When Carol Quezada Olivo (C ’17) was a freshman, she saw a step show at the Penn Relays. During the show — a tradition that various Intercultural Greek Council (IGC) chapters participate in every year — groups perform rhythmic percussion dance routines that are competitive, but not contentious. The show cemented Olivo’s decision to join multicultural Greek life at Penn.
As a senior, she is now the President of Sigma Lambda Upsilon, a historically Latina sorority at Penn. More than a quarter of Penn students are involved in some sort of Greek organization on campus (and that number may be on the rise). In addition to the 28 fraternities and eight sororities on Penn’s campus (not to mention off-campus Greek organizations), Penn is also home to 12 historically African American, Latin, and Asian American Greek organizations.
The average chapter size for one of these groups is typically smaller than an IFC frat. A Panhellenic sorority at Penn generally has around 50 members in a pledge class, while an IGC pledge class size varies from just one member to around 14. This provides an intimate community for members. “Knowing that you know every single person that you’re going through the process with so personally, I think it just creates a really unifying bond,” said Olivo.
Kevin Park, who is a member of Asian–American fraternity Lamba Phi Epsilon and the previous President of the IGC, joined his fraternity in the spring of his freshman year.
“I didn’t want to find a community that was so hell–bent on school and academics,” he said. “I wanted some sort of outlet to talk about the other stuff and not worry about school.” His frat also reminded him of his predominantly Asian hometown in New York.
Historically, IGC organizations have not only been a social community apart from school, but also refuge and resistance from racial discrimination. “They were created in response to something that was happening against that demographic,” said Park. “So for example, my organization, Lambda Phi Epsilon, was created back in the 80’s, and in the 80’s over in California, there was a lot of violence against Asian Americans. So Lambda Phi Epsilon was created to almost be a shelter for Asian American males who were being attacked and brutalized.”
Additionally, some African American organizations, like the fraternity Phi Beta Rho and the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, began at historically black colleges and later spread to other institutions. Both originated at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
“They carry a lot of history,” said Park. “A lot times Greek organization are seen as just social, but there’s a lot of culture attached to these orgs.”
Given their historical ties, IGC fraternities and sororities are often closely tied to their members’ identity. Last fall several sororities collaborated to organize a Celebrating Women of Color event on Locust Walk.
“Going to college, I knew I wanted to explore my identity as an Asian—American woman on campus,” said Angie Wang (C ’18), who will serve as IGC president this semester. She enjoyed the close-knit atmosphere of IGCs at Penn and joined Alpha Kappa Delta Phi, an Asian American sorority. Speaking to the diversity of groups within IGC, Wang says that "they’re all really, really different. They vary a lot in size and there’s a lot of variety within the groups. And unlike Panhellenic sororities, which are structurally similar, there’s a lot of structural differences between the groups.”
One of the integral differences amongst IGCs is the intake process for IGCs varies — some organizations have open or closed rush, while others accept applications and conduct interviews. Although they may not be ultimately accepted to a fraternity or sorority, any student is invited to apply or visit an open rush event after the first semester of their freshman year.
“Many of our members are Asian women, but it’s not exclusive to that,” said Sam Noblejas, (NU ’18 W ’18), the previous President of Alpha Kappa Delta Phi. “I think a lot of people will think you have to be Asian to join KDPhi or Sigma [Sigma Psi Zeta], which is one of the other IGC sororities, but that’s actually not true.”
IGC organizations are culturally focused, but they are not ethnically restricted to any one group. “I think this rings true for both Panhellenic and IGC sororities,” said Noblejas, “a big misconception is that these groups tend to attract the same type of person.”
IGCs on campus have also retained their mission to promote cultural awareness, in addition to providing a sense of community for their members.
“A lot of the organizations are really aligned to helping minorities on campus,” said Olivo. “And I think that that’s one thing a lot of Panhellenic organizations or IFC organizations don’t do — the majority of the people that are joining these organizations are predominantly white, and so a lot of the time — regardless of why you’re joining the organization — it might feel a little difficult to see people that don’t look like you.”
Header Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons