Cultivating familia on campus
Hispanic students attending a leadership retreat in the spring of 1984 noted that something important was missing from their experience at The Ohio State University: a Latinx organization on campus.
They decided to do something about it, and later in the fall the nation’s first co-ed Latinx fraternity, Alpha Psi Lambda, was founded at Ohio State. Thirteen founding members known as Los Primeros kicked off programming that was aimed at the campus’s 533 Hispanic students but also welcomed people from all cultures interested in Hispanic culture and language.
Carmen Alvarez-Breckenridge, then-director of the Office of Hispanic Student Programs, described the fraternity’s important role in a 1985 Lantern article: “To mainstream a different culture, you definitely feel a loss, especially with the language,” she said, noting that the fraternity would help ease that experience.
“Having a Hispanic fraternity where Hispanic culture is accepted, nurtured and praised not only helps to defeat racism by helping Hispanic members overcome some of the problems inherent to racism, but also fights racism by providing non-Hispanics with a real-life example of Hispanic culture.”
Through the years, Alpha Psi Lambda has done just that—offering programming and activities including a mentoring group for Hispanic and Latinx students, scholarship awards and opportunities for philanthropy. Above all, the fraternity seeks to create a sense of family. In a 2015 essay published in ¿Qué Pasa, Ohio State? magazine, Tracy Nájera (’98, ’00, ’17) wrote, “The fraternity has always been different in that it provides a co-ed experience emphasizing a strong sense of familia among the brothers and sisters. The design is deliberate in that the fraternity creates a leadership learning lab, thereby providing members with opportunities to interact with other people of different backgrounds and experiences.”
However, not all students have understood the fraternity’s mission. A 1990 letter to the editor printed in The Lantern accused the fraternity of racism because of its focus on Hispanic culture. Alpha Psi Lambda member Johnny Howell Sanchez responded with a letter of his own in which he said, “Having a Hispanic fraternity where Hispanic culture is accepted, nurtured and praised not only helps to defeat racism by helping Hispanic members overcome some of the problems inherent to racism, but also fights racism by providing non-Hispanics with a real-life example of Hispanic culture.”
By 1988, students at other universities began reaching out to the fraternity about forming new chapters. In May 1988, Alpha Psi Lambda Vice President Dan Polonia told The Lantern they had been “approached by Indiana University, Ball State University and Chicago University, which we will start (establishing chapters at) next year.”
Today, Alpha Psi Lambda is the nation’s largest co-ed Latinx fraternity and includes 36 collegiate chapters and six affiliate chapters with over 3,200 members nationwide. In 2020, the fraternity will celebrate its 35th anniversary of making a difference for students at Ohio State and beyond.