I never thought I’d join Greek life in college, but during my first semester at Northeastern University, I did just that. I joined a fraternity. Yes, you heard that right. I, a woman, joined a fraternity, not a sorority: Alpha Phi Omega, more commonly known as APO, a coed fraternity rooted in community service.
Before joining, I had never heard of a coed fraternity. I was only aware of traditional, gender-segregated Greek organizations, many of which had troubling histories and were often described as toxic groups where hazing, bigotry, and discrimination run rampant.
In a 2020 New York Times story, many students inside those organizations believed: “Greek life is exclusionary, racist and misogynist, as well as resistant to reform because of the hierarchical nature of the national Greek organizations, which control local chapters.”
Because of this, many have left traditional Greek organizations and have even called for their chapters to be dismantled. In recent years, there has been a push to reform Greek life and remove it from campuses where change does not seem possible.
On the other hand, APO is “founded on the Cardinal Principles of Leadership, Friendship and Service,” according to their website, and it is dedicated to maintaining and promoting those values along with a more inclusive environment.
Founded in 1925 by Frank Reed Horton, Alpha Phi Omega is the largest coed service fraternity in the nation. APO’s website details the story of Horton’s ambition to create “an organization based on the ideals of scouting.” He desired to give his fellow male students at Lafayette College “an opportunity for leadership experience and for service to others,” and thus, APO was born.
Alpha Phi Omega became fully coed in 1976 and has grown to include over 600 active chapters throughout the nation. New chapters are still being added. In fact, my chapter at Northeastern, Alpha Theta Eta, was only officially chartered in December of 2018.
Evelyn Goroza, an APO alumni who graduated in 2021, reflected on her experience in the fraternity. When she joined APO in the spring of 2018, she was in Northeastern’s second pledge class ever, and they were still in the chartering process. When asked about how APO stands out as a Greek organization, Goroza told me: “The community is as far away from traditional Greek life as you can get… The people are super friendly, and they’re just very open to getting to know people… Actually, all my friends right now in my main friend group I met through APO, and we’re still friends like years out of college.”
Part of what fosters such strong bonds in APO is the culture of acceptance and inclusivity that drew me to the fraternity.
Abbie Sedillos, a fourth-year student of APO explained: “Anyone can join. There’s no barrier to entry. We’re not exclusive. And everyone’s accepted, and I like that a lot better [than traditional Greek life]. And there’s no hazing. When I was newer in the frat, the older people were just really nice and welcoming.”
I, like Sedillos, was never afraid of being harmed during initiations or group activities. It has simply always been a safe and positive experience.
Sedillos is also what’s called my “big sibling” in APO, a tradition many Greek organizations maintain. Many who join don’t realize at first how much it is like typical Greek life, but brothers end up loving those components. Big siblings, for example, are meant to guide new members in the fraternity and help them form initial bonds in the group.
“The similarities are mostly the bigs and littles, having different families [within APO], bonding events, the rushing [process]… It’s all pretty much the same” said Pranav Ugavekar, a second-year student in APO who joined last spring.
When asked what he enjoys most about APO, Ugavekar responded: “My favorite part is just having the ability to go to different fellowships. There’s at least one fellowship each day… If you’re ever bored, there’s always something for you to do on campus.”
Those fellowship events allow members of APO to become close and form a community of passionate and like-minded individuals.
“I joined because I wanted an opportunity for service on campus. I tried a different organization first, and it wasn’t as much of a fit because I felt like there wasn’t as much of a community. I went to events with them, but I didn’t really have people to talk to, said current President Amanda Stark. She continued, “Versus, in APO, I felt super welcomed so that when I would try different service opportunities around Boston, I would always have a friend to go with…”
The blend of social aspects and valuable community service experience is a big attraction for those who are wary of traditional Greek life.
“I never considered joining a sorority just because I felt like they didn’t have a mission,” Sedillos said. “I don’t know if that’s true, but from what I can gather, it seems more like a social thing. With APO you get the social side. You get to meet a whole lot of new people, but you also, like, have a purpose? … It just seemed more meaningful to me.”
In APO at Northeastern, students have the opportunity to connect with service organizations all around Boston and form lasting relationships with them through continued involvement.
Goroza highlighted her own experience saying: “There were definitely [organizations] that I frequented that were a big reason why I really liked doing it. Do you guys still do Prison Book? I still went there after graduating. I just really liked their purpose. It was really meaningful because we were doing something that was impacting people directly. And it was very unique. I feel like there was no way that I would have found that or went out and done that myself if I hadn’t been a part of APO. It definitely connects you with different parts of Boston.”
Since I joined APO last fall, I have loved the chance to explore the city through community service. Whether by volunteering at a book sale at the Boston Public Library or serving lunch at St. Francis House, I have been able to truly involve myself in meaningful work and relationships. I am appreciative of the opportunity to be a part of such a wonderful and unique group on campus. Regardless of one’s feelings about Greek life, any student can find a sense of community and purpose in APO like I did.