Hospitality – the cornerstone of Modern Greek identity.
The Queens College Ikaros Hellenic Orthodox Club has given Greek American and non-Greek students alike the opportunity to participate in a rich heritage deeply rooted in tradition.
Originally founded in the 1980s, the club continues to be a staple in the Queens College community, allowing Greek American students to reconnect with their culture while also helping to foster a sense of fellowship with Greeks from other universities across CUNY. “I remember actually meeting the first president of the club last summer in Greece,” President Maritsa Koutsouras tells The Knight News. “Since the club has been around for a long time, there’s a deep historical and cultural significance.”
The Ikaros Club incorporates ancient aesthetics with modern culture to create an inviting space that’s not only open to everyone, but educational for all students involved. Koutsouras further explained this dynamic: “The Ikaros Club is about getting Greek Americans, Cypriots, Greeks from Greece, and people generally interested in Greek culture to be a part of a παρέα [fellowship], by having cultural events and a space for people to talk with each other.” I
Closely associated with the Byzantine Department, the organization has been able to co-host various large events based on subjects including Art History, Greek Independence Day, Pascha (Greek Easter), and even having students from Greece visit Queens College itself.
“We have a lot of historical events that showcase our Greek heritage and make us proud to be Greek,” explains Vice President Stephanie Szypylka. “Since Queens College is a diverse school, coming here exposes you to anyone and anything. It brought me closer to my Greek culture. The events we have are very educational, and it’s a dynamic of people wanting to learn about Greece while also showing off that pride.”
The first festival of the Queens College Ikaros Hellenic Orthodox Club. The event was founded by former president Demetrakis Jimmy Papamiltiades (1992-93). Over 400 people participated in the dance above. Photo Credit: Queens College Ikaros Club Facebook Group.
While COVID-19 made it difficult for the club to establish an on-campus presence, this hasn’t deterred members from celebrating their culture. Since Greece is a relatively small country, there has always been a conscious effort by the diaspora to carry on the customs. Whether it’s listening to Greek music or taking part in traditional dances, engaging with the heritage is an important dynamic that has left an impression at Queens College.
Koutsouras acknowledged this impression: “A lot of Greeks also resonate with the language, since it makes them feel more connected with their culture. The fact I can go to Greece and communicate with my family, some of whom don’t even speak English, is so important. We’re a small country, so it’s very easy for culture and traditions to get lost.”
“Even though we’re Greek, it doesn’t mean that the club isn’t open to non-Greek students,” Secretary Demi Kapetanakis emphasizes. “It’s an important distinction – we’re not a clique.”
The club also enjoys a religious component, with Greek Orthodox Christianity in close proximity with the culture. “We take the religious aspect of our culture very seriously,” Maritsa explains. “If you look at our history, for 400 years, we were under Ottoman slavery, and our ancestors perservered to keep both our religion and language intact. So really, there’s no excