Written by Supreme Prior Dave P. Kleppel (Washington University, ’82)
70-YEARS OF WELCOMING ALL MEN OF GOOD MORAL CHARACTER
Since 2020 DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) has emerged as a mainstream priority in American culture. Some see this as a genuine focus on trying to improve our country. Others see noble ideals being referenced in name only to support a desired political or social outcome.
Since the last issue of the Octagonian I’ve received feedback from multiple members relating one or the other of the above viewpoints as regards ΣAM’s efforts regarding inclusivity. As inclusivity is the theme of this issue of the Octagonian I think it appropriate to explain how inclusivity has been, and still is, viewed by ΣAM leadership, as well as reflected broadly by our membership through their Sammy Stories. In doing this, I hope to strengthen the pride and confidence of our entire membership regarding the path that ΣAM continues to follow.
Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity is NOT a political organization. We do not take an action/position because it is politically expedient. Our eight core values are intended to form the basis of everything we say and do. The lofty ideals contained within a genuinely objective understanding of DEI are overwhelmingly aligned with these values. Of this, there can be no doubt.
Unlike many in our country, ΣAM’s focus on recent DEI views is not a new development. We started considering and acting on these kinds of issues over 7 decades ago. It was at the 1953 Convention that we amended our Blue Book such that ΣAM would no longer limit membership to only include men of Jewish heritage, and instead, it opened membership to “ALL men of good character.”
How and why did the change come about? The answer is revealed in the meeting minutes from that period.
While being victims of social injustices, discrimination, and hate were not limited to Jews, ΣAM’s members up until 1953 were well-versed in being excluded, ostracized, and victims of prejudice that limited their abilities to participate in or benefit from networking, educational and leadership experiences offered by fraternal, social and civic organizations and activities of the day. They knew this to be unjust. Despite the memory of the attempted genocide directed at their brethren during the Holocaust fresh in their minds, they still felt that it was inconsistent with our values for ΣAM to exclude non-Jewish men from our ranks.
Imagine how different the last 70 years of our fraternity’s history might be if our earlier leaders lacked the courage and conviction to follow our values. Understand the contributions to ΣAM’s success during the last 7 decades of the 1953 decision to embark on a path of inclusivity in the words of some of your fellow members:
The oral histories have been edited for brevity.
Jim Vitarello (Toledo, ’63)
My pledge class included two African Americans, another Italian-American, and an Irish American. Toledo, Ohio, was a highly segregated town, and for a white fraternity to have two African Americans in 1963 was unprecedented. We were a unique fraternity.
Wing Chen, JD (Stony Brook, ’04)
I chose Sigma Alpha Mu Fraternity because I attended several meetings and saw how diverse it was. That’s what stood out to me and how the brothers enjoyed hanging out with each other.
Thibault Padiou (Brandeis, ’18)
There were a lot of different people coming from other countries. I liked their values as well. It would be interesting for me, a guy from France, to be part of a fraternity. They also had people from Korea, China, Russia, Switzerland, and Israel. Even the alumni were very diverse. It was fun and took me out of my comfort zone, which wasn’t bad.
Jesus Rodriguez (FIU, ’92)
It struck me years ago, and still to this day, with this fraternity (that) among the things it values most is its diversity. And still, to this day, you look at the chapter, we’ve got black, white, Hispanic, and openly gay kids. It’s wild, and yet the brotherhood holds. You have to appreciate something like that about a group like this.
Members from many decades relate that being diverse and inclusive was/is a valuable differentiator of our fraternity. It is one of the reasons they remain committed to ΣAM Inclusivity makes us stronger because it allows us to discover and appreciate other perspectives and realize the similarities and commonalities of the challenges that we all face, even if not in precisely the same ways. Such enlightenment leads to collaborative efforts to resolve those kinds of challenges for the betterment of all.
For more than seven decades, inclusivity for ΣAM has been about two simple things; 1) trying to make all men of good character aware that they are invited and wanted and 2) making each candidate/member feel welcome and that they belong as much as any other candidate/member. ΣAM’s current leadership is committed to keeping the organization on the same path.
Dave P. Kleppel