The first question I hear after I tell people that I am part of a fraternity at the University of Victoria is, “We have one of those here?” My response is “Yes! In fact, there are two sororities and one fraternity at the university.” The fraternity, the 99th chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE), was chartered on March 27, 2010. Although many students are indifferent towards Greek Letter Organizations (GLOs), other students are unfortunately caught up in the Hollywood image of fraternities—be it the crazy shenanigans of Animal House, the Delta Iota Kappa Epsilon in National Lampoon’s Van Wilder (literally referred to as “DICKs” in the movie) , or the nerds and jocks in Revenge of the Nerds. But, as we all should know, Hollywood creations seldom resemble real life. The typecasting of fraternities in movies as well as the public consciousness is no exception. In reality, fraternities and sororities are composed of like-minded individuals. They are dedicated to helping their community, fostering good relations with one another, expanding their social networks, and providing comfortable spaces for students within the larger university setting. In their day-to-day activities, GLOs are like any other campus club: a small group of students who share a common interest, be it religion, activities, sports, or politics. Recently, my fraternity was asked if we felt discriminated against on campus. I took this as an opportunity to voice my feelings.
I still remember the October 2010 UVSS AGM in which I and several of my fellow fraternity members presented a case for UVSS approval of GLOs. We weren’t seeking any funding from student fees, or free room bookings in the SUB. We were fighting for our female counterparts in the first sorority interest group at UVic. Normally, international sororities do not establish a branch on campus unless the university recognizes them; UVic had decided to forego recognizing sororities unless the UVSS did. We fought for recognition of sororities by the UVSS so that female students could choose to participate in sororities. Unfortunately, we lost the vote due to perceived misinformation and prejudicial statements. Our detractors argued that GLOs should not be approved on campus because we are exclusive and founded on elitist behavior. They even went as far as claiming that fraternities and sororities promote sexism and racism.
It is useful to draw parallels between GLOs and a close-knit family. For many fraternity and sorority members, their clubs represent a “family”, given that many are away from home for the first time in their lives. We recognize that a successful family is based on a solid foundation of communication and trust. Both demand a degree of transparency. It’s difficult to imagine a group of young men and women away from home for the first time, trying to navigate through university, and being wholly transparent and honest with themselves and with one another. Honesty and transparent communication comes with maturation! A fraternity or sorority is an important place for kindred spirits to bond and learn during these developmental years at university. It’s an excellent place for members to hold candid conversations as they determine ways to grapple with the stresses and pressures of university life.
Our detractors have declared that GLOs exclude transgender individuals. For DKE, this is simply untrue and ill-informed. Our doors are open to transgender individuals as well as prospective gay and lesbian members. We do not discriminate. We leave it to the discretion of our transgender members to personally decide which group to align with. Moreover, claims that fraternities and sororities promote racism are also inaccurate. I believe that Hollywood stereotypes are partly the basis for this misconception. In reality, most fraternities and sororities in existence today reflect the ethnic makeup of the universities they are located at; the Victoria-based organizations are no different. DKE at UVic has been proud to elect a Canadian of Chinese heritage, as well as a Mexican national as chapter presidents. Furthermore, DKE has stood for racial equality and justice from its early history and continues to. For example, Syracuse University’s (New York) chapter house was used as a safe harbour by African-Americans during their passage into Canada via the Underground Railroad. Furthermore, Yung Wing, the first Chinese graduate from an American university in 1854, was a member of the Yale chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon. Going back to 1949, the UBC chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon has had a long history of welcoming Chinese-, Japanese-, and African-Canadians, and Indigenous Canadians to its ranks.
We’ve often been accused of “elitist” behaviour. However, I must point out that it has only been in the last several decades that elitism and “wealth” has been equated with financial riches. Apparently, our other and more important forms of wealth—our human (emotional and physical), intellectual, and spiritual assets—have been forgotten. DKE was founded on these truly important forms of personal wealth. Furthermore, it is ironic that this criticism is made by those who are part of an institution that is by its nature elitist. Not all students who apply are accepted, teaching faculty is made up almost exclusively of those with advanced degrees, tuition is prohibitively costly, and many groups on campus are much more selective than fraternities and sororities in their admissions processes.
Our group is exclusive because we seek to advance strong moral and social values. We emphasize scholarly pursuits, gentlemanly behavior and all-round “jolly good” fellowship. I know these expressions sound antiquated to readers, but good values are timeless. They require time to cultivate. We have a purpose: to promote philanthropic and social networking events. We do not consider ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion when determining member eligibility; moreover, we neither appraise someone’s financial worth during recruitment nor “what your resumé says” or “what your parents do”. We are exclusive in the sense that prospective members must share our values to apply and participate.
Groups like DKE should be given the opportunity to demonstrate that they are not looking to offend anyone and are attempting only to establish themselves on campus. This would provide the UVSS an opportunity to charge a registration fee, providing more money and reducing individual student fees. However, no official recognition is currently enjoyed. Until people stop getting caught up in the Hollywood image of fraternities, there will not likely be any formal recognition.
Or, does one dare venture that our lack of formal recognition is just a form of discrimination?