Integration won’t happen on the UT campus unless off-campus Greek organizations integrate first

2013-03-25_Roundup_Shweta

Shweta Gulati

Students dance to to the Yin Yang Twins during Roundup at ZBTahiti in March of 2013. 

Nick Spiller

UT-Austin classrooms are filled with students from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. When rogue student groups try to throw culturally ignorant events on-campus, such as the Young Conservatives of Texas did last week, the entire UT community steps up to denounce them. 

When I first arrived at UT, I was eager to experience some of the other cultures around me, and so I, a white male from Michigan, pledged a traditionally South Asian fraternity. Once initiated in the fraternity, I expected to socialize with new friends of all cultures. But I quickly discovered that UT’s student body consists of two very different Greek systems. 

The traditional, non-cultural Greek system, of which my fraternity is not a part, consists of fraternities from the Interfraternity Council (IFC) and sororities from the Panhellenic Council. These groups include some of the oldest fraternities and sororities on campus, such as big-name organizations such as Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), Sigma Phi Epsilon (Sig Ep), Kappa Kappa Gamma and Chi Omega. 

The second Greek system includes fraternities and sororities with explicitly cultural backgrounds and is governed by a separate system of councils. None of the organizations in either system explicitly ban people from joining based on their race or culture. But for the most part, the populations of these organizations are racially and culturally homogeneous, and their memberships interact mostly with other organizations like themselves. 

You rarely see an IFC or Panhellenic organization interacting with a cultural fraternity or sorority.  At my fraternity’s semesterly Back2School party, which usually attracts upwards of a thousand students, I was disappointed to see I was one of maybe 10 other white partygoers who had elected to attend my fraternity’s event. After a year in the fraternity, I began to realize I had few white friends on campus. People were starting to call me “basically brown,” not as an insult, but as a way of explaining my tendency for developing friendships with people of other cultures.

What I’m describing here is called de facto segregation. Not the hate-fueled de jure segregation America enforced in the Jim Crow era, but segregation that organically evolves through freedom of association. While there still is blatant racism on our campus, the most pressing and solvable problem with diversity at UT-Austin is the lack of deliberate integration between the two Greek systems on campus. This division between Greek systems creates a campus social environment where students interact primarily with people from their own background.

If Longhorns want to pride themselves on being culturally inclusive, then we must learn how to integrate outside the classroom. Indian fraternities need to have mixers with traditionally white sororities. Greek councils need to work hard to incorporate cultural Greeks into their social events, such as Round Up. University administrators should encourage and facilitate the integration process. But most importantly, any cultural grudges that people may be holding on to need to be forgotten immediately. Driving these changes isn’t easy — we can’t force students of different backgrounds to come together off campus like we can in the classroom. But recognizing the problem is the first step to changing it.

Spiller is a rhetoric and writing senior from Grand Blanc, Mich. This is his last column for the Texan before his graduation.