why I chose this organization. It was not just about feeling comfortable and staying in my culture, it was about appreciating the cultural diversity within an organization like this.”

Greek life is often associated with negative stereotypes construed from pop culture’s misinterpretations of the organization’s purpose, Almeida said.

“I used to think greek life was full of white kids partying on daddy’s dime,” Almeida said. “That was the way it was portrayed on TV, but now that I’m actually a part of a sorority, I know that’s definitely not the case.”

These stigmas don’t just apply to the bigger sororities and fraternities, the smaller organizations are subject to it as well said Anchor Shaw, who is president of Omega Phi Gamma, a Texas Asian Pan-hellenic organization.

“I feel like all greek life organizations are subject to scrutiny,” Shaw said. “There are inherent differences between the more established organizations and the smaller greek organizations like Omega Phi Gamma, but I do not feel like it affects us in any way.”

Sororities and fraternities were established in order to support a philanthropy through volunteering and raising donations.

“Volunteering through Kappa Kappa Gamma has really kept me humble,” Almeida said. “It’s not only taught me to appreciate aspects of my life that aren’t always promised but has also helped me create a bond with a good, wholesome group of girls that will keep me grounded during the hardest years of my life.”

UT greek life organizations focus not only on its current members but future participants as well, hoping to leave its potential members in the most capable hands possible, Barakat said.

“Greek life is about making a community where there wasn’t one,” Barakat said. “It’s serves as a reinforcement for what I want to achieve during my time here at UT and what kind of legacy I want to leave behind.”

Rachel Jackson is a second year journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. You can reach her on Twitter @rachelj49.