Kappa Pi Beta is the first Asian interest fraternity in Missouri

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:18 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 13, 2014
From left, Kappa Pi Beta President Phillip Nguyen, members Zhun Xu and Josef Huang attend their chapter meeting Feb. 19 at Ellis Library. After a year of preparation and organization, they're now an official fraternity. They plan on recruiting more members in the fall.

Editor's note: This story has been re-edited for clarity.

COLUMBIA – Before joining Kappa Pi Beta fraternity, Zhun Xu, 24, of China, said the only important relationship he had was with his parents.


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"I used to only live my life for my parents," Xu said. "After I joined Kappa Pi Beta, I live my life for my brothers, too."

Kappa Pi Beta is the first Asian-interest fraternity in Missouri. It was organized as a colony at MU in November with the intent to join the MU's Interfraternity Council and ultimately become the third colony in the nation.

The seven members have a range of backgrounds and interests. Phillip Nguyen, 20, the president, was born in California and moved to Kansas City when he was in fourth grade. Nguyen studies civil engineering at MU.

Mark Won, 19, and John Hu, 20, are also Asian-Americans. Won is an international business major, and Hu is a biology major with a sociology minor. 

The rest of the members are international students: Vincent Su, 21, is from Taiwan; Adrian Chee Keat Hong, 20, is from Malaysia; and Josef Huang, 21, and Zhun Xu, 24, are from China. Their majors include business and communications. Xu is a graduate student studying statistics.

The beginning

Kappa Pi Beta Fraternity was founded March 16, 2000, at the Northern Illinois University campus. A second chapter was established in 2008 at the University of Illinois at Chicago, according to the organization's website.

A service and social fraternity that emphasizes strong academic standards, its vision statement vows to "defy the common stereotypes of fraternities."

"We strive to uphold our virtues of respect and discipline while maintaining a high academic standard. Our goal is to help the community through community service, and spread Asian awareness while instilling leadership and gentleman values," according to the organization's website.

Students at MU were approached a year ago by the members of the Northern Illinois University chapter to see if they wanted to form a group in Missouri.

"We would be making history," Nguyen said.

The founder became friends through the Asian American Association at MU, drawn together because they shared similar backgrounds.

Growing pains

When they decided to form a colony, they assumed it would be easy. Instead, they discovered that the effort demanded outreach, commitment and discipline. 

MU requires a minimum number of 15 members to start an organization. Then, because the organization was recognized late in the spring, the group had trouble staying together over summer.

"People started to lose interest." Nguyen said.

Eventually, the organization was struggling to keep any men at all, and because the process was lengthy, it began to take its toll on the remaining members. The process was starting to jeopardize the academics of some members.

"We were working on this group for too long." Nguyen said.

A major blow occurred when Danny Poon, who was president before Nguyen, left the organization for personal reasons.

"I think because of that, I decided to become the president," Nguyen said. "I saw that the group was going to fall apart. If I didn't do something, we would never make it."

In the end, the seven core members stuck it out and stayed together. 

"Because of the hardship we went through, it has made us a lot closer as brothers." Nguyen said.

Recruiting strategy

While established Greek organizations often recruit 70 or 80 members, Kappa Pi Beta makes a deliberate effort to manage its growth.

"We try to keep our numbers small and selective," Nguyen said. "That way, we get quality over quantity of brothers."

The fraternity does not intend to remain exclusive, however, and welcomes non-Asians. Its charter statement vows not to discriminate against race, creed, religion, and sexual orientation.

"We accept males of all races and ethnicities," Nguyen said. "One of our main goals is diversity, as well."

All of the chapters have adopted a no-hazing policy, and while acknowledging that "being in a fraternity will always have its fun parties and social events," philanthropy has proved to be an important aspect of the college experience, Nguyen said.

The national philanthropy for Kappa Pi Beta is Type 2 diabetes, but the three chapters have volunteered for a breast cancer walk, Earth Day, a women's shelter and elementary school reading programs.

On April 14, from 7 to 9 p.m., the Kappa Pi Beta is holding an event called Asian Night Market in collaboration with Alpha Phi Gamma Sorority and the Asian American Association.

The purpose is to celebrate the richness of Asian cultures at MU. It will be a festive night filled with games and an assortment of Asian cuisines, Nguyen said. 

International brothers

Hong said the fraternity provides an opportunity for international students to join the Greek community.

Because most fraternities are dominated by Caucasians, international students often believe they can never be a part of the campus Greek community, he said. 

"We want to reach out to them and break out (of) the stereotype."

Vincent Su, the vice president, grew up in a family that moved around quite a bit. He  acknowledged that he felt as if he didn't fit in anywhere. Joining the fraternity helped him discover where he belonged. 

"A lot of times I got depressed because of the responsibilities and the long process," Su said. "Then one time I walked into the Student Center, and I saw my brothers there. At that moment, I felt the joy inside." 

After Su joined, his friends say they successfully uncovered the "real him."

"I think he (Su) is the one who has changed the most," Nguyen said. "We knew he was responsible but shy. But now, he is completely opposite of shy."

Huang said belonging to the fraternity has given him many brothers. 

However, his parents were shocked when he told them that he had joined a fraternity because the word has a different connotation in China.

"In their opinion, fraternity means 'mafia'," Huang said.

He explained to his parents that this fraternity performs community service and benefits members through camaraderie and national networking. 

Alexis Gatica, 26, chair of Alumni Relations, Extensions and Brotherhood on the National Board of Kappa Pi Beta, said the members have performed exceptionally well so far.

Gatica said they are dedicated and funny, and he expects them to uphold the values they have identified and be heavily involved with the community.

"I have the utmost trust in them," Gatica said.

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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