In fall 2002 Michelle Moonhyung Lee and other Asian American women at Northwestern were looking for an organization that reflected their viewpoints.
They found none. So they decided to start one themselves.
Their efforts resulted in the creation of an NU chapter of Kappa Phi Lambda, NU’s only Asian-American interest sorority. There is one other Asian-American interest fraternity
on campus — Lambda Phi Epsilon.
“Our charter class saw a really dire need for an organization that represented Asian-American women,” said Lee, a Communication senior and president of Kappa Phi Lambda.
To establish themselves on campus, Lee and others went looking for a fitting national sorority.
“We decided that Kappa Phi Lambda was the best fit for the personality of the school,” said Sarah Yun, a Weinberg senior and Kappa Phi Lambda’s chapter liaison.
The national organization, which describes itself as an “Asian interest sorority,” was receptive to the idea. “At the time, they hadn’t expanded past the East Coast,” Yun said.
Established in 1995, Kappa Phi Lambda was a comparatively young organization, and the NU chapter represented the farthest it has expanded from its New York headquarters since its inception.
“We had a great time getting established,” Lee said. Soon the sorority was attending and sponsoring community service events around the Chicago area.
A common misconception about Kappa Phi Lambda is that it only accepts members of Asian descent. Although all of Kappa Phi Lambda’s NU members are so far of Asian descent, Lee and Yun both emphasized that Kappa Phi Lambda is a non-exclusive sorority
Kappa Phi Lambda’s small size has been a slight handicap in the quest for recognition. From a founding class of five members, Kappa Phi Lambda has expanded to a class of 19 women in 2005.
Still, this lags behind many of the traditional Greek chapters at NU.
“It’s been difficult to make our presence known,” Yun said. “As one of the founders, I’ve seen the difference. People notice who we are now, and we’ve been involved in a lot of co-sponsorship opportunities with other Greek organizations.”
“It’s so easy to say that it’s an Asian sorority,” Lee said. “Any girl that’s interested in spreading awareness of Asian culture is welcome to join.”
Yun said that part of establishing a chapter at NU was the realization that they needed to branch out to mainstream Greek organizations.
Members of Kappa Phi Lambda have participated in all-Greek leadership retreats, held socials with NU fraternities and co-sponsored events with sororities such as Delta Delta Delta and Kappa Sigma Theta.
“It’s been a journey,” said Yun. “Slowly but surely, we’re making our presence known.”
Lambda Phi Epsilon
Lambda Phi Epsilon, NU’s Asian interest fraternity, prides itself on creating bonds so members feel like family.
“What distinguishes us from any other fraternity is how much we really truly look at ourselves as a family and actually brothers,” said Education senior Roland Ho, president of Lambda Phi Epsilon.
“Usually classes can range from two to even nine brothers. It’s pretty rare to have a class in the double digits,” he said.
Through these small numbers, members of the fraternity get to know little details about each other, Ho said.
Ho, who is from San Francisco, joined the fraternity his freshman year after visiting a chapter at the University of California, Berkeley, where he said members created “strong academic leaders and strong social leaders.”
According to members, NU’s chapter of the fraternity has two members who are not Asian. This year’s pledge class includes six members who joined Winter Quarter, bringing the total members of the fraternity to 28.
“The guys were really nice,” said Weinberg freshman Andrew Nam, a member of Lambda Phi Epsilon who pledged Winter Quarter. “They seemed like they were a lot tighter and seemed a lot stronger than (people) in other areas.”
The fraternity recently sponsored a minority bone marrow blood drive at NU after a member at another chapter was diagnosed with leukemia.
They also spend time mentoring the Asian-American community and co-sponsor events with other Asian groups on campus.
“We don’t actually pick who we like and who we don’t like,” said Weinberg senior Brian Park, treasurer of Lambda Phi Epsilon. “We give everyone a chance to prove themselves as brothers. That’s why our fraternity is so diverse. Anybody, if they’re like us or not, can prove to be strong brothers.”
Reflecting on his experience in the fraternity since his freshman year, Park said the organization has proven to him that bonds are not easily broken.
“I just wanted to be part of the organization just because I saw how close all the brothers were,” Park said.
“They seemed to go to the ends of earth for each other.”