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Phi Gamma Delta needs to stop appropriating island culture

Adrianna Esparza

Adrianna Esparza

by Lilly Glenister, Managing Editor

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The San Diego State chapter of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity recently held a series of events part of its annual “Islander Week.”

While members of the fraternity might have had good intentions, appropriating island culture as part of a gimmick to attract donations is insulting to the Pacific Islander community.

Members of fraternities often defend their participation in Greek life by emphasizing their focus on philanthropy. As a woman of Samoan descent and an active member of the Pacific Islander community, I can appreciate this. No other people is as giving, uplifting or welcoming as Pacific Islanders.

However, using island culture as a branding mechanism and a ploy to promote fundraising opportunities is wrong. Too many people are ignorant of Pacific Islander culture and the struggles that the community continues to face.

Phi Gamma Delta is predominantly made up of white men and people of color of non-Pacific Islander descent. People from the Pacific islands include those from the indigenous areas of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The frat’s nickname is misleading to those unfamiliar with Greek life. From an outsider’s perspective, people might think that Fiji would be referring to the South Pacific nation, where the indigenous people there have a rich cultural heritage.

“When I first walked on campus and saw the letters F-I-J-I on the fraternity’s house, I immediately thought ‘oh cool, a Fijian club.’ I thought it was an organization focused on Pacific island culture,” said Leiana Lepule, who is of Samoan descent and a freshman majoring in liberal studies. “Now that I know the majority of the members – or none of them –are Pacific Islander, it’s honestly kind of weird. People shouldn’t be calling themselves ‘islanders’ if that’s not their cultural background.”

The fraternity has no association with Pacific Islander nations, no knowledge of Pacific Islander cultures and does no fundraising toward Pacific Islander causes, yet continues to go by the nickname of Fiji.

It’s ironic that the fraternity calls itself Fiji when it was founded in 1848 by non-Pacific Islander men at Jefferson College in Pennsylvania. It’s unlikely there were any Pacific Islanders anywhere near institutions of higher learning at this time — they were busy dealing with colonizers.

If the frat insists on keeping the Fiji moniker, why not team up and support SDSU’s Pacific Islander Student Association? Only 18 percent of Pacific Islander-Americans hold a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Pacific Islanders at SDSU make up just 0.3 percent of the student population. Pacific Islanders are a marginalized community and we need all the help we can get. What we don’t need is ignorant frat boys perpetuating stereotypes of our culture.

The organization’s national website says that “when our fraternity is named in campus or interfraternity publications, we prefer the full spelling of Phi Gamma Delta rather than use of the Greek letters or the nickname ‘Fiji.’”

The website also notes “Phi Gam” as a common nickname for the fraternity. That sounds much more appropriate than using an island nation’s name.

If the fraternity does not want to be called Fiji in publications, why should its members continue to brand themselves as islanders on social media and in advertisements?

SDSU is a university that prides itself on diversity and cultural understanding. If this fraternity is a part of our community, it needs to be more culturally sensitive and get rid of its nickname.

Nash Salas, an SDSU alumnus and SDSU’s Pacific Islander Student Association’s community advisor, said Pacific Islander culture is more than just a party theme and deserves more respect.

“As someone who is of Pacific Islander descent, it disappoints me that there are people who continue to appropriate and disrespect the culture without realizing how it would negatively impact members of the community,” he said. “I respect them for raising awareness towards a humble cause, but am disappointed that it was done at the expense and inconsideration of someone else’s culture.”

On its social media, Phi Gamma Delta prides itself on being the first frat to hold “a week-long philanthropy event since 2012.” However, its good deeds are overshadowed by a lack of cultural understanding.

This past year, I was awarded the title of Miss Pacific Islander of San Diego. As an ambassador for my community with access to a platform like The Daily Aztec, I am obligated to stand up for those who have been traditionally silenced.

Phi Gamma Delta’s persistence in using Fiji as a nickname for its organization is hurtful to Pacific Islanders and it needs to be eliminated from campus. Our community continues to face discrimination in higher learning. On behalf of SDSU’s Pacific Islander Student Association, I urge Associated Students and administration to pressure the chapter to drop the moniker.

