Amid the softy, rhythmic beat of bongos, the bright wail of a horn section layered with quick, melodic Spanish vocals, a group of students hesitantly tries a few steps of salsa.

“Just like the actual food, salsa, it’s literally just a mix of everything,” Omar Valencia tells the group, noting that the dance was created in Cuba. The other two dances of the evening, bachata and meringue, both of which originated in the Dominican Republic, are a little easier, Valencia says reassuringly.

Laughing and muttering as they awkwardly step to the Latin American Caribbean music, these young adults are breaking down barriers. And that’s exactly why Valencia and his brothers in the fraternity Lambda Theta Phi organized the free dance event in the College’s Johnson Center.

Officially launched in fall 2017 with eight members, Lambda Theta Phi is the College’s first Latino and multicultural fraternity. The young men, whose nationalities and cultures range from African American and Mexican to Jordanian and Indian to Colombian and Brazilian, say they pushed to bring Lambda Theta Phi to campus to create a place of belonging for multicultural students and to have a platform from which to advocate for minority and immigrant students.

“I not only wanted to make history at the College with this being the first multicultural organization and the first Latino fraternity,” says Akash Patel, the fraternity’s president, “I also wanted to build brotherhood and unity to grow diversity on campus.”

And better understanding culture – the music, literature, food, traditions and faiths unique to regions across the globe – can go a long way toward bringing people together, soothing fears and finding common joys.

“Having Latin dance classes, among other events, are important to Lambda Theta Phi because it showcases our diversity in music, dance and culture,” says Valencia, a senior triple majoring in math, music and education. “They help the fraternity by making us known for bringing something new and different
to campus.”

Adds Patel: “Hosting events like a salsa and bachata night not only is a cultural experience for those who attend, but it is a lesson into the lives of students from those backgrounds who attend our institution. The events we plan not only serve a basic purpose, but they also teach and have deeper meaning to them.”

But even more important is the sense of brotherhood and belonging created through the fraternity. It can be lonely being one of only a few on campus. Now they have a support system – and interest in the fraternity among other multicultural students is growing.

“This fraternity brings a sense of camaraderie to its members,” says Patel, a senior majoring in biology. “It creates a second family of brothers who truly seek to push you to your best interests, goals and potential. It is also a great way for making connections with brothers across the nation, leading to job opportunities and perspectives for help and advice from brothers near and far.”

Featured image: The founding brothers of Lambda Theta Phi. (Photo by Kip Bulwinkle ’04)