Where is the diversity?

05 September | 2010

A common misconception regarding fraternities is a lack of diversity, however diversity comes in many forms including academic interests, personality and national origin.

Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating book Blink explores the idea of “thin slicing,” which says that as human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience. He uses an example where normal people are given fifteen minutes to examine a student's college dormitory and can describe the subject's personality more accurately than his or her own friends. There are benefits and drawbacks to this method. On one hand, it allows us to form snap judgments saving time and research which can be more accurate than if we were to pour tedious amounts of time into investigating the situation. On the other hand, our own biases and preconceptions affect our ability to judge a situation accurately, leading to error.

Unfortunately, the fraternity industry is one that many people “thin slice” often. Movies such as Animal House and media news stories of hazing and deaths have painted fraternities in such a bad light that any interaction between non Greek Life and Greek Life members has become littered with stereotypes. One of these stereotypes concerns the diversity present in Greek Life – namely that each fraternity only recruits the same kind of people, leading to a fraternity being a clique where everyone looks the same, acts the same, and likes the same things. Potential members may be turned off because they feel they don’t have the look, likings, or personality fit that a fraternity exudes.

Frankly, similarities within a group arise from a natural progression of being close friends who spend lots of time together. Friends tend to adopt each other’s mannerisms, dress styles, and likings. So it’s not necessarily that fraternities only recruit a certain type of member - it’s that members come in and have an effect on each other. In this case, an outsider’s perception may not be accurate on the dynamics of a group.

Additionally, the way a group looks is the first thing an outsider sees, leading one to believe that the group contains no diversity. But the look of a group is not the only type of diversity. The following are other types of diversity that add and enhance a group’s dynamics which are not readily apparent:

  • Personality: Contrary to popular belief, not every person in a fraternity is wildly extroverted with a penchant for partying. While extraversion is valued as a good social trait, our fraternity has an extremely wide range of personality traits.
  • Majors: Academic interests are another form of group diversity. Every chapter has liberal arts (business and social science), physical sciences (chemistry, biology), engineering, and fine arts (music, drama) majors. Why is this important? Well, besides the obvious in that you can get some help in your studies, these academic interests contribute to a thriving, healthy discussion when debates arise.
  • Religion: Every chapter has brothers of different religions from Christianity and Islam to Hinduism and Judaism. Then there are brothers who are not religious at all. Members can learn about each other’s religion as well as provide a valuable, different perspective on issues.
  • Hobbies and Interests: Some members may be diehard Dallas Cowboys fans, while others may love the Titans or Steelers. Some may love graphic design or writing. We have brothers who participate in and lead Bhangra teams and Raas teams. In any case, you will be sure to find someone who you can share an interest with. Or a budding rivalry!
  • Geographic: Although Beta Chi Theta is a South Asian fraternity, I know brothers from the US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Africa, and Malaysia, among other places. It’s always interesting to hear stories and learn about cultures from other places. This will only widen your global perspective and make you a more cultured person.

Once you join a fraternity and peel back the layers of the overall group, you will quickly discover many other types of diversity that exist which you would have never guessed. Even today, my brothers continue to surprise me with different things that I never knew about them.

So don’t fall victim to “thin slicing” a fraternity. Really get to know the guys and mold your opinion from there. Diversity is more than skin deep.

This blog post was originally published by Brother Ehson Afshar on September 6th, 2010.

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