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40 Comments

40 Responses to “Phi Gamma Delta needs to stop appropriating island culture”

  1. Connor Peterson on April 11th, 2018 12:09 pm

    Hey thanks for your input and I appreciate you speaking your mind. The only problem with your post is that your photo is using the letters in a prohibited manner. This cannot be allowed by our organization as there are only certain places that our actual greek letters may be shown. I would ask that the picture either be deleted or edited so that it would not be offensive to the international organization of FIJI.

  2. Connor Peterson on April 11th, 2018 12:23 pm

    Also if you’re interested in potentially writing about how much good our philanthropy week did, I’m sure our executive board would love to speak with you.

  3. Tasi on April 14th, 2018 3:56 pm

    Please…your fraternity should stick to their GREEK letters or just simply go by Phi Gam like the WRITER SUGGESTED instead of the FIJI moniker. That would be something good to write about and would be a good story, of you all actually realizing that you can DO BETTER. “Sdsu frat removes it’s inappropriate nickname out of cultural competency.”

  4. Educate yourself before you report.... on April 24th, 2018 6:20 pm

    Fiji wan’t even called Fiji by the natives, it was Viti. Only once it was colonized and the English butchered the pronunciation that it became known as Fiji in 1874. And FIJI, the fraternity, was founded in 1848 prior to the linguistic bungle leading to the English colony of Fiji. So it could be argued that this group of men have just as deep, if not deeper, of a cultural value and meaning in the name. And it could even be argued that your being exclusive in your definition of Fijian, which refers to anyone born in Fiji much like Americans are people born in America.The natives of the Fiji islands are known as iTaukei. As a half Hawaiian half Japanese man, I find no offense in their nickname and find the use of FIJI’s letters in the article picture to be very disrespectful to the organization and their culture. Also all that makes a Pacific Islander is the tribal tattoos….? really? Just think if a fraternity drew that depiction of a pacific islander.

  5. Seriously? on April 11th, 2018 12:26 pm

    FIJI is called this nationally not only at San Diego State. It is due to their official name Phi Gamma Delta (Phi-G). You cannot be so sensitive about nicknames and philanthropy titles. They are not using the title negatively.

  6. Tasi on April 14th, 2018 4:02 pm

    How are they not using it negatively?? It’s in it of itself disrespectful is what the author is getting at. And the author also stated that she KNOWS THAT IT’S USED NATIONALLY. She’s simply arguing that the SDSU chapter shoud set a new precedent and stop using FIJI as a nickname. Literally just go by Phi Gam and there would be no problem. Stop calling yourselves islanders and stop calling white girls your “island sweethearts.” If you can’t see how ignorant the use of FIJI is then you have no hope and go ahead and keep living ignorantly.

  7. Seriously? on April 11th, 2018 12:36 pm

    If you understood the greek organizations culture you would know that FIJI is only able to write their greek letters out in certain situations. So that is why NATIONALLY they use Phi Gam or FIJI. Maybe you could look into their culture as well.

  8. reader on April 11th, 2018 2:14 pm

    didnt know tht. interesting. there seems to be a misunderstanding btwn whom ever wrte this and the frat itself. i went to sdstate and saw fiji but nevr thought wht the writer wrote. it is an opinion piece, so thanks for the clarification in the additional comments. its really interesting to see all sides of the issue and i am curious to know why it is, tht the fraternity is allowed to write their letters.

  9. reader on April 11th, 2018 2:15 pm

    not allowed*

  10. reader on April 11th, 2018 2:20 pm

    Use of Greek letters and etymology of “Fiji”
    Phi Gamma Delta limits the written display of its Greek letters.[14] In accordance with the fraternity’s international bylaws, Fiji chapters and members only inscribe their letters in the following seven locations:[15][16]

    On a uniform diamond-shaped member badge
    On memorials to deceased brothers
    On the Fraternity’s official flag
    On the Fraternity’s official seal
    On a chapter house marker
    On a brother’s official college ring
    On a brother’s certificate of membership
    The fraternity instructs its members to consider the letters sacred and to never display them on an object that can be easily destroyed. Whereas other fraternities often display their letters on clothing or other items, this tradition prevents Fijis from doing so. In place of the actual Greek letters, “Fiji,” “Phi Gam,” or the English spelling “Phi Gamma Delta” is used in their place.

