If you would have asked me nearly 10 years ago if I intended to join a fraternity, I would have said absolutely not. As a first-generation college student, I had a very stereotypical view of fraternity and sorority life and did not know that multicultural Greek letter organizations existed. I thought fraternity life was all about partying, living in mansions and that joining would negatively affect my grades.
During orientation week at Cornell University, a senior who went to my high school invited me to learn more about Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc. I agreed to attend because he had been really helpful during my transition to Cornell. I told him I wasn’t interested in Greek life, but he insisted that I give the organization a chance and learn more about it.
I attended the interest meeting with an open mind. I didn’t intend to join, but there was no pressure for me to make that decision. The meeting was about what the organization does on campus, what the national organization provides to its members and the reasons for why each current member joined. I joined the interest group, which connected me with other students who were interested in joining and gave me an opportunity to see what it is like to be part of the chapter. I learned more about the fraternity and was given a set of requirements to complete in order to qualify for membership. I was able to organize fundraising events, community service events and professional development workshops.
This was all great, but I joined because of the brotherhood I witnessed among the members at the time. My relationship with these men wasn’t contingent on me joining—they were already my friends. However, the brotherhood provided something I didn’t experience within other student organizations on campus. It was something beyond Cornell, and meeting brothers from other schools and alumni who were all genuinely dedicated to the development of its members and service to the Latino community affirmed my decision to join.
By joining the fraternity, I developed relationships that truly resemble the ones I have with my closest family members. My fraternity brothers are my best friends. My “younger” brothers, the ones who joined after me, are one of the reasons that led me to pursue a career in higher education. I was able to offer the support I was given as a freshman to others, and I recognized how much I enjoyed doing that. I realized that I prioritized helping my younger brothers and prospective members’ well-being at Cornell, more so than my academics—sometimes even to my own detriment. However, I do not regret those times because I recognized a need that I was wholly invested in fulfilling. Hearing prospective members speak about how helping them navigate Cornell was one of the reasons why they were able to persist, showed me that this was something I was good at.
It was through the organization that I grew more comfortable with public speaking. As I got more involved with Greek life on campus, I began to take on roles where I represented the multicultural Greek community at Cornell, and this meant that I had to speak about our experiences since many students, staff, and alumni were unaware of how different our chapters were to the other Greek councils on campus. Conflict resolution was a major skill that I learned as a member too. Whether it was a disagreement with brothers in the chapter, or accusations made against my chapter or Greek life overall, I realized that I could not control what others think or say about my chapter. What I can control is how we respond, upholding our values while remaining committed to developing each other as brothers and serving the community on campus.
Essentially, joining Lambda Theta Phi was by far one of the best decisions I made at Cornell University. I am grateful for the opportunities if afforded me, the brothers it gave me and the life-long skills I developed as a member. I found a platform that married my passion for social justice and commitment to the Latino community, while learning more about my identity as a Latino and creating lifelong bonds with other members. “En la unión esta la fuerza” (in unity there is strength) is one of the fraternity sayings and I truly believe that my brothers played a significant role to my success.
Andrew Martinez is a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and research associate at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. His column appears in Diverse every other week. You can follow him on Twitter @Drewtle