In shadow of social Greeks, multicultural chapters try to build up campus name

Media Credit: Delaney Walsh | Photo Editor

Angela Bonham, vice president of the Multicultural Greek Council, helps run a cookout Sunday. Bonham, also president of the historically black sorority Zeta Phi Beta, said the multicultural Greek community's small size makes it difficult to forge a campus-wide identity.

With flashy philanthropy events that regularly take over University Yard, it’s hard not to notice the Greek life community on campus.

But fraternities and sororities within the Multicultural Greek Council have struggled to establish the same presence. About 70 students are part of that community, and one of its leaders says that small size has made it difficult to collaborate with the Panhellenic Association and the Interfraternity Council.

Angela Bonham, president of the historically black sorority Zeta Phi Beta and vice president of the Multicultural Greek Council, acknowledged her sorority’s struggles to recruit: There are only two Zeta Phi Beta members at GW.

GW’s 12 multicultural fraternities and sororities raise money for philanthropies and host social, culture-oriented events on campus and across the district. Some, like Sigma Psi Zeta, an Asian-interest sorority, even have townhouses.

But across the board, Bonham said, there isn’t a strong enough connection to social Greek organizations to retain a noticeable campus presence.

“We want to integrate with other people, we just don’t know how to make that happen in a more natural way,” Bonham, a senior, said. “If you have a fraternity of 150 people, and take all the men in the Multicultural Greek Council (and we only have 15,) it just doesn’t work out.”

The effect, Bonham said, is fewer students who rush multicultural Greek groups. Zeta Phi Beta was chartered at GW in 2006, but had gap years of inactivity where it admitted no new members.

The historically black sororities Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta have eight and three members, respectively. The historically black fraternity Omega Psi Phi has one, Bonham said.

Bonham said establishing a relationship with social fraternities and sororities is crucial to expanding the size of the organizations.

Alumna Mary Vergara, a Sigma Psi Zeta member and former Multicultural Greek Council vice president, said less money and lower membership makes it difficult to participate in standard events like Greek Week, as smaller sororities can’t send members to every event.

But the chapters’ small sizes also have their advantages. Vergara said “everyone knows everyone’s name” in a chapter like Sigma Psi Zeta, which has expanded from 10 to 22 members since her freshman year.

“Usually it’s about the tie to the culture, but sometimes it’s more about the feeling people get with the group. I’m not of Asian descent. I didn’t even think I would join a sorority, let alone an Asian one,” Vergara said. “I was speaking Chinese at the time and wanted to learn more about the culture, and wanted to gain exposure to that.”

Bonham added that Zeta Phi Beta’s national chapter relationships create a community that extends beyond single colleges. Zeta Phi Beta and their partner fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma, hosted a dance event at GW in August that drew students from East Carolina University and Bowie State University.

When Bonham didn’t have a place to stay when she visited Philadelphia this summer, a Zeta Phi Beta member lent a hand.

“They got me a hotel room, food, everything. I wound up staying longer than I had expected,” Bonham explained. “People look out for you and it’s just because of the sorority association.”

And Vergara and Bonham are hopeful that they can strengthen ties with GW’s broader Greek community. Bonham noted that leaders from each Greek council attend retreats together for leadership and bonding. Last year, Sigma Psi Zeta sent a representative to Greek Week planning meetings.

Bonham said she believes that despite its small size, the Multicultural Greek Council’s close-knit community and rich histories offer a unique recruitment opportunity.

“The [Multicultural Greek Council] individuals are more invested in the history and culture of their organization’s background,” Bonham said. “As a black organization, we give back to the Black Student Union, the Black Women’s Forum. You can see everyone go beyond their letters and invest in their communities – it’s more than just being Greek.”

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