Unity, Not Uniformity: Multiculturalism in Greek Life

The term “multicultural Greek” is sometimes used by campus-based professionals as an all-inclusive phrase for anyone who is not a member of a predominately white fraternity or sorority.

This loose designation has the potential to be both misleading and, in some cases, inaccurate. For example, the “multi” in multiculturalism through a literal translation means “more than one culture.” Historically, there are culturally-based fraternal organizations, founded by members from different populations with the primary purpose of starting an organization that consisted of a variety of races and ethnicities. Accordingly, multicultural Greeks formed a specific council called the National Multicultural Greek Council (NMGC) that supports organizations who serve this need.

“In 1998, as the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations, Inc. (NALFO) emerged uniting the Latino fraternal community, the members of multicultural fraternal organizations realized the need for similar efforts. Such ideas culminated in a summit meeting in October 1998. With thirteen multicultural organizations present, this meeting initiated the formation of what was to become the National Multicultural Greek Council, Inc. (NMGC).

When the NMGC was established, the founding members’ vision was to create a fraternal forum to increase communications and connections
amongst multicultural fraternities and sororities, thereby creating a community of organizations dedicated to the promotion of diversity and
service.”¹

Simply put, if there are no organizations that were originally founded for this purpose, naming individuals, or councils, “Multicultural” is confusing and potentially misleading.

Moreover, individually, Black, Asian, Latinx or Native American fraternal organizations identify this way because they were founded to not only support their members, but ultimately to advance their respective communities. Lumping these Culturally-Based Fraternal Organizations (CBFOs) under this general multicultural phrase, in a fraternal context, does not recognize and acknowledge the individual challenges that each of these groups historically faced, and in some instances, still face today.

What’s the Big Deal? It’s just a Name!

The American experience means something different for someone who resides in the northwest, than it does for someone who lives in the southeast. Likewise, the fraternity/sorority experience has a drastically significant meaning for a woman who is a member of a Latina organization versus another from a Black organization. It is possible for them to celebrate a unified fraternal experience, sharing national American traditions while also respecting and celebrating their own local experiences, which are not uniform. The more we can understand, appreciate, and respect these differences, the more likelihood we have in leveraging the power of a unified fraternal experience. The essence of “unity” is about everyone achieving the same goal. Conversely, uniformity requires those seeking the goal to achieve it in the same way. Proper culturally-based nomenclature and a working knowledge of cultural competency is an important step in celebrating and actively living unity not uniformity.

A good example of institutions embodying this this philosophy of unity not uniformity are James Madison University and Seton Hall who have named their umbrella organizations the “Inter-Cultural Greek Council” and the “Unified Greek Council,” respectively. In their name, they are intentional to promote inclusion and minimize cultural confusion.

Operationally, there is also value in proper identification. Recognizing Asian, Black, Latinx, Multicultural, Native American, etc. fraternal organizations allow members, and those campuses based professionals, advisors, and regional and national leadership who support them, to refocus on matters that uniquely impact them. Issues such as growth, leadership, and risk management, particularly hazing, can manifest in different ways depending on the respective community. The one size fits all “multicultural Greek” approach takes away from these unique perspectives. Furthermore, it hides key insight and information that assists CBFO members, and those who support them, to proactively address challenges in these areas.

Properly utilizing the term “multicultural Greek” strengthens the trust and credibility that leads to an increased understanding within CBFO communities. Ultimately, embodying these efforts can bring the fraternal community one step closer towards a stronger sense of unity, not uniformity.

¹ www.nationalmgc.org

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Rasheed Ali Cromwell, Esq. is one of the leading authorities on fraternity and sorority life.  Through the Harbor Institute, he has presented dynamic keynote speeches, interactive and engaging training sessions, and consulting for thousands of students and administrators at over 245 colleges and universities in 36 states.
He is also co-editor of the forthcoming book: The Harbor Institute Guide to Culturally Based Fraternal Organizations (2018).

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