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EMERGENCE OF MULTICULTURAL FRATERNAL ORGANIZATIONS

Multicultural fraternal organizations began to emerge on college campuses in the 1980’s and 1990’s. This emergence and growth was due in part to the success of the civil rights movement that brought forth newfound strength in minority populations (African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans, women, etc.). It also coincided with a new wave of immigration coming in from various parts of the world as a result of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (Hart-Celler Act, INS Act of 1965, Public Law 89-236) under the Johnson Administration. These factors led to fundamental change in the culture and content of our society and, ultimately, our primary schools and institutions of higher education.

The establishment of historically Black fraternal organizations and Latino fraternal organizations has been documented to have happened as the result of a lack of support networks to ensure success for African Americans and Latinos entering colleges and universities (Kimbrough, 2003). Multicultural fraternal organizations share a similar history, with a twist. While organizations were being formed that strengthened cultural pride among specific groups (Blacks, Latinos, Asians/Pacific Islanders), there were students coming from multicultural and multiethnic backgrounds, households, schools, and neighborhoods who often were able to identify with bicultural or multicultural identities. They felt the need to belong to organizations that not only embraced and highlighted their own culture, but also valued the effervescent qualities and richness of other cultures shared by their friends and families. It is within this climate that multicultural fraternal organizations were born, demonstrating the richness of the cultural blend of the American culture and the need to celebrate and embrace such differences.

Most multicultural fraternal organizations share a similar regional birthplace, the Northeast region of the United States, where there is a rich mosaic of cultures. The Northeast became a natural nesting place in which multicultural fraternal entities began to develop. According to Kimbrough (2003), “students seeking to bring together students of different races and backgrounds, sought to build fraternal groups that openly embraced multiculturalism” (p. 104). Kimbrough’s (2003) research also contends that the organizations formed in the time that he denotes as the “individualist/multiculturalism era: 1980 – present” (p. 103) could have been seen as a fad, since many of them, are no longer in existence. However, three of the organizations listed are, or were at one point, active members of the NMGC.

The question that may come to mind is, “If African American, Latino, and Asian students each had their own organizations, what types of students were joining these multicultural fraternal organizations?” The answer is that all types of students were joining, as the membership of multicultural fraternal organizations is comprised of a widely diverse population, including students from majority populations. While Latino organizations can claim their membership is multicultural or diverse, a fundamental principle of such organizations is to highlight and embrace the Latino culture. The same is applicable to historically Black or Asian organizations. What sets multicultural fraternal organizations apart is the celebration of all cultures as their main focus, with no single culture being specifically emphasized. This type of organization became appealing to college students that were biracial, bicultural, recent immigrants, or who had simply grown up with a different cultural lens that caused them to identify with or seek knowledge of other cultures. The founding members were also students who exemplified cultural pride and wanted to share it with their peers, while simultaneously seeking to learn of other cultures. “Ethnic identity is determined by an individual’s choices to maintain behaviors associated with the culture of origin. Acculturation represents the extent to which the majority culture’s values, mores, and customs have been adopted” (Torres, 2003, p.3). The product of the association between the crossing of cultures and the established institution of fraternal organizations gave birth to multicultural fraternal organizations. While most of the multicultural fraternal organizations on Kimbrough’s list are no longer in existence, several others, bearing out the Darwinian perspective, are still around and stronger than ever.

As our society has continued to embrace the celebration of race and ethnicity, the United States has become more of a global community. This is evident by the increased numbers of interracial and inter-cultural marriages in the past thirty years (Root, 2001). As a result, multicultural fraternal organizations have become positive organizations that value all cultures holistically and are committed to the success of the individual as well as the community in which they thrive. It is no surprise that throughout the late 1990’s and early 2000’s multicultural fraternal organizations have grown prolifically.

ESTABLISHMENT OF THE NATIONAL MULTICULTURAL GREEK COUNCIL, INC.