  11. reader on April 11th, 2018 2:21 pm

    did some research and found the following info. im interested in knowing more about the fraternity’s appropriation of culture though.

  12. will on April 11th, 2018 2:40 pm

    There are a few things wrong about this article that I will detail below:
    1. Your knowledge towards Greek life and, in this case, this fraternity, really brings your argument down to a set of fallacies.
    2. Islander is a pretty broad term – and this is an objective statement. You shouldn’t feel targeted, because you’re not.
    3. The Colony of Fiji and the colloquial form of the Greek organization Phi Gamma Delta were established at roughly the same time period, so there is room to argue that the name Fiji means just as much to the fraternities members as it means to you and those from your decent. To add to that, Fiji’ (the colony has become a worldwide spot for tourists. Humans from all backgrounds may take their visit and embed that culture to their own – and this is not a bad thing. If anything, it’s amazing.
    4. Don’t ever tell people which humanitarian effort to donate to, unless it’s the Susan G. Komen organization – they are flawed.

    Overall, I thought the article was pretty useless. You really don’t know what you’re talking about, and the ideas you are talking about shouldn’t be a cause for anger, dissapointment, etc.
    You could have published sheet music for the hit song Happy Birthday and delivered just as much, if not more, insight that what I just read.

    Warm regards,
    Will

  13. Ed Jimenez on April 11th, 2018 7:48 pm

    Thank you Will, very well spoken
    E. Jimenez SDSU 86
    Perge’

  14. Tasi on April 14th, 2018 4:15 pm

    You must be illiterate if you thought that was “well [written].”

  15. Tasi on April 14th, 2018 4:14 pm

    1) Your knowledge of Islander culture clearly doesn’t go beyond Hawai’i.
    2) Fiji is part of Melanesia which is part of the 3 subcategories that make up Oceania: Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. Fiji is a PACIFIC ISLAND. The Fijians are PACIFIC ISLANDER LIKE THE AUTHOR.
    3) if you think your nickname is honoring the NATION (formerly a colony) of Fiji then there’s clearly something wrong with you.
    4) That’s clearly irrlevant and has NOTHING to do with the OPINION piece.
    5) You must’ve been drunk and hyped up by your “bros” to write this terribly thought-out comment. Congrats Will, you’ve proven to all of us that you know nothing.

    Best,

    Tasi

  16. Aidan Bilheimer on April 11th, 2018 2:47 pm

    How is it hurtful to you if they call themselves Fiji?

  17. Tasi on April 14th, 2018 3:49 pm

    1) She explained it in the article.
    2) You must be illiterate.
    3) You’re an idiot.
    4) NEXT.

  18. Anonymous on April 11th, 2018 3:07 pm

    This is completely and utterly ridiculous. This organization brings no harm or bad name to the Pacific Islanders whatsoever. I think you may need to do a little more research before you throw it these negative comments about an organization like this. Island week is simply a theme and does not at all shed Polynesian culture in a bad light. The fraternity is simply nicknamed Fiji because of its letters Phi Gamma Delta or Phi-G. It’s simply a short way of saying the full word. There is no need to be sensitive on this topic. The fraternity is doing nothing wrong here. They are hosting charitable events for a full week. Why does this call for judgement of them? If anything there should be an article applauding the great work done by these men.

  19. Cameron on April 11th, 2018 3:17 pm

    You go to a school who’s mascot is the Aztec. Your school chants “Go Aztecs.” Is this offensive? Is this appropriating the Aztec Culture?

    It’s the same argument.

  20. Davey J, SDSU Greek Alum on April 11th, 2018 7:50 pm

    As an SDSU Greek alum who wore the ΔΥ letters, one of my passions was learning about all of the fraternities & sororities on our campus. It helped me do my part to promote Greek Unity and to live one of my fraternities four founding principles, “The Promotion of Friendship.”

    I can tell you right now that you will NEVER see any active members of Phi Gamma Delta ever wearing their Greek letters in public. Therefore the image of their letters (in this article) is very—VERY—incorrect and improper.

