Clemson students form first Asian interest fraternity in state of South Carolina
Pi Alpha Phi was founded by six men in 1929 at the University of California, Berkeley.
The organization serves its members, prospective members, friends and the general public, with a focus of five fundamental pillars. Four of the pillars are no stranger to the vision of many fraternities across the country: academic excellence, brotherhood, leadership and philanthropy.
The fifth is what makes it different — Asian American awareness.
The Clemson colony — it’s not yet officially a chapter — became the 21st active unit in the United States when it launched this spring, and is the only such organization in the state of South Carolina.
“The Multicultural Greek Council is in its infant stages here at Clemson,” said Trish Robinson, associate director of Fraternity and Sorority Life. “It started two years ago with the addition of a Latino interest fraternity and sorority. Then, we added Delta Phi Lambda, an Asian interest sorority in the spring of 2016 before Pi Alpha Phi came on board.”
Jordan Minoda grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, but traces his roots to the Asian culture. His paternal grandmother and mother were both from Japan, but his father was born in America. Though he does not speak the native tongue, he has made frequent trips to Japan to visit family.
“The culture is very different from the American system I was raised in,” said Minoda, a computer science major with an interest in digital production arts. “It’s a beautiful place, though.”
A summer engineering camp prior to his junior year of high school ultimately steered Minoda to Clemson, where he immediately fell in love with the university.
He quickly found a place within a campus organization known as the Asian Student Association. When some members of the group began forming what would eventually be Delta Phi Lambda, Minoda took notice. He wanted to do something similar with a fraternity.
“Jordan is a great example of someone who was proactive,” Robinson said. “He helped form a subset of that group known as PANDA (Pacific Asians Networking and Developing Awareness). They had to meet requirements from our end as well as Pi Alpha Phi — such as understanding its history, how it was founded and what it means to be a member.”
Minoda and a group of nine other Clemson students not only engaged in the typical educational process, they immersed themselves in it.
In the fall of 2016, they began visiting local chapters of Pi Alpha Phi — UNC Chapel Hill, Charlotte, NC State. He even led a group to Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to make sure they were selecting the right fraternity.
Once the group completed educational requirements and concluded its chapter visits, the members of Pi Alpha Phi were charged with creating a presentation this spring. Multiple campus chapters attended, including some from several states away. The presentation included a recitation of Pi Alpha Phi’s mission statement and values.
“We looked at multiple associations, but ultimately chose Pi Alpha Phi because we thought we coincided with its mission,” Minoda said.
Pi Alpha Phi was officially accepted as a colony, but Clemson junior Amy Nguyen knows all too well the roller coaster effect that can result when forming a Greek organization.
Nguyen is the colony president of Delta Phi Lambda and, despite all of the ups and downs that come with getting an organization off and running, she believes the impact it will have on the Clemson community should manifest itself it in the end.
“I’d be lying if I said it’s always been a smooth ride,” she said. “But even with that, I’m happy to say that it’s completely worth all the hours and work these ladies and myself have put in. The most amazing experiences come from watching each individual sister grow as a member of our organization.”
One of the unique things about Clemson’s newest colony is that it’s not a requirement to be of Asian heritage to join. In fact, it’s not a requirement for any of the organizations that make up the Multicultural Greek Council.
The 10 students that comprise Pi Alpha Phi are from varying backgrounds. Three are Chinese, two are Filipino, two are Caucasian, while the other three are of Indian, Japanese and Taiwanese descent.
“Our only requirement is that it’s people who want to engage in the Asian culture, to help promote it on campus, or people who are just comfortable with the community,” Minoda said.
Three such members who met the criteria all went to Academic Magnet High School together in North Charleston, South Carolina. The brotherhood has continued at the college level.
Steven Lu was born in China, but moved to America at a young age when his father accepted a job offer in Charleston. As a sophomore at Academic Magnet, he met Anthony Spyropoulos.
“We had some of the same hobbies,” Lu said. “By the time we were seniors, we had probably seven out of eight classes together.”
Spyropoulos, a Caucasian, has Greek grandparents but both of his parents were born and raised in America. It was at Academic Magnet that he and Lu first met Dominic Marosok, another Caucasian. Marosok ultimately moved to Rock Hill, South Carolina, but later reunited with them at Clemson.
Shortly after enrolling, Lu and Spyropoulos met Minoda when they discovered the Asian Student Association at the Tiger Prowl event the first week on campus.
Spyropoulos looked at joining ASA as a learning opportunity.
“It’s been a different experience to be the minority,” he noted. “There are no speed bumps; it’s just a different perspective. It’s really cool to learn about the other cultures and common experiences that are shared.”
Lu said Pi Alpha Phi’s diversity is one of the most gratifying aspects of the organization.
“It’s Asian interest, not Asian exclusive,” he explained. “Anyone interested can join. Anthony and Dominic have probably gained the most out of it, because they’ve learned a lot of the culture.”
As Clemson’s Pi Alpha Phi colony goes through its first recruitment period and seeks to expand its membership, Minoda and his fraternity brothers expressed some common goals.
“Begin a wave of other schools bringing together Asian interest fraternities,” he said.
“Bring more Asian cultural awareness to the area, and maybe that will in turn help increase the number of students that come to Clemson,” Spyropoulos added.
As the fall and spring semesters progress, Nguyen offered some sage advice to her Asian interest counterparts in the Greek system.
“Try not to stress too much,” she said. “We are super excited for Pi Alpha Phi and cannot wait to see them excel in all that they do. While it’s very important to work hard and build a sustainable chapter, it’s just as important to take a step back and enjoy the time spent with your brothers.”
That’s exactly what Minoda and company plan to do. He said Pi Alpha Phi will hold several events to support the Jade Ribbon Campaign, which raises money to research hepatitis B and liver cancer, both of which are high-risk in Asian and Pacific Islander communities.
Just as important as the organization’s philanthropic efforts, though, Minoda hopes to help foster a lasting kinship among the community.
“In five years, I want to be able to come back to Clemson and see that our chapter has a huge brotherhood.”
A vision no doubt shared by Pi Alpha Phi’s founding members at Cal Berkeley some 88 years ago.