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Being Greek

Above: Members of Greek organizations at UTRGV legacy institution UT Pan American are shown at a Habitat for Humanity project in 2013. Courtesy Photo

UTRGV graduate student Miguel Venegas has been a part of Sigma Lambda Beta since Spring 2012. He first joined during his time at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. When Venegas first started looking for fraternities to join, nothing really seemed to appeal to him the way Sigma Lambda Beta did.

“I’ve really, really enjoyed it. … Being an only child, I kind of always wanted to know what it was like to have brothers,” said the interdisciplinary and Mexican American studies graduate student. “When I saw Sigma Lambda Beta, the thing that really interested me about them is the fact that they are huge supporters of the DREAM Act nationally. … I’m very politically oriented and [it’s] something that hits close to home to me, family members and friends back here in the Rio Grande Valley. So, for me, it was something I felt was really important.”

Sigma Lambda Beta is one of 15 Greek organizations at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. There are nine fraternities and six sororities.

Nationally, there are more than 100 fraternities and sororities across the U.S.

These Greek organizations are divided into four councils: the Interfraternity Council (IFC) that house fraternities, the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPC) that houses sororities, the Multicultural Greek Council (MGC) that houses both and the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations (NALFO) that also houses both.

When Venegas began attending UTRGV last fall, his original plan was to dial down on his participation in Sigma Lambda Beta–or consider himself inactive- – and focus on his studies .

However, he is now the vice president of the fraternity. The chapter has worked together with the sorority Delta Tau Lambda, Heads-Up and Student Health Services for World AIDS Day.

“It’s that sense of brotherhood that brought me back,” Venegas said. “[For World AIDS Day,] all four of us worked together to really bring awareness to HIV, STDs and pretty much really trying to break the stigma that some people face when they have this virus. It doesn’t change who they are and that’s one thing we really try to promote [as well as] safer sex practices. Sometimes, I feel, in our Latino community in the [Valley] we don’t talk about these subjects like sex.

It’s [seen as] taboo. I feel like college is kind of a place where it’s a safe space to talk about these subjects.”

Sigma Lambda Beta has eight members and recruits twice a year, one during the first month of fall and another during the first month of spring. To qualify, there are two sets of different requirements for incoming college freshmen and a non-first semester student.

Incoming freshmen must have a high school grade-point average of 3.0, a résumé and an optional letter of recommendation. Otherwise, students must have at least a 2.5 GPA, a résumé, a formal interview and a letter of recommendation. The dues for this fraternity are $150 per semester.

UTRGV sophomore Monica Rodriguez joined Delta Zeta last semester when a sister sat next to her during test day in her anatomy class. As more of an extrovert, Rodriguez struck up a conversation with her and was later asked if Rodriguez would ever consider joining a sorority.

“At the time, I was going through a sticky situation with my best friends–we stopped hanging out and stuff,” Rodriguez said.

“After the test, I sat with her and a few other Delta Zetas and we sat and talked for three hours. I fell in love with it. And now I’m here, a year later, and I’m vice president.”

Delta Zeta has 40 members and also recruits twice a year, once during the first week of fall and again during the first week of spring. During the fall, it’s considered a formal recruitment and Delta Zeta teams up with Alpha Sigma Tau, another Panhellenic Greek chapter and recruits together–without ever disclosing which sorority they belong to. During the spring, the informal recruitment involves Delta Zeta sisters going out and individually finding potential sisters to join. When it comes to determining who joins, there are two different committees, one for each semester. For the fall, one member from each class will go through a process and decide who qualifies as a Delta Zeta. For the spring, the officers will serve as a committee and determine who qualifies.

Between Delta Zeta and Alpha Sigma Tau, they must meet a recruitment quota that is currently at about 40. If Delta
Zeta doesn’t meet its quota during the first couple of weeks of recruitment, the rest of the semester is considered a continuous open bidding, where Delta Zeta members look for potential new members and determine their worth as a Delta Zeta.

The financial commitment is a $275 badge upon initiation and a $55 monthly fee. For the badge, Rodriguez said a group of women could fundraise and split the money among those who participated.

As new members, Delta Zetas go through a six-to-12-week process that includes learning the Greek alphabet, the history of the sorority, online modules and a weekly mandatory meeting. The members must also be a part of one other organization that can also count for their volunteer hours.

Greek Week, which started Sunday, includes a variety of activities such as flag football, tug of war, quiz bowl, beach volleyball and a talent show. Each chapter signs up for what it would like to participate in. According to Rodriguez, Delta Zeta has been the reigning champion for about three years.

Both chapters refused to disclose their initiation process.

“Our [initiation] process is our own,” Venegas of Sigma Lambda Beta said. m“[They are] rituals that have been handed down to us since we were founded, so for us, it’s like we don’t want to give out that information because it’s close to our hearts. It’s something only brothers of our organization know and something that we hold a lot of pride to.”

Neither Sigma Lambda Beta or Delta Zeta participate in hazing, or the practice of activities that involve abuse or harassment as a form of initiation into a Greek chapter.

“We are an anti-hazing fraternity. … With the word hazing, it’s a very problematic word,” Venegas said. “It’s a very negative word that’s automatically associated with Greek organizations…. We don’t haze, we don’t believe in it. We don’t believe in belittling our new members. We really want to bring you up and reinforce the strong suits you already have.”

To ensure that none of the Greek organizations participate in hazing, Rolando Gonzalez, student program adviser for Fraternity and Sorority Life, said Greek organizations are required to renew their chapters every academic year and have to fill out general risk management forms as well as organization forms.

“The chapters are held up to certain standards, so they have the handbook of operations and they have the student [organization] handbook and later on within the semester we’re actually going to have the UTRGV Greek handbook,” said Gonzalez, a former member of Phi Iota Alpha. “So, those are the guidelines that are set forth by the university. So, when students and officers sign off on the risk management completions or re-register their organizations, that is where we are guaranteeing that they are agreeing to follow and abide by those rules. … If we see that they are not following or are not committing to [the rules], there are repercussions for those chapters.”

Gonzalez said Texas has the strictest hazing law.

“We actually had a documentary that highlights how hazing can occur in other instances, but unfortunately, Greek life is the one that’s bestowed with the negativity of it all,” Gonzalez said. “[Yet] it happens in high schools, sporting events, bands [and] lots of different groups. I think it starts with people losing sight of what the purpose of the organization is for. I don’t think it’s a part of Greek life, it’s just something that has been thrown on us.”

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