Story by MEREDITH SEARIGHT
SALT LAKE CITY — The last few years have been marred by racial issues, divisions, and strain in the United States. These concerns have extended to the Greek system at the University of Utah, where a lack of diversity that has been characterized as racial bias.
Here at the University of Utah, only 5 percent of the student body are members of the Greek community, which is approximately 1,500 out of 31,592 students. The nature of a small Greek system which lacks diversity has raised some concern, which Colby Judd, the president of Delta Sigma Phi, recognizes. “It is challenging to help members from diverse backgrounds feel comfortable in the Greek system,” he says, adding that there have been issues in the past where members have left due to a lack of diversity in the chapter. Judd, along with the rest of the chapter understands that changes need to be made, and has arranged for members of the Bennion Center to speak to them about diversity and equality.
Jess Turuc, Director of Sorority and Fraternity Life at the U has worked at three other collegiate institutions prior to Utah. This is the first school that she’s worked in that requires their students to take a diversity class, she says. “Essentially, this is the University of Utah and we are a very white institution. Not by choice, but by proximity and where we are,” says Turuc. She has not experienced any issues with regards to diversity in the Greek community at the U and finds the students in the community to be “respectful, mature, friendly, and accepting of all students from every culture and race.” Moreover, Turuc says that diversity is welcomed, and the Greek Council has partnered in the past with the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs on campus to learn more about what it can do to grow and improve the Greek experience for ethnic students.
According to Forbes Magazine’s “America’s Top Colleges,” the University of Utah is 68 percent white, 10 percent Hispanic, 8 percent non-resident aliens, 5 percent Asian, and 9 percent “other.” Colter Merritt, the Sigma Phi Epsilon president and a senior at the U, is well aware of these statistics. “This means that the Greek Community, although seeking a diverse population, struggles to generate a diverse base of recruits each year because we simply don’t have a large enough pool of non-white students to recruit.”
When you are given such a massive white population it can be difficult to recruit the smaller percentages that aren’t white, Merritt says. When Sigma Phi Epsilon does their recruiting, they aren’t looking for or seeking out diversity, rather, the “objective is to get the best possible members based off of values, academic achievement, community involvement, etc.,” he continues.
Quin Martz, the president of Delta Gamma says that she and her chapter have sought to promote diversity and reduce bias. “Delta Gamma fosters an environment of inclusivity and openness. Our sisterhood is made up of women from all walks of life” she says. Everyone has a different background and a different story. We recruit members based on the values of our sisterhood. We are accepting of all women in our chapter, of all individuals on Greek Row and at the University.” Along with Delta Gamma’s open and accepting members and recruiting process, the U’s Greek community also includes a Multicultural Community. “The Greek community is made up of the Panhellenic Council, Interfraternal Council, and the Multicultural Greek Community,” says Martz. “These councils work together to bond in brotherhood and sisterhood, and to set goals to improve each semester. Delta Gamma has partnered with Multicultural organizations for Greek Week for many years, and we always have so much fun celebrating the Greek Community and participating in healthy competition. When we come together, we can accomplish great things.”
According to Turuc, in a time of such negativity with issues regarding race on Utah’s campus, the U’s Greek system has managed to not let it bleed over to their community. When it comes to the chapter of Chi Omega at the U their ethnic makeup consists of, 110 Caucasian’s, three Hispanic’s, three African American’s, five Asian’s, and 11 members that identify as other. “Diversity allows us to have multiple perspectives and use them to enrich our peers around us. It makes us more accepting and communicative”, says Kira Wachter, president of Chi Omega. Even with a predominately white chapter, their president makes strides to grow their member’s perceptions of life. Amidst all the racial issues, division, and strain in the United States; the University of Utah’s Greek system strives in both the words they speak and in their deeds to be a safe, welcoming, and accepting place for anyone who wants to join.