Diversity beyond the Row

When the word “fraternity” is mentioned around USC, it can often be marred by the words partying, privilege and controversy. One term that isn’t tossed around as often, however, is diversity.

This isn’t the case for the 26 multicultural fraternities and sororities recognized on USC’s campus. These organizations strive to add some new terms to Greek life: inclusion, tolerance and community.

Every fraternity and sorority at USC is overseen by a national governing body. The organizations on the Row are all overseen by either the Interfraternity Council or the Panhellenic Council. However, these organizations do not oversee multicultural fraternities. Instead, three different councils exist for these groups, each one catering to a different ethnic demographic.

The Asian Greek Council oversees the three historically Asian sororities and two Asian fraternities on campus. The Multicultural Greek Council oversees 12 fraternities and sororities which are predominantly Latino (one of the fraternities overseen by MGC, Alpha Gamma Alpha, is historically Armenian). And the nine historically African American fraternities and sororities at USC — a group colloquially referred to as “The Divine Nine” — is overseen by the National Pan-Hellenic Council.

According to Kathrina Ruiz, the anti-basileus (or president) of National Pan-Hellenic’s Sigma Gamma Rho, one of the main differences she sees between traditional Greek organizations and multicultural fraternities and sororities is a greater focus on community service. The work is often specifically focused on causes important to minorities. A commitment to community outreach was one of the main reasons why Sigma Gamma Rho was more attractive option for her.

“I felt [Panhellenic] didn’t do as much community service as I wanted to do,” Ruiz said. “They do great at throwing ‘fundragers’ and stuff like that, but I don’t see them on Skid Row too often.”

Cesar Rivas, a junior majoring in health promotion and disease prevention and an active member of the MGC-overseen Sigma Delta Alpha, said that he never even considered joining a fraternity when he first arrived at USC. However, it was SDA’s commitment to service that made him want to become a part of the community.

“I feel like fraternities as a whole get a very negative reputation, but particularly what I liked with Sigma Delta Alpha was what they were about,” Rivas said. “Our purpose was to graduate and spread the words of our culture — to be able to help out communities around the area and see what their needs are. That to me was really important.”

Although having three different governing bodies may suggest that these organizations operate independently of each other, Ruiz said that this is not the case, and that many of their community events blur council lines. NPHC chapters will often partner with MGC and AGC — and occasionally with IFC — for programming each semester.

Although these chapters coordinate with one another, Rivas believes that a focus on community service is part of why the multicultural Greek community has a lower profile than many other organizations on campus. In comparison to large parties on the Row that sometimes reach capacity after an hour, lower key events held by the multicultural fraternities draw from smaller groups of people.

Ruiz believes that when people on campus talk about fraternities and sororities, the organizations overseen by AGC, MGC and National Pan-Hellenic are considered separate from “typical” Greek life.

“I feel like not a lot of people know, and I feel like it comes from the fact that when people talk about ‘Greek life,’ they’re referring to the Row primarily,” Ruiz said.

But the multicultural Greek community is much greater than just USC. According to Rivas, the network created by membership of one of these organizations transcends state lines, and can be useful. With chapters located throughout California and the U.S., members of these organizations can find a network and a community across the country.

And this network finds its way back to USC. Oscar Salinas, an alumnus of an MGC fraternity at Arizona State University, visited USC’s campus to watch a cultural performance event put on by the Multicultural Greek Council and its members. He said that becoming a member of a multicultural fraternity means becoming a member of something much bigger — even as an alumnus.

“I was born and raised in Arizona, I have my fraternity brothers all back home at Arizona,” Salinas said. “But I get to come to USC’s campus and see all of these Greek organizations — some of which also have chapters at ASU — and it feels like I’m at home. It feels like I’m an undergrad.” Rivas said that, despite not maintaining the highest profile on campus, he feels like the multicultural Greek community at USC is continuing to grow. Mostly, he is excited to see the Greek community continue to become more and more diverse in the future.

“I think the future is definitely bright,” Rivas said. “I hope to see a future where we have not just a lot of people of color or Latinos and such in our fraternities and sororities, but a very diverse community.”