UC Merced fraternity members defy stereotypes through community work

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 30, 2013 

YESENIA AMARO/yamaro@mercedsunstar.com From left to right, UC Merced students and members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity on campus, Kevin Cunha, 19, Steven Duval Ruilova, 20, and Jeremy Ho, 23 on Wednesday morning. (1-23-13) They are trying to eliminate the stereotypes associated with fraternities.

— Partying, hazing and drinking.

Those are the stereotypes of fraternity life, a group of UC Merced students who are active in the "Greek" organizations on campus acknowledged recently.

"We are not just that stereotype," said Steven Duval Ruilova, 20, of Folsom. "We want to be more than that."

Ruilova is part of the Kappa Sigma fraternity at the university. The fraternity is working to make people more aware of the positive aspects of fraternity life.

The fraternity requires its members to do 20 hours of community service every semester. Each individual chooses where to volunteer.

In addition, as a group, the fraternity raises $400 to $500 that it donates to breast cancer research every year, and most members participate in a breast cancer walk in Sacramento every October, said Jeremy Ho, 23.

The fraternity conducts an annual canned food drive for the Merced County Food Bank around Thanksgiving.

This year, the fraternity plans to start another event they hope to make an annual activity.

They will have a Valentine's Day celebration with the Boys and Girls Club of Merced County, where they will make arts and crafts with the youth, Ruilova said. "I think when we interact with kids, we set a good example," he said, adding that they hope it will encourage them to attend college.

The fraternity, which has 46 members, wants to be more involved in the community. Members said they want to volunteer at the D Street Shelter.

Their ultimate goal is to get rid of those negative stereotypes or, at least, lessen them. "That's our plan," said Ho, who is from San Francisco. "By being more involved in the community, we hope that the stereotypes will slowly go away."

Kevin Cunha, 19, said he believes the misconceptions about fraternity life keep other young men from joining Greek organizations. "It offers a lot more," said Cunha, of Los Banos.

Charles Nies, associate vice chancellor of student affairs at UC Merced, said the campus uses a different model for its Greek community. When the community was first started, the focus was for each fraternity and sorority to try to promote the ideas and values their organizations were founded on.

Those values vary from organization to organization, but they can often include scholarship, service, integrity, social justice, friendship and loyalty, among others, he said.

Now it's the responsibility of fraternities and sororities at UC Merced to help break those stereotypes, Nies said.

Freshmen at UC Merced are not eligible to join a fraternity or sorority until their second semester. "We want to make sure students get that solid foundation before they start to get really involved in something such as a sorority or fraternity," he added.

The Greek community at UC Merced is growing slowly. Nies said the university added one fraternity last year.

The campus has five fraternities and four sororities, with a total of 291 Greek members -- 143 men and 148 women.

Based on campus growth, officials are going to be cautious about adding more chapters, Nies said.

Officials want current fraternities and sororities "to thrive and be successful before we continue to add more and more groups," he said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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