South Asian fraternity joins University’s greek community

by Amber Schadewald

When five students didn’t find a fraternity that was right for them, they decided to start their own.

As a result, Beta Chi Theta became the University’s first South Asian fraternity last month.

The group joins the University’s 26 other greek organizations, only eight of which are considered culturally based. Beta Chi Theta’s main goal is to create cultural consciousness, both for its members and the campus community.

Vnay Bedi, president and co-founder of Beta Chi Theta, said he started the group because he didn’t think there was a particular fraternity he fit into.

“Our University has a big South Asian population and having our own fraternity is necessary,” he said.

According to Aaroosh Jain, treasurer and co-founder of the fraternity, the group celebrates cultural values that are unique to South Asians; something no other fraternity has been able to offer.

As of spring 2005, there were 4,491 undergraduate ethnic and racial minority students enrolled at the University, about 17 percent of the student population.

African-American, Jewish and Latino fraternities and sororities have a long history at the University – some began as early as the 1850s.

But South Asian greek organizations are a relatively new phenomenon.

Beta Chi Theta was first recognized as an official fraternity at the University of California-Los Angeles in 1999. There Beta Chi Theta became the first and only South Asian fraternity to join the Inter-fraternity council, the governing body that oversees campus fraternities.

Chad Ellsworth, greek affairs adviser, helped the Minnesota students get Beta Chi Theta running, and said there are many benefits to being a part of a young chapter.

“They’re the first of their kind – it’s a scary thing, but there are a lot of organizations they’re associated with that are successful,” Ellsworth said. “Their focus on cultural pride and awareness is helping redefine the idea of fraternities.”

Concentration on cultural awareness is more common among student groups, and, according to the Student Activities Office, 150 of the 700 registered student groups on campus have declared themselves culturally based.

According to the founders of Beta Chi Theta, the difference between their fraternity and a student group is the personal connection.

“This fraternity honestly gives the true meaning of brotherhood,” Bedi said.

To Varun Garg, a biomedical engineering senior, a fraternity like Beta Chi Theta appeals to people who aren’t necessarily culturally aware but want to become more so in a less conventional way.

“It allows you to enter the realm of Indian socializing,” Garg said. “Then you can ease more into the cultural part.”

Rahul Dhuria, a chemical engineering senior, said he probably would have joined the fraternity if he weren’t graduating this winter.

Dhuria said he thinks a cultural fraternity would help connect people with the same backgrounds, morals and values – something not always easy for students to find on their own.

Although the differences might not be outstanding, some students said they’d rather just be part of a student group.

Xochitl Martinez, member of the Latino student group La Raza, said the main reason she didn’t join the Latina-based sorority is the time commitment.

La Raza allows her to participate around her schedule, whereas a sorority would demand much more responsibility, she said.

“I like being here (at La Raza) because I can do my own business,” Martinez said.

Other students said they don’t like the negative connotations that come along with being the member of a greek organization.

Kue Xiong, member of the Hmong Minnesota Student Association, said he would love to join a Hmong fraternity to spread cultural awareness, but at the same time he was hesitant simply because of the stereotypes associated with the greek community.

“When you think of fraternities, you think they just party and that’s it,” Xiong said.

Jain said that’s one thing Beta Chi Theta is being cautious about – making sure they are associated with community service and academic excellence, not drinking.

Beta Chi Theta is still planning events for the year, but Bedi said it is dedicated to working with other greek organizations and student groups, culturally based and not. Bedi said he wants the group to learn about different cultures while teaching others about its own.

Currently, the only members of Beta Chi Theta are four of the founders; one member already graduated. Last week the group had its first official informational meeting, sparking the interest of 20 new rushes.

Although the group is centered on South Asian culture, it is not exclusively limited to people of South Asian descent. James Ambalathunkal, Beta Chi Theta co-founder and secretary, said that although they want new members, they are being selective.

“It’s quality over quantity,” he said.