The subject of racial inequities and discrimination in fraternities and sororities has become a hot topic on many campuses in recent years. Brothers from SigEp’s D.C. Delta chapter at American University realized if they wanted to be more inclusive, they’d need to consciously broaden their understanding of other cultures.
Gabriel Vazquez, St. John’s ’10, serves as D.C. Delta’s balanced man steward, helping the chapter implement its Balanced Man Program. He arranged admission for a group of approximately 15 brothers to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) during the pandemic before it fully reopened.
After learning from a staff member about the museum’s layout — starting underground, the exhibits chronicle the bleakest times in African American history with progressively better periods detailed on ascending floors — the group spent the day touring the museum.
Ben Yepez, American ’24, who served in the recently created role of vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), said he immediately saw the potential of the outing when Vazquez shared the idea with him. “The underlying idea was, ‘What can we learn?’ From a DEI perspective, I felt something like this could expand our knowledge and help brothers rethink what they thought they knew.”
After working their way up the museum’s seven levels, brothers convened to reflect on the experience. Yepez said discussing what they learned added another dimension to the trip. “Everyone seemed to have a positive experience. What I heard a lot was, ‘I never knew this before’ and ‘I had no idea about this part of history.’”
Part of the discussion centered on privilege and the various ways it can impact one’s life. Vazquez said at the end of the conversation, “We challenged everyone to speak with someone they might normally not or to work within communities that are not as fortunate as some of us are.”
The tour also opened brothers’ eyes about some people and events in our country’s history that they previously knew little about. They said they also gained insight on symbols, how they’ve been used throughout history and how the significance of certain symbols can vary among different communities and cultures. One of the things they discussed was the importance of how symbols are used, including those in SigEp’s Ritual.
Yepez is hoping to plan more outings so brothers can take advantage of other culturally significant attractions and events in and around D.C. Vazquez said he’d like to organize another visit to the NMAAHC with a larger group of brothers and that he’d love to do so with members of a historically Black fraternity.