There are seven of us in my Pi Phi lineage. They include my “big” (who is essentially a mentor figure) and my “little” (the equivalent of a mentee). Among us, we cover five different ethnicities: Korean, Chinese, Argentine, Indian and Caucasian. Most days, you can find my big and I holed up in Blue State or Sterling Memorial Library. If you listen closely, you will hear us discussing genetics, plasmids and our lives as STEM majors. Other times, you may hear us discussing our love of authentic Indian chai and elaborate Indian weddings. As a person of color — and, more notably, an Indian-American who is very involved in Pi Phi — I find myself able to embrace my identity as an Indian woman within the organization.
I grew up surrounded by Indian culture. I was exposed to Indian food and holidays, regularly met with the Indian community for various celebrations and learned classical Indian dance. Dancing truly solidified my connection with Indian culture, as it was a way for cultural and religious stories to become more easily accessible for me. Due to my upbringing, I strongly identify with the South Asian community on campus. I continue to dance with Rangeela, Yale’s Bollywood fusion dance group, fusing my classical dance background with hip-hop influences to choreograph pieces. Further, as co-President of the South Asian Society, it is my mission to bring together the South Asian community in a way that makes Yale feel a little more like home.
In the time I have been involved in Pi Phi, my Indian identity has never made me feel out of place. Let me clarify: My skin tone is visibly darker than most of those of most of the other girls in my sorority. Greek life — on this campus, within Pi Phi and overall — suffers from a lack of racial diversity. Since joining Pi Phi my freshman year, I have seen widespread desire to change this culture of inaccessibility. So many girls don’t even attempt to rush because of a perceived notion of racial preference. However, we are working hard to change this assumption. As an organization, we have begun many new initiatives. At our weekly meetings, we’ve had discussions on current events ranging from DACA to the mental health climate and any other issue of concern. We’ve implemented an anonymous reporting system to make sure Pi Phis feel comfortable at social events. Furthermore, we have created a diversity committee that seeks to foster a more inclusive culture. It does this by internally organizing diversity workshops and opening discussions about race in the media. Externally, it builds relationships with cultural houses. These initiatives are intended to better ourselves for future pledge classes. However, we still have a lot of room for improvement. Right now, the number of people of color is lower than desired. Nonetheless, my skin tone and my background have never come in the way of me feeling accepted and included in this wonderful community.
My favorite event that we had last year was a pledge class biography night. Maybe I should have been nervous about sharing that my parents had an arranged marriage as a result of cultural norms. Maybe I should have been wary of talking about my two-hour classical Indian dance solo performance — showing those pictures of me in traditional clothing, makeup, and jewelry may have felt like too much. Maybe I should have felt that sharing those stories exposed my deviation from the “sorority girl” archetype. However, these stories were only ever met with genuine curiosity and interest. In fact, as we went around the room, it became evident that others of non-white descent felt comfortable sharing stories that highlighted their own connections to their cultures.
I have felt the support of Pi Phi in other ways as well. Before all of my dance performances, I text the Pi Phi GroupMe about the date, time, and place of the event. Just as the organization supports our fellow student athletes, a cappella group members and comedy group members, I can always count on a Pi Phi cohort screaming “YES ARCHIE!” at every performance. My dancing is my way of expressing Indian culture, and I have only ever had undying support from Pi Phi for embracing it.
I joined Pi Phi my freshman spring with no expectations; I already had a solid group of friends that I spent all my time with. However, I was hoping to meet new people that I never would have crossed paths with otherwise. Pi Phi gave me exactly that and more. Somehow, I stumbled upon the most impressive group of women I had ever met: They have a diversity of interests that is unparalleled. This sorority has only ever offered me support, and I cannot imagine my Yale experience without it.
Archie Rajagopalan is a junior in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.