Greek life at UTEP about giving back to community

By on November 2, 2014

There’s more to the picture than meets the eye when it comes to Greek organizations on the University of Texas at El Paso campus. Being part of a Greek organization at UTEP is about growing as an individual and giving back to the community, and it has been part and parcel of the University’s rich 100-year history.

Greek life began unofficially in 1919, five years after the University opened its doors, when engineering students decided to create their own fraternity because they couldn’t afford the charter dues charged by existing national organizations. They called it Alpha Phi Omega, not to be confused with the national organization of the same name established in 1925.

Alpha Phi Omega introduced traditions that still exist, such as TCM Day, an annual rite of passage to initiate new engineers and geologists into the Order of St. Patrick, the patron saint of engineers. The original chapter disbanded in 1971 and today a national coed service fraternity with the same name operates on campus.

Sororities also have marked UTEP’s history. The first sorority on campus was Omega Phi Delta, organized in 1925. The oldest existing sorority on campus is Zeta Tau Alpha, established in 1938.

By the 1930s, Greek life was the norm at the Texas College of Mines. Fraternities and sororities had their respective lodges on campus; some remnants of their housing are still seen today. For instance, the Peter and Margaret de Wetter Center — built in 1941 — housed the sisters of Zeta Tau Alpha until the University acquired it in 1969. Presently, it quarters the Alumni Association and Office of Alumni Relations.

Built between 1954 and 1955, the Honors House was home to the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity, the first national fraternity on campus. Now housing the Honors Program, the University acquired the building in the late 1960s.

Due to the expansion of the modern campus, the Education Building, Liberal Arts Building and Academic Advising Center are located on sites of former fraternity and sorority houses.

At UTEP, most Greek organizations are philanthropic. Many join forces with El Paso agencies to organize community service projects throughout the academic year.

Zeta Tau Alpha for example, is a national sponsor of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, which raises funds for breast cancer research. Locally, the young women help register participants for the race; this year’s event had more than 8,000 participants.

“It’s a completely beneficial experience,” said Melissa M. Sanchez, a 2013 alumna of UTEP and Zeta Tau Alpha. “There’s more positive that comes from Greek life than negative.”

For two years in a row, she contributed to Cheer Camp for the Cure, a weekend camp for young girls that promotes breast cancer awareness. The event raised more than $11,000 for organizations like Susan G. Komen and Eastwood Cheer in 2011-12.

Sanchez is currently a UTEP master’s student.

A belief in universal responsibility prompted Alex Montes, a 1994 UTEP alumnus, to join Omega Delta Phi. In 1996, he and the fraternity, along with the Octagon Club from the Ysleta Independent School District, presented a bill to El Paso City Council to proclaim Feb. 17 as “Random Acts of Kindness Day.”

On that day, he and his fraternity brothers did simple kind acts to leave a lasting, meaningful impact. Montes smiled as he remembered the looks of awe on the faces of hungry homeless persons when he gave them sack lunches.

“The extracurricular activities, inside and outside of the fraternity, both social and service, are amazing,” Montes said. “The experiences that you live through are all outstanding.”

All things considered, Greek life is more than a label or a membership. It is a commitment that lasts a lifetime. This commitment to serve the Paso del Norte region is one of the factors behind UTEP’s ranking by Washington Monthly magazine as #1 in the subcategory of social mobility for three consecutive years.

Rodrigo Castañeda is an intern with UTEP’s University Communications office.