Multicultural houses battle lower interest

As IFC and Panhellenic break records, multicultural frats, sororities struggle for members

Steffi Lau, assistant city editor, diversity beat writer
Daily Trojan
September 11, 2008

After spending an entire summer in preparation for a week of recruitment, multicultural sorority Zeta Sigma Phi members eagerly awaited the arrival of potential members for their first rush event, a beach picnic, on Sept. 7. And though they had gathered lists of interested students on Trousdale Parkway, just one attended.

In the wake of Panhellenic Council recruitment and Interfraternity Council Rush, which both attracted record numbers this year, multicultural fraternities and sororities on campus are finding that high numbers are hard to come by.

Panhellenic and IFC oversee the majority of the organizations on The Row, but lesser known are the groups under three different councils.

Asian Greek Council oversees three Asian sororities and two Asian fraternities, while Multicultural Greek Council governs 13 organizations. MGC President Julianna Gomez said seven of these are Latino, two are Armenian and four are multicultural. The National Panhellenic Council oversees five active historically Black fraternities and sororities.

Zeta Sigma Phi, an MGC sorority, has five actives. But in the MGC, this is not an anomaly.

Sigma Zeta Psi, which is also under MGC, currently has just one member, and none of the groups under MGC have more than 12 members, said Artak Arakelian, MGC's sergeant-at-arms.

Recruiting large numbers can be difficult for cultural and multicultural organizations that face a lack of funding and awareness or target a smaller pool of people.

Zeta Sigma Phi brands itself as the first truly multicultural sorority at USC. Founded in 1994, it is an MGC member that aims to accept people of all backgrounds.

"Other sororities don't necessarily not accept people of other races, but they are still predominantly Caucasian," said Jessica Hartnett, rush chair for Zeta Sigma Phi. "We're one of the only sororities that are truly diverse."

The sorority had its first recruitment event on Saturday and will conclude Thursday, though it may extend its recruitment period if it fails to recruit any new members.

Gina Pan, president of Zeta Sigma Phi, said this is a relevant concern because last semester they did not recruit any new members.

Gomez believes MGC's low numbers are because of the student body's lack of awareness.

"For small organizations on a somewhat low budget, it is difficult to host large events," she said. "However, we are working as a council to get our name out."

But while low numbers are a concern for the multicultural organizations, numbers are steadily rising in Asian sororities and fraternities, AGC President Jay Chang said.

"Greek life is becoming more important in Asian circles," Chang said.

After a recruitment period of two weeks that concluded Sunday AGC sororities and fraternities gained 70 members, adding to its current total of 100, which was an increase from last year, Chang said.

This year people are more actively seeking out information about the AGC, as opposed to AGC having to solicit interest, he said.

But Chang admitted that it is difficult for cultural organizations to recruit because "it's harder to publicize because we're seeking a smaller pool of applicants," he said.

Recruitment can also be difficult for cultural organizations because of lack of physical space. Chang's fraternity, Beta Omega Phi, is the only minority organization with a house on The Row.

Similar to the multicultural organizations, the Black fraternities and sororities under NPHC, also have modest numbers, with students in each group ranging from two to 15.

Under NPHC, nine groups are nationally recognized. But at USC, four organizations no longer have members, its members having graduated.

Syreeta Greene, NPHC's adviser, attributes shrinking numbers to a number of factors, including the decline of USC's Black student population.

"In the '70s, the Black student population was at 15 percent. Now we're at 5 percent," she said.

Though interest exists, it is difficult for the groups to advertise and they often resort to using Facebook and e-mail.

NPHC's fraternities and sororities will begin recruiting on Sept. 14 with an information session. On Sept. 16, it will host its annual fall yard show, a step show in McCarthy Quad that will give each organization a chance to gain recognition.

While NPHC's organizations are historically Black, they are now open to students of all backgrounds, though Black students remain predominant.

Though some question the way many Greek organizations on and off The Row remain predominantly of one race while professing to be open to everyone, Greene sees this as a natural part of society.

"People choose to be with people they are comfortable with," Greene said. "Fraternities and sororities are reflections of how people naturally gather."

©2014-2015 Steffi Lau. All rights reserved.