As recruitment begins for a community that is already home to more than 700 students, Greek organizations on campus are aiming to continue diversifying their membership and pushing for housing.
Sept. 6 marks the start of rush events for Kappa Sigma, the oldest fraternity at UTD. Cameron Peterson, who is currently the president, said the founding members were leaders on campus, which set the standard for Greek involvement across UTD.
“You’ll see touches and traces of (Greek life) everywhere,” he said. “I think that’s how (fraternity and sorority life) has kind of evolved, just (by) being involved as much as possible other than just in Greek life.”
As Kappa Sigma’s 25th anniversary approaches this March, Peterson’s goal is to establish strong ties with the fraternity’s alumni.
“We’re working towards building a better alumni basis because we are the oldest on campus, so we’d like to have a better connection with them so we can do bigger things,” he said.
A long-term objective that could be achieved through a stronger alumni network is Greek housing, Peterson said.
“The other project I’m working on right now is to establish a housing campaign, but not necessarily a house just yet,” he said. “(Just) something to get that in the near future, you know five to 10 years.”
Since Clark Center — a popular location for fraternities and sororities to have meetings — was torn down, the chapters have had trouble finding spaces large enough to accommodate them regularly, Peterson said. Greek housing is meant to solve that issue by moving Greek activities off campus.
“I want to be somewhere where we can have our events … and not have to worry about reserving a room on campus,” Peterson said. “That could be opened up to other student organizations. It’d be easier to throw events that we have a dedicated space for.”
Briana Lemos, the Student Government advisor, served as the Greek life coordinator in 2005. She said FSL had worked with UTD’s former president David Daniel about Greek housing.
“(Daniel) had promised the students a land lease, so if they could show their organization could afford the home and (its) upkeep and everything their national organization needed to do, he would allow them to lease the UTD land for … something affordable for their organization,” she said.
At the time, the groups were still young and no alumni were old enough to make significant contributions, Lemos said.
With 25 years under Kappa Sigma’s belt, Peterson said alumni are excited to celebrate the milestone, making it easier to reach out to them.
“I want to start with connections … to further establish connections we don’t necessarily have with some alumni that have moved farther away to get as many people together as possible,” he said. “And this is going to be standard … not just this year, but a foundation for that in the future.”
By establishing a solid alumni basis, Peterson said he wants to work toward securing housing for all of FSL.
“This is something that we’re looking to set (up) for everybody and it’s going to be like a Greek row rather than a house randomly on campus,” he said.
Vice President of Student Affairs Gene Fitch said there are small pockets of land that could be used for Greek housing, such as the stretch between the rail line and Point North Park near Synergy Boulevard, but that is contingent on a variety of factors.
“(It’s) a very visible location but the problem is (whether there is) enough to build houses and provide parking and everything else that you would need out there,” he said. “That’s not to say we won’t still continue to pursue that. As (it) gains momentum, we’ll have conversations again and explain how the financing piece works. Then (FSL has) got to decide whether or not that’s something they have an interest in pursuing.”
Lemos, who managed Greek life at UTD until 2010, said FSL had a slow start on campus.
“It was a completely different community than it is now,” she said. “(With) a Greek community, there’s usually a sense of home and we didn’t have that yet because the groups were so new. (They) didn’t have that history or past to build on. They were still figuring life out.”
As Greek life grew, Lemos said it adopted an identity that mimicked the campus population.
“A lot of times at institutions, Greek life gets a bad rap of being elitist or not inclusive, (but) from my standpoint that’s not how we are,” she said. “We truly are what UTD is. You get a little bit of everything.”
Kevin Saberre, the director of FSL, stressed his recruitment goal for chapters is to seek diverse individuals to round out the membership and continue the trend of FSL mirroring the campus’ identity.
“We’ll be more intentional in our conversations with our chapters about understanding that the diversity on campus is a huge strength,” he said. “A lot of times, with fraternities and sororities, you have to make sure that you are going out and seeking quality members. I think when you have such a large campus, it’s easy to just fall back on the students who are already interested and come to you as opposed to you going out and finding quality members.”
Andrew Chen, the vice president of Omega Delta Phi and an international student from Taiwan, said his image of fraternities and sororities was limited to what he had seen in American movies.
“I never thought about joining a fraternity,” he said. “But, after I came to UTD, … (I realized) that the movies just emphasized certain parts of fraternities. (They) actually do a lot of community service and fundraising for philanthropy. (And) I think the brotherhood is really strong and it provides me another feeling of home.”
Chen said the diversity of FSL continues to expand and strengthen the chapters on campus.
“Even though some fraternities may (have) started with just a single race as their founders, all of their goals are to become a multicultural fraternity and sorority,” he said. “For example, in Omega Delta Phi, there are not only Latinos, there are also Asians and African Americans. When different cultures work together, it actually makes a fraternity and sorority better and more thoughtful toward other people.”
FSL’s programming has developed over the years, giving groups like Delta Sigma Theta a chance to organize events like Pink Power to raise breast cancer awareness. Members have opportunities to be leaders, La’Tressa Graham, the vice president and treasurer of the sorority, said.
“We’re just ‘show and prove’ types of people,” Graham said. “As you go through the process, you just learn so much more in watching other people in the positions that they hold. (You see) how much of a business it is and how much we try to reach out to initiate programs and do things that can help the community as well as help ourselves.”
As rush season picks up for the 24 Greek chapters on campus, Peterson said he hopes new recruits find their place in FSL as he did, three years ago, with Kappa Sigma.
He said one memory in particular made him realize he’d made the right choice in ‘going Greek.’
Around this same time last year, 50 of his brothers gathered to set up camp on the Plinth with cardboard boxes. That would be home for the next couple of nights.
As the rest of the campus settled in for the night, the makeshift homes came alive.
The fraternity men were swept up in a frenzy of activity, from playing soccer and tossing a Frisbee around to watching a movie and getting to know each other. Amidst all the socializing, however, they all knew their presence in the middle of campus represented something bigger.
Kappa Sigma fraternity’s annual awareness campaign for homeless veterans had its biggest turnout last year and reaffirmed what being a part of Greek life is to Peterson.
“That was probably where I started thinking ‘This is why I want to be here,’” he said. “We’re hanging out together and we’re doing something for a good cause and we’re having fun while doing it.”