At first glance, the prominent party culture that clouds stereotypes of the Greek community at USC wouldn’t seem to align with many religious values. Students of various faiths, however, have found a religious home in the Greek system.
For Lazarus Alberto, a junior majoring in business administration, his involvement in Alpha Gamma Omega, a Christ-centered fraternity, has helped him strengthen his faith. Through his involvement in AGO, Alberto said he has been able to participate in events that all other fraternities in the Interfraternity Council take part in, such as sorority philanthropies, mixers and Songfest, while still maintaining his Christian values.
“I don’t feel like I miss out on my faith by being in the Greek system, because while our house is different from many other houses, we also participate in events like [sorority philanthropies],” he said. “We can be involved [in] certain things on The Row and choose to not involve ourselves in other things.”
Alberto said sticking to his faith has never been a struggle for him, but he knows the culture of The Row has made it difficult for others trying to sustain a Christian lifestyle. One reason he joined AGO was because it provided him the opportunity to stay religious while still allowing him to be Greek.
“There are definitely temptations for people trying to live [up] to certain ideals while everything around you is contrary, so it can be a challenge,” Alberto said. “For me, it hasn’t been my biggest struggle, but I do know Christians in other houses that it is a struggle for, so we try to be a resource and offer alternatives.”
Alberto said he and other AGO brothers often offer advice to those who approach them about this struggle and also invite them to join in alternatives to drinking, such as “mocktail” parties and weekly Bible study.
Christian sorority Alpha Delta Chi provides women with a similar experience. In fact, the two houses often plan events together, said President Stephanie Nakamura.
Yet for other houses affiliated with a religion, faith is just the guiding principal of the house and plays a very different role. Houses, such as Sigma Alpha Mu, Sigma Delta Tau and Zeta Beta Tau, are all historically Jewish houses rather than nationally Jewish, meaning they maintain Jewish values and programs but do not have a quota for Jewish members.
SDT thrives off of this opportunity for diversity.
“SDT was founded because seven Jewish women were discriminated against and could not join a sorority, so we honor our Jewish roots, but we are also very dedicated to not discriminating against people of any other faith, and have one of the most culturally and religiously diverse houses on The Row,” said SDT President Clara Hua.
About half of SDT’s members are Jewish, but there are also many practicing Christians in the house who hold weekly Bible study, as well as members of other religions, Hua said.
To honor SDT’s Jewish tradition, the house does have an affiliation with USC Chabad and Hillel; girls of all faiths and backgrounds, however, are welcome to participate in events for Jewish holidays or traditions.
Hua, who is not Jewish, said she has always felt welcomed in Jewish activities and has used the opportunity to learn about a culture different from her own.
“This year, I’m going to Passover, and all of our girls usually go whether they are Jewish or not. It’s really cool to see different things and it’s super welcoming,” Hua said.
Sam Jacobson, president of Alpha Epsilon Pi, said his house has a similar inclusiveness, despite the fact that it is a nationally Jewish fraternity.
“Technically everyone is supposed to be Jewish, but if we don’t have an all-Jewish pledge class, we can usually work things out with nationals because we’re happy being a Jewish fraternity, but there are also kids that we love [who] aren’t Jewish that we want in the house, so USC is a little different from other [AEPi national] chapters,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson, who is half Greek Orthodox and half Jewish, said his background has helped him relate to the Jewish members of the house, as well as those of other faiths, especially when it comes to celebrating Jewish holidays and events within the chapter.
“It’s fun watching our friends learn about what traditions we grew up with, and I think a lot of the guys who aren’t Jewish enjoy it too because when all your friends are a part of something, you want to be a part of it too. For example, some of the guys who aren’t Jewish came to Passover with us last year and come to Shabbat events,” he said.
Though religious Greek houses at USC are currently limited to Jewish and Christian houses, a Muslim fraternity, Alpha Lambda Mu, was founded last year at the University of Texas, Dallas. It now has three operating chapters across the country.
“I think that the emerging content of Muslim sororities and fraternities is a natural progression. These groups are being formed by Muslim students seeking a sense of belonging, and establishing formalized sisterhood and brotherhood with peer groups,” said Ali Mir, director of Muslim Student Life at USC.
According to Mir, when he was an undergraduate student in the late ’90s, he knew a few Muslim men and women who were members of secular Greek life. He said these students felt welcomed in their houses, but primarily because they did not identify themselves as outwardly practicing Muslims. For other Muslims, he said, joining a secular Greek organization may not be a viable option.
Regardless of faith, for many members of the Greek community joining a sorority or a fraternity is about finding a supportive group of peers with common values, and religion can play a varying degree of importance.
“It’s really about being with good company,” Jacobson said.