‘Inside UVA’: He Came for Lacrosse and Stayed for Batten, Fraternal Leadership
Audio: “Inside UVA” With Student Kayvon Samadani(17:22)
Samadani was hoping to play college lacrosse, but found his true calling in UVA’s Greek system.
President Jim Ryan: So you came to UVA even though you weren’t guaranteed that you could play lacrosse.
Kayvon Samadani: Yeah, the opportunities here at the University are just tremendous. And I mean, it checks all the boxes. Who wouldn’t want to come to UVA? Because even if I didn’t make the team, how about the University of Virginia? It’s a win-win.
Ryan: Hi, everyone. I’m Jim Ryan, the President of the University of Virginia, and I’d like to welcome all of you to the latest episode of “Inside UVA.” This podcast is a chance for me to speak with some of the amazing people at the University and to learn more about what they do and who they are. My hope is that listeners will ultimately have a better understanding of how UVA works, and a deeper appreciation of the remarkably talented and dedicated people who make UVA the institution it is.
Today’s guest is Kayvon Samadani, a third year student and president of the Interfraternity Council at UVA. Kayvon, thanks so much for being here.
Samadani: Thank you for having me.
Ryan: I obviously want to talk about your role as president of the Interfraternity Council. But let’s start at the beginning. And I’m curious, what brought you to UVA in the first place?
Samadani: Yeah, you know, it’s my state school. It’s a prestigious university. And it’s a place where I feel like a lot of, you know, basically every Virginia resident thinks about going wants to go, you know, aspires to get into.
Ryan: So where’s your hometown?
Samadani: Alexandria, Virginia, so Northern Virginia. Originally, I planned on playing college lacrosse. I was looking at going other places. I got into UVA, and my coach knows Coach Tiffany personally. And he calls Coach Tiffany right in front of me goes, “You know, I got this kid, Kayvon Samadani, he can play ball, you know. Will you give him a shot, coach?” He says, “Yeah, I’ll give him a shot.”
So, you know, I went knowing the academic component, the social component, fit my personality. And then I, you know, wanted to do the lacrosse component. And I was on that team for about a month and a half, which was really cool before, you know, I eventually got cut. But it was still an incredible opportunity.
And that’s how I landed at UVA.
Ryan: So you are in the Batten School, if I’m remembering correctly.
Samadani: That is correct, yes.
Ryan: Favorite course at Batten so far?
Samadani: “Public Policy Challenges of the 21st Century” is really cool. I mean, it’s hard to pick just one. I’ll also say the “Intro to Public Policy” was really cool, because it really helped me develop a solid foundation of what the public policy process is. “Social Psychology,” which is a prereq, that was really cool. Econ 201 with Professor Elzinga is really – I mean, you know, it’s all just different lenses with which to view the world. And it’s all so impactful that it’s hard for me to pick one.
Ryan: And I know that you have been incredibly engaged outside of class as well. So can you describe some of the things that you’ve done in terms of extracurriculars outside of Greek life? And then we’ll turn to the leadership positions you’ve had within Greek life.
Samadani: Yeah, absolutely. Um, I was previously a member of the executive committee of the College Council, which is the governing body of the College of Arts & Sciences. I’m on a committee in the Batten Undergraduate Council. I participated in this program called Mile, which is a leadership development program, specifically for Muslim students, which is really, really cool. As well as the L2K Leadership Development Program. I was a research assistant for three semesters in the chemistry department, looking at renewable energy nanoparticles. And in addition, I mean, well, this is kind of delving into fraternities. But you know, my own fraternity has been a really impactful extracurricular as well.
Ryan: Yeah. So, talk about the decision to join a fraternity. So not everyone does. What led you to rush?
Samadani: Yeah, you know, coming into the University, I was focused on the athletic component. You know, I was waking up at 6 a.m. four days a week, going to practice. I didn’t really socialize outside of my dorm. You know, I kind of was like, “Yeah, that’s really silly. I don’t need that,” you know.
But then, randomly, one of my hallmates just invited me to a watch party for a football game, you know, and I got to have burgers with the guys and I just got this overwhelming sense that they cared about each other. And they cared about me, they wanted to get to know who I was. And I got the overwhelming sense that there was something more keeping these guys together than just, “Oh, yeah, we hang out on the weekends,” you know.
I continued to kind of hang out with them. And once I ended up, you know, getting cut from the lacrosse team and being able to hang out with those guys in, you know, more relaxed settings, was really cool.
And then comes rush, you know, I went through as many places as I could; I tried to cast a wide net, see what’s out there. Is this something for me? And, you know, ultimately, I landed on my fraternity, Sigma Phi, and it’s probably the best decision I made in my college career. The connections that I have with my brothers are truly special and it’s not something that I think you find everywhere else.
Ryan: Yeah, and you have been active obviously, not just a Sigma Phi, but beyond. So talk about some of the leadership positions you’ve had.
Samadani: Yeah, so one of the things that was emphasized to me during my pledging process was leadership. Leadership is so important to my fraternity; we were told to lead, we were told to step up and be changemakers. And so in my pledge class, I was elected scholarship chairman, which meant I organized two study sessions a week, you know.
And then from there, I started to kind of realize that I felt a pretty strong connection to social justice issues. And so I ran for diversity chairman of my fraternity, and I got it. Then, you know, my brothers kind of said, “Yo, man, you’ve got a knack for this, like you’re really good at this, you should consider running for the IFC position.” I never would have thought about that. But they helped me, they supported me and said, “No, you can, you can make change, be impactful.” And I did, and I won that as well.
And I remember hearing from the previous chairman, “You know, there’s not really much for you to do, kind of just do whatever you want.” I was thinking, “Really? Like, ‘hmm OK.’” And so I took that message of leadership, and I said, “I am going to make this something” and I just made people say no to me, you know. I really took the opportunity to try to build bridges across the Greek community here on Grounds.
Ryan: So what were you trying to do? And what were you able to accomplish when you were working in the position around diversity at IFC?
Samadani: I really wanted to bring the Interfraternity Council some more faces. I think, you know, it’s really easy to just recruit guys who show up to social events. Yeah, that’s a very specific section of UVA, right? And if you just do that, it’s gonna be kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And, you know, I really wanted to also reconcile with the history of the Interfraternity Council, with the exclusionary history of the Interfraternity Council. And to those ends, I organized a couple first-of-their-kind, sort of joint philanthropy ventures with the NPHC and the MGC.
Ryan: So for people who don’t know those acronyms, you want us to spell them out for us.
Samadani: Yes, Multicultural Greek Council, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Multicultural Greek Council serves various cultural identities. And the National Pan-Hellenic Council serves specifically Black collegiate men and women.
And we were able to do an all-Greek volleyball tournament, which was a blast. We had, I mean, close to 100 people show up to the volleyball courts, and we just played games together and hung out and got to know each other. And it was really cool, and a way to create organic friendships and just say, like, “Hey, this is what we’re doing, like, what are you doing? Maybe we could do something together.”
And then in addition, I worked with another student group to develop a sort of racial dialogue, if that makes sense, surrounding the history of the IFC, how it impacts our present, and what we can do to sort of rectify that and move forward in a constructive way. And that’s been really cool, too. And that’s been rolled out.
And every chapter that participates, has said it’s been great. And it’s been really helpful. And they’re like, you know, “We need everybody to hear this,” you know, “Everybody needs to do this, because everybody wants to be a place where young men from all different backgrounds can come and find brotherhood,” and I think it’s really important to start with that acknowledgement and that understanding of the past so that you can move forward in a constructive way.
Ryan: And do you think it is possible or maybe even likely that fraternities will become increasingly diverse over time?
Samadani: Yeah, absolutely. I do. I think young men, especially in college, you’re starting to see a decline in enrollment. You know, I think guys crave that community. And they want that. And I think, you know, as we understand more and more what the IFC has done to marginalized people in the past, you know, we can better understand how we can reach people and be accessible and say, “You know what man, like, this is a space for you, you know, this is a space where you can feel yourself and be around guys who are going to make you better.”
And I believe that’s happening now. That’s happening in my own fraternity, and it’s happening all across Grounds.
And, you know, and I’ll tell you, one of the most impactful moments for me, sort of in that realm, was during our pledging for my fraternity. Me and the current president sat down with the guys, and I said, “You know, who is your hero? Everybody needs a hero to look up to. Who is yours?” And the breadth and depth and the different experiences that were, you know, so different, yet the same.
Specifically, I remember one of my brothers who’s first-generation; he’s also low-income. He talked about his mom, and he said his mom was his hero, and that when he was a child, he would come home to eviction notices on his door. He was 6 years old, and his mom sacrificed so much to put food on the table for him and his sister, to give them a roof. And he said he admired her for sacrificing for the ones he loved.
And at the same time, another brother talked about his grandfather. How his grandfather worked really hard to make a company, and then sell that company for quite a bit of money.
And so, you know, the difference between those two situations, but at the core of it, it was a parental figure sacrificing for their loved ones. And, you know, that was just so powerful to me, you know, because on the one hand, I’m literally like in tears about this young man’s experience as a child. And, and on the other hand, you know, I’m also so like, awestruck by another young man’s grandfather’s experience, you know, and I think that’s really cool. And I think that’s really indicative of what Greek life can do and how it brings people together.
Ryan: Yeah, that’s a great story. So tell me what it’s like to be president of the Inter-Fraternity. Council during a pandemic?
Samadani: Yeah, I’ll tell you, I did not expect to be doing some of the things I did going into this job.
Ryan: I bet! You and me both.
Samadani: Yeah. But, you know, I understood that this is going to require me to make tough decisions. And when push came to shove, and it came time to make, you know, a fairly difficult decision for the betterment of others, and for the safety of the community. You know,
Ryan: This is the decision to have rush be virtual, right?
Samadani: Yeah. You know, the governing board was completely behind it, and they said, “Yeah, this is the right move.” And I believe, you know, we ultimately made the right decision. And I think we had a, you know, successful recruitment season anyway, despite the challenges, and I’m really proud of that.
Ryan: Well, I think you ought to be proud of it. I mean, as I mentioned at the time, I really admire the fact that you took into account the interests of others. And it clearly was not an easy decision, and a good lesson in that. Not everyone’s gonna agree with hard decisions. But yeah, all you can do is do what you think is right.
So what else is on your agenda? When is your term up?
Samadani: My term ends at the end of the fall semester my fourth year. So I’ve got this semester and the next.
Ryan: So you’ve still got a lot of time. What else would you like to accomplish?
Samadani: Yeah, I really want to do more in sustainability. I think that is an avenue where the Inter-Fraternity Council has been lacking. And I think it’s a place where, you know, the social cloud of fraternities can really impact students’ habits. When you know, they have a can or a plastic cup, what are they going to do with it? You know, I want to try to empower the people around me and the governing board who are focused on sustainability to make something happen, to develop programming.
I also really want to continue to push in the realm of diversity outreach and intergroup relations. I want to continue building these bridges between the different Greek councils and really focus on advertising to specifically first-years – in my case, first-year men – about the space and what it offers. And I think that looks like joint philanthropic ventures, you know; it looks like joint study halls.
And in addition, I really want to take more control over the narrative of fraternities online, really trying to do a better job of publicizing the really cool things that we do and the pieces of the puzzle that you don’t usually see when you’re on the outside.
Also I want to make the governing board work for chapters, and I want to help chapters feel empowered to be change-makers at their own level, and to do cool things and good things for the University.
Ryan: Right. So you’re mentioning of taking control of the narrative. I’m curious what you say, and you must have conversations with people who are critical of Greek life, fraternities in particular – you know, they’re too exclusive, or they’re sort of a relic of the past or whatever. I mean, there’s some people who just decide “it’s not for me,” and then there are some people who decide “it’s definitely for me,” and then there’s a third group that says, “it’s not only not for me, but I think it’s a bad thing.” What do you say to them?
Samadani: You know, one of the things I think about and that’s talked about in my own fraternity is that no institution survives long unless it serves a human need. And my fraternity is nearing its 200th birthday. I truly believe it serves a human need. People crave community, they crave a community that’s not just there for when things are going well, but that’s there for when you’re down, and that truly wants you to be better, and that can help you succeed.
I would say, to the point of it being exclusive – there’s 32 fraternities on Grounds; there’s a place for everybody. Each chapter has its own values, and people are going to connect more with others and different chapters. And I think that’s totally natural. I think that’s frankly, a good thing.
I mean, there are other critiques about, sort of the monetary cost of Greek life, and luckily, I’ve expanded scholarship offerings from the IFC quite a bit. We’re looking to endow a scholarship soon; my own fraternity has a scholarship that, frankly, if you play it right, will give you money, and other fraternities do the same thing. You know, the financial component, it’s not as big a barrier as people think. And almost every chapter will have some sort of system to get you there and get you through the door.
My own fraternity explicitly says that your ability to pay doesn’t impact your membership, you can still be a brother. Obviously, there are certain things that it’s like, you know, we’re paying for this event or something like that and it can be harder if some people don’t pay and you need people to sort of pay dues to pay mortgages, you know. But, um, but that’s, that’s not as big a barrier as I’d say people think.
There are a few other critiques and you know, it’s important to listen and not sort of cover my ears and close my eyes and pretend like everything’s hunky dory; it’s really important to engage with people who find problems so that you know how to better your institution. And I think that’s really important.
Ryan: Yeah. Well, I’m going to say, Kayvon, it seems to me the IFC is incredibly lucky to have you as its leader.
Samadani: Thank you very much. I really appreciate that.
Ryan: So last question: What’s after UVA? Do you know?
Samadani: Grad school. I want to be part of the policymaking process, you know, I want to be either on the Hill or in state government, you know, I want to help make people’s lives better and impact change. And I think policy formulation is probably going to be the side that I fall on that, so hopefully, hopefully policymaking.
Ryan: Well, I look forward to following your career. I have no doubt you’re going to have a positive impact on the world.
Samadani: Thank you so much.
Ryan: But thanks so much for spending time with me. I really enjoyed the conversation.
Samadani: Thank you for having me.
Mary Garner McGehee: “Inside UVA” is a production of WTJU 91.1 FM and the Office of the President at the University of Virginia. “Inside UVA” is produced by Mary Garner McGehee, Brooke Whitehurst, Matt Weber and Nathan Moore.
A very special thanks this week to Paige Waterhouse, who recorded this episode for me while I was on vacation. We also want to thank Kayvon Samadani, Monica Shack, Athena Hanny and McGregor McCance.
Our music is “Turning to You” from Blue Dot Sessions.
Listen and subscribe to “Inside UVA” on Apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. We’ll be back soon with another conversation about the life of the University.
University of Virginia President Jim Ryan hosts third-year student Kayvon Samadani, the president of the Inter-Fraternity Council, on this week’s edition of “Inside UVA,” a podcast dedicated to showing the workings of the University.
“Originally, I planned on playing college lacrosse,” Samadani said. “I was looking at going other places. I got into UVA, and my coach knows [UVA] Coach [Lars] Tiffany personally. And he calls Coach Tiffany right in front of me and goes ‘You know, I got this kid Kayvon Samadani. He can play ball. Will you give him a shot, coach?’ he says, ‘Yeah, I’ll give him a shot.’”
Samadani ended up playing on the team for about a month and a half before he was cut. But he was undeterred. “It was still an incredible opportunity. And that’s how I landed at UVA,” he said.
Samadani is enrolled in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and says he likes it so much that it’s hard to choose his favorite course so far.
“‘Public Policy Challenges of the 21st Century’ is really cool. I mean, it’s hard to pick just one,” he said enthusiastically. “I’ll also say the ‘Intro to Public Policy’ was really cool, because it really helped me develop a solid foundation of what the public policy process is.”
At first, Samadani said he dismissed the idea of joining a fraternity as “silly.” That changed after he was invited to a football game-watch party at a fraternity house.
“I just got this overwhelming sense that they cared about each other. And they cared about me. They wanted to get to know who I was, and I got the overwhelming sense that there was something more keeping these guys together than just, ‘Oh, yeah, we hang out on the weekends,’” he said.
Now, Samadani is president of the Inter-Fraternity Council and relishes his role governing 30 social fraternities at UVA.
“I really wanted to reconcile with the history of the Inter-Fraternity Council, with the exclusionary history of the Inter-Fraternity Council,” he said.
So Samadani organized a couple of first-of-their-kind, joint philanthropy ventures with fraternities affiliated with the Multicultural Greek Council and the National Pan-Hellenic Council, two of the other fraternal governing bodies on Grounds.
“Multicultural Greek Council serves various cultural identities, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council serves specifically Black collegiate men and women,” he said. “And we were able to do an all-Greek volleyball tournament, which was a blast. We had close to 100 people show up to the volleyball courts, and we just played games together and hung out and got to know each other. And it was really cool.”
You can learn more about Samadani’s role as president and his other pursuits by tuning into “Inside UVA,” which is streamed on most podcast apps, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.