By the beginning of the 1980’s, increasing numbers of men and women from culturally diverse backgrounds were pursuing college degrees and seeking a support system in the form of a sorority or fraternity. However, at that time most organizations on college campuses were either the traditional, social fraternities and sororities or the historically African American organizations. Latino fraternal organizations had also emerged in the collegiate setting but, as with all of the other organizations, did not seem to provide bicultural or multicultural students the diversity they sought in an organization’s infrastructure and governing directives. Not surprisingly, in November 1981 within this climate, the first multicultural sorority, Mu Sigma Upsilon Sorority, Inc., was founded.

The 1980’s and 1990’s saw the emergence of a multicultural fraternity/sorority movement. New fraternities and sororities were emerging throughout the country. These organizations, however, were not typical fraternities and sororities. Initiated by the founding of the first multicultural sorority, the end of the twentieth century gave birth to a new movement – that of multiculturalism. Newly formed fraternities and sororities were looking to write a new page in the fraternal organization history books, one of inclusiveness of all cultures, races, religions, and creeds. By the mid-1990’s, multicultural fraternities and sororities were plentiful on college campuses, albeit fragmented, as no single platform existed to enable these organizations to work together.

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. Since that time, NMGC member organizations have recognized the need for the Council’s greater involvement in the development of its membership. The NMGC needed to become much more than a mechanism through which like-minded organizations could work together, but rather a council that would also strengthen the presence of its member organizations on college campuses while fortifying ties with college/university professionals.

With such new principles in mind, the NMGC undertook a rigorous restructuring process with the twin goals of (1) better identifying and providing membership benefits through affiliation and (2) increasing its communications and presence on college/university campuses and within the community at large. The first concrete step in these efforts was the adoption of the Code of Ethics in 2005. The Code of Ethics addresses concepts of mutual respect and courtesy and sets a standard for organizational expectations during the intake process. An additional strategy to ensure the proper development and compliance of member organizations to standards similar to those held by other national umbrella organizations has been realized in the adoption of the NMGC Principles of Excellence. These principles provide specific criteria by which all member organizations have agreed to abide:

1. Incorporation Status
2. Scholarship/Academic Initiatives
3. Service Initiatives
4. Liability Coverage of $1 Million
5. Anti-Hazing Policy

In addition to establishing the Principles of Excellence, the revitalized NMGC has been promoting scholarship and service amongst its members through the establishment of awards for excellence and by engaging in group service-based projects. A focal point of the restructuring process was the NMGC’s Statement on Multiculturalism, developed to better educate college/university professionals and the community on the Council’s unified commitment to diversity.

The NMGC serves in an advisory capacity to its member organizations. Each member organization is autonomous as a Greek-letter society.

The goals of the NMGC are as follows:

  • To provide a forum that allows for the free exchange of ideas, programs, and services between its constituent fraternities and sororities;
  • To promote the awareness of multicultural diversity within collegiate institutions, their surrounding communities, and the greater community-at-large; and
  • To support and promote the works of its member organizations.

 

NMGC STATEMENT ON MULTICULTURALISM

The NMGC Statement on Multiculturalism, authored by Jefferson et al (2007) and outlined below, articulates the organization’s definition of the term “multiculturalism” and clarifies the philosophy of the member organizations.

“The word, multicultural, broken into separate parts, simply means multiple cultures. For Multicultural fraternal organizations, however, the word was not adopted to describe the diversity of its membership. Multiculturalism is not indicative of the physical composition of an organization on a chapter or national level; rather, it is a state of mind – a philosophy that embraces any and all aspects of cultural identity with unconditional respect and equality.

Cultural identity includes (but is not limited to): geographical location, sex, gender, race, history, nationality, sexual orientation and religious beliefs.

Multicultural fraternal organizations, like the fraternal organizations before them, exist to address a need that had yet to be addressed by prior organizations. While most, if not all, organizations have diverse membership, there is still a cultural concentration and focus, and that concentration may take precedence over other cultures represented in that organization. Founders of Multicultural fraternal organizations did not want to prioritize one aspect of a person’s cultural identity over another and, thus, established organizations that taught its members to respect and embrace each individual as an individual – the foundation of unity.

Accordingly, the NMGC defines Multiculturalism as not only diversity of membership, but a concrete commitment to acknowledge and celebrate all cultures equally through our programming, public service outreach efforts and community education. (p.1)”

 

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