Jasmine and Jeniece Baines had no interest in Greek life when they stumbled into the Delta Xi Phi sorority. It happened last fall, when the twin sisters from Country Club Hills, near Chicago, visited a cultural fair at the Illini Union.
“Delta Xi Phi was there, and they actually seemed interesting,” Jasmine said. “We thought this sounds fun; we should check this out.”
The Baines twins picked up a flier and decided to attend an informational meeting. After that, they went to some sorority social events. “We really liked them,” Jasmine said. “We liked the environment they set and everything they stood for.”
Delta Xi Phi’s five “pillars” include values shared by most sororities – friendship, sisterhood, community service and the advancement of women through higher education – and another that’s probably not as common: increasing multicultural awareness.
“Our sorority is multicultural,” said Yesenia Marquez, a senior from Chicago and the president of the Illinois chapter. “It’s even in the name.”
Delta Xi Phi Multicultural Sorority Inc. was founded in the early 1990s at the U. of I. by 15 students who wanted to promote appreciation of the different cultures represented on campus. For the first year, they used the name Women for the Advancement of a Multicultural Society (WAMS) while they contacted sororities on other campuses, hoping to join an existing organization with similar goals. When that search proved futile, WAMS decided to establish an entirely new sorority.
Hanadi Abukhdeir, one of the Delta Xi Phi “founding mothers,” said they were attracted to the Greek system’s ideals of service, friendship and academics, but the notion of creating a sisterhood where cultural differences would be not only tolerated but also celebrated compelled the WAMS to form Delta Xi Phi.
“We all wanted to be part of something that was different and special,” Abukhdeir said, “and when we met for the first time, it was apparent that we all had the same aspirations.”
In the 20 years since its establishment, Delta Xi Phi has grown to more than 1,000 members with chapters on 23 other campuses, including Johns Hopkins University, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Wake Forest University. And although it belongs to the National Multicultural Greek Council Inc., Delta Xi Phi is in a class by itself under that umbrella, embracing a decidedly diverse mix of sisters.
Shixin Lan, a junior from Shanghai, majoring in sociology and anthropology, said Delta Xi Phi’s emphasis on multiculturalism altered her opinion of the Greek system – a system that had never before appealed to her.
“I don’t like the cover of racial exclusiveness from most sororities I have known from social media and friends,” Lan said.
But through a community service event, she made friends with a student who told her about Delta Xi Phi.
“I still remember the day that she said she belonged to a multicultural sorority, with people from different backgrounds,” Lan said. “Before that, I never thought about being a sorority girl.”
Lan attended a Delta Xi Phi social event – a volleyball game followed by a trip to a frozen yogurt shop – and immediately felt welcome.
“I did not know why, but I just could feel the sense of inclusiveness and friendliness,” she said. “The chat at Cocomero (the yogurt shop) made me consider the possibilities to get bonded with a group of people who appreciate their cultural heritage but don’t use it as a tool or standard to keep someone out or in.” She joined in the spring of 2012.
Delta Xi Phi requires members to maintain a 2.7 grade-point average and contribute service hours, and it has a strict policy against associating its letters with alcohol (for example, members can’t wear Delta Xi Phi letters into bars). However, the sorority’s definition of multicultural inclusion is broad and open.
“It’s not just about race,” Marquez said. “We welcome members of different religions and different abilities.”
One thing the sisters of Delta Xi Phi all have in common is a passionate curiosity about the world. Ask Lan what she wants to be when she grows up, and she replies that she hopes to work with a nongovernmental nonprofit and “travel around the world and offer to help in all the ways that I could.” Ask Marquez the same question, and the molecular and cellular biology major responds that she hopes to be a doctor or surgeon doing medical relief work.
Ask Jasmine Baines where she hopes to travel, and her answer is: “Everywhere!” South Korea is at the top of her list, because she’s studying Korean and has a friend who lives there. But narrowing it down to one country isn’t easy for Baines. “I really want to do study abroad,” she said, “but it’s hard choosing where I want to go, because I can’t think of any place that I don’t want to go.”
Abukhdeir, who now works in strategic planning at the University of Chicago Medical Center, said she and the other founders worked hard to establish a sorority that could endure.
“We encountered many obstacles along the way that we were able to overcome because we believed in what we were doing,” she said.
But even she is “surprised and amazed” by the ongoing expansion of Delta Xi Phi.
“There was obviously a need for an organization like this, and the ideas behind its foundation have obviously resonated with a new generation of women,” Abukhdeir said. “I’m proud to have been a part of this group, and I’m proud of the women who continue to contribute and grow the organization.”