    Before I continue, I would like to know why you didn’t include Oceania as part of the regions you listed at the beginning of your article? New Zealand, as a country, has the largest concentration of Pacific Islanders from every island living in their nation.

    I have a lot of good friends and “bros” who are of Māori descent and it goes beyond the tā moko they have on their bodies. I also have a few good bros who are Tongan and also a few who are Samoan—all of whom are a part of my daily life. One of my favorite athletes of all-time is a Fijian man by the name of Joe Rokocoko. I’m also a huge fan of Waisake Naholo (also born in Fiji; I believe Sigatoka [spelling?]). Therefore, as a “outsider” who’s “…looking in,” I feel rather comfortable about my awareness. Back to the topic at-hand…

    The letters that make FIJI have been displayed by many young men across many—MANY—different campuses all across the country for many—MANY—decades. It wasn’t until this article that I knew of any existing issue with the letters that make FIJI—and, for the record, in printed publications their nickname (when used) is supposed to be spelled in ALL-CAPS and not spelled like the country.

    How the letter Φ is pronounced varies by organization and its respective nickname(s).

    EX: Alpha Phi (pronounced al•fuh fee).

    EX: Gamma Phi Beta (pronounced gah•muh fie [rhymes with eye] bay•tuh). Nicknames include “Gamma Phi” and “G Phi B”.

    What the examples above show are the syllables encompassed within the pronunciation of certain Greek letters. Φ (pronounced fee) and Γ (Gamma with the “G” being the focal point).

    If you want other demographics to “respect” your culture, the very least you could do is learn about the historical origins of those demographics and, in this case, learning beyond what is on their Wikipedia page, beyond their national website and especially beyond the local SDSU chapter’s social media feeds.

    Lastly, and perhaps most important, next time before you accuse and attempt-to-shame any fraternity or sorority for having “…a lack of cultural understanding,” the easiest way to earn ANY respect from any Greek-lettered organization as a “outsider” is by learning about AND understanding the origins of their letters. Why do you think I said at the very beginning that you will never—ever—see a member of Phi Gamma Delta wearing their Greek letters in public? Their letters are just as sacred to them as any Pe’a is to a Samoan man. As one of my mates said, when showing me the family tree on his thigh, “Rangi and Papa from your head to your feet.” That same notion is what they apply in regards to their letters.

    Sorry for writing a novel but thank you for your time.

  21. Anonymous on April 14th, 2018 3:29 pm

    Firstly, if Greek Life is all about “promoting friendship” who exactly are you promoting that to? Other Fraternities and Sororities to befriend each other? Are you talking about befriending those who identify with the Greek Community? Because in all honesty, there are SOME hypermasculine fraternities who NEVER strive for cultural understanding nor take the time to reflect how issues like cultural approrpriation affect underrepresented communities. I’ve seen the CSU San Marcos Alpha Psi Rho chapter have more respect for Chamorro culture by taking the time to volunteer and engage in cultural festivals like Chamorro Culture Festival.

    Secondly, how ignorant of you to say that this article “didnʻt include Oceania and New Zealand…” Oceania is INCLUDED in Polynesia. New Zealand (“Aotearoa” the traditional name) is PART OF THE POLYNESIAN TRIANGLE. How dare you try to use your Polynesian friends as tools to justify the actions of this fraternity’s racism AND LACK of cultural understanding (that’s like saying you can say the “N” word because you have Black friends). If you really have Polynesian friends, then I’m sure that deep down you would consider their feelings and their families’ feelings on a sensitive issue like this. Don’t try to compare cultural symbols and treasures like the Tā Moko and the Pe’a to Greek letters because unless you get your Greek letters tattooed on you TRADITIONALLY (hand-tapped in a ceremony that lasts hours) like on SAMOA then maybe you would understand. It’s incredibly distasteful to compare ancient traditions with that of frat culture.

    If you were of Pacific Islander descent then MAYBE you would understand where the members of that community are coming from. Maybe you should do YOUR RESEARCH rather than trying to defend and justify your ignorance. Don’t try to school people when you literally just proved you know nothing.

  22. Madi on April 11th, 2018 9:58 pm

    Although I am not from Pacific Islander decent and I understand how difficult it could be to feel the way you do, I think it is absolutely terrible that you would paint such a biased story of last weeks philanthropy. If you had actually done research and reported the truth as a so called “editor” then you would have realized this was a amazing event that raised over $4,000 for the family of a member of the fraternity that lost his life to brain cancer less than a year ago. I am proud to be associated with this group of men and proud of the amazing things they have done for Garrett’s family in the months following his death and will no longer support the Daily Aztec as a result of this article.

  23. Tasi on April 14th, 2018 3:44 pm

    Listen Madi,

    If you read the article then you probably would’ve noticed that a member of the PI community stated that they respected and appreciated the philanthropy of the Fraternity BUT disappointed that they had done so “out of expense and inconsideration of someone else’s culture.” Don’t try to play guilt-trip, and don’t try to use Philanthropy to justify your ignorance. A lot of members in the Pacific Islander community suffer various health-related issues, you don’t see them having an awareness/philanthropy event that’s “Western Themed.” Maybe try reading the article and try understanding where members of this community are coming from. Remember, it was the FRATERNITY that committed cultural appropriation so it’s only right that members from THAT CULTURE speak up for themselves. Stop putting minorities down. Smh.

  24. Frank Davis on April 11th, 2018 10:58 pm

    Pacific Islanders have appropriated Chinese, Japanese and Filipino culture into their society. I’d look in a mirror before getting all butthurt about a frat using the legitimate “FIJI.”

  25. Masani on April 17th, 2018 1:07 am

    No they did not. Japan has colonized some Pacific Islands during WWII. Though decades later, Japan has actually shown a lot of respect and appreciation towards Pacific Islander culture—especially towards Hawaiian culture since the culture is so rich and renowned even in Japan. Same could be said for Filipino culture as Filipinos believe themselves to be PI (lots of controversy on this topic) yet they still respect and appreciate PI culture.

    I’d ask questions and reflect on how to move forward than slandering a POC who is standing up for her culture and community. Grow up, Frank, because you sound like someone who ate at LnL and all of sudden knows so much about Island culture lmao

  26. Cameron on April 12th, 2018 12:42 am

    How is the Island themed philanthropy week negatively representing Pacific Islanders? They literally came together to celebrate the life of a dear friend, and to raise money for cancer research. If Pacific Islanders don’t celebrate and honor the lives of their friends, then I think they are just a sad community of people to begin with. This is America. Grow up and get over the fact that no everything is going to be inoffensive to you in life. This article must’ve truly been written by someone who came straight out of a third world island dominated by coconut crabs. I am not involved in Greek life at all and I think this is ridiculous. You just gave me another reason to not read our terrible-to-begin-with campus news paper. The Koala is clearly better fit for the job of reporting things than Thr Daily Aztec. Follow me on instagram @camohill #shamelessplug

  27. JTF on April 12th, 2018 1:03 am

    The moniker “FIJI” for the fraternity Phi Gamma Delta has nothing to do with the Pacific Island nation. It originates from the name of the fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta.

    Phi, sometimes and probably more accurately, pronounced Fee and G, for Gamma, thus Fee Gee, officially adopted in 1894.

  28. Michael on April 12th, 2018 8:16 am

    You argue against negative stereotypes by calling people in fraternities “ignorant frat boys”? Nice.

  29. Samantha on April 12th, 2018 11:02 am

    I am disappointed by the overall response so far to this article. Defensive…do we really need to be defensive? Where is the gracious response of “I was unaware” or “I never thought of it that way before”? Where is the empathy? The people of the Pacific are vastly underrepresented. I appreciate the author sharing her thoughts and feelings concerning the use of the term “Fiji”. We create a better world we we have open dialog about things like this. Open dialog that is willing to speak and hear and empathize. It is my hope that MOST of the people who read this article will respond with empathy and a willingness to learn more about Pacific Islanders, their culture, and why they might feel the way they do concerning the Fraternity and it’s use of Islanders and Fiji.

  30. Jane on April 12th, 2018 4:29 pm

    I think this article would get very different and more empathetic responses if the author didn’t use negative stereotypes against the group of men she accused of stereotyping and cultural appropriation. Just look at the cartoon at the top of the article – a fraternity man is depicted to be drunk and in a costume despite the fact that the entire article is about a fundraiser and has no mention of drinking or partying. Furthermore, this fundraiser is benefitting the family of a 21 year old SDSU student who was a member of FIJI and lost his life to brain cancer. I think the lack of empathy the author showed for that cause is incredibly disrespectful. Not mentioning the beneficiary of the fundraiser is poor reporting and biased.

  31. anonymous on April 12th, 2018 4:12 pm

    Koala has more relevant articles, nuff said

  32. Jenna on April 12th, 2018 4:35 pm

    While I am sensitive and understanding to the feelings of those in the Pacific Islander community who take offense to the use of “FIJI” as a nickname and the name of the philanthropic “Islander Week,” I believe this article missed the mark.

    I appreciate it’s value as an opinion piece, but why not interview fraternity members for commentary on their feelings about the use of the terms to balance the piece out? Many of them may have something of value to say. (remember, FIJI at SDSU didn’t create these terms, they are nationally used)

    The intention of “Islander Week” was to raise money in memorial of a lost brother, and in my opinion, FIJI deserved much more credit than they were given in this particular article. (i.e. being called “ignorant frat bros”) The criticism seems unwarranted given the cause.

    If a productive conversation is to be had around appropriation, it would be better done without devaluing a philanthropic event meant to instill good. Why not have this conversation off line and face to face with fraternity members if you want to instill change rather than publish a piece of sensationalism seemingly intended to defame the Greek community?

  33. Ysuyvh on April 12th, 2018 7:06 pm

    The daily Aztec needs to apologize for this

  34. Masani on April 17th, 2018 1:10 am

    No they shouldn’t. No underrepresented culture/community shpuld ever have to apologize for SPEAKING UP for themselves—especially to a group that has DISRESPECTED their culture.

  35. Anon on April 13th, 2018 9:22 pm

    This was literally to honor one of their fraternity brothers who recently passed.. and you’re spinning it like this? Seriously? That’s disappointing.

  36. Masani on April 17th, 2018 1:12 am

    Is this about the person who passed away? No. This is about the theme of the charity.

    Disappointing how you folks use philanthropy and charity to justify your ignorance and hide your racism.

  37. Peter Stoddard on April 13th, 2018 10:55 pm

    Following the logic of this editorial, if I go to a Burger King expecting to see actual royalty and don’t find it, Burger King must somehow accommodate my uninformed expectation.

    Should Burger King create a foundation for kings and queens of the world who have fallen on hard times?

    Should Burger King have to change its name to Burger Place Whose Trademark Should Not be Confused as Actual Royalty?

    Another fine example of a budding journalist contriving fault and blame where not a single discernible offense has been committed..

  38. Angry reader on April 14th, 2018 12:43 am

    The Daily Aztec owes the men of Phi Gamma Delta an apology. This article was intentionally written to attack FIJI. It has already has been discussed how the writer was terribly uneducated about the history behind the name FIJI. Also if the writer did any research on the islander week there was no attempt to appropriate Pacific Islander culture in either the events planned or the decor used, rather The Islander is the term for used nationally by FIJI for their philanthropy events. This article is just another poorly written example of the Daily Aztec’s barrage of attacks against the Greek community. It is sad to see that the Daily Aztec choose a philanthropy designed to raise money for the late FIJI brother Garrett Chipman for their latest edition of attack’s. The Daily Aztec needs to help accountable for this string of attacks, the paper is no longer covering the news of this campus when it dedicates a column to attacking greek life each week to the point of attacking a memorial philanthropy. This is so disappointing and shameful an apology is owe and needs to be issued.

  39. Abacab on April 15th, 2018 6:27 am

    Congratulations on writing the best The Onion article not published by The Onion. I’d be bothered by faux sensitivity violation accusations, but then I’d be part of the faux sensitivity violation culture. What an embarrassing part of your digital footprint.

    Go Aztecs! (with apologies for embarrasing Spaniards, who are responsible for exterminating the Aztecs, and apologies for the Aztecs, who have been appropriated by SDSU, and so on).

  40. Nunya on August 13th, 2018 2:38 pm

    Not in Fiji, but thought I’d leave this here…FIJI began using that name before the English began mispronouncing the island, which was called by the natives “viji”…they’re not referencing the island at all.

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