Drive for an Islamic Sorority at U. of Kentucky
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The University of Kentucky is in an unusual competition. Students hope their school will be chosen to host the first campus chapter of the nation's only Islamic sorority. Kathleen Adams reports from one of our member stations, WUKY.
KATHLEEN ADAMS reporting:
A week before semester finals, 21-year-old Alwa al-Bassad(ph) and several friends are sitting on overstuffed couches and chairs in the school's student union, relaxing between classes. A native of Jordan, al-Bassad is wearing blue jeans, a knee-length sweater and white hijab, a traditional Muslim head scarf. She's a biology major and one of nine UK students trying to establish a chapter of Gamma Gamma Chi at the school.
Ms. ALWA al-BASSAD (Biology Student, University of Kentucky): Well, when I first heard the word Muslim sorority, I was, like, those two words cannot get together under any circumstances. I mean, sorority girls are like--they're all about dressing up, going to parties, at least from my background or back in Jordan that's what we know about sororities.
ADAMS: A friend convinced al-Bassad that a Muslim sorority could adhere to Islamic principles while helping to defy stereotypes. Twenty-year-old Boushra Aghil agrees. She's wearing blue jeans, Birkenstocks and a black head scarf. The Lexington native sees no conflict between Islam and the proposed sorority.
Ms. BOUSHRA AGHIL (Lexington Native): This is exactly what Islam is about. It's about social awareness. It's about letting people know who you are and where you are and being an active part of the community. This is just using a Western institution to further an Eastern philosophy.
ADAMS: It's been more than 10 years since a new sorority was recognized at the University of Kentucky. Susan West is director of fraternity and sorority affairs for the school. She says Gamma Gamma Chi is most welcome.
SUSAN WEST (Director, Fraternity and Sorority Affairs): We've actually had research that says fraternity and sorority life membership does help with retention. And so we're always looking for ways to get students connected to the university.
ADAMS: The sorority's national executive director is Althia Collins, an African-American who converted to Islam six years ago. Collins formed Gamma Gamma Chi after her daughter, who is a student elsewhere, expressed interest in sorority life.
Ms. ALTHIA COLLINS (National Executive Director, Gamma Gamma Chi): Through this sorority, I saw it as an opportunity to have other Muslim women to be able to develop leadership skills and to prepare themselves and to help each other through their networking.
ADAMS: In that regard, Gamma Gamma Chi will operate much like any other sorority, but Collins says there will be some significant differences. For instance, the chapter won't have a house or condone the use of alcohol. And there won't be any co-ed mixers. Walter Kimbrough is president of Philander Smith College and has written several books on fraternity and sorority culture. He says students, whether Asian, Hispanic or gay, have long sought alternatives to traditional Panhellenic life.
Mr. WALTER KIMBROUGH (Philander Smith College): This really has just been this bifurcation of Greek life and students have come and look for new niches in terms of Greek life. So to me this is almost just the next progression.
ADAMS: Al-Bassad, Aghil and seven other young women at UK will find out in early February if they will become the first active members of Gamma Gamma Chi. A group of Muslim students at MIT is also vying for the honor to establish the nation's first Muslim sorority.
For NPR News, I'm Kathleen Adams in Lexington, Kentucky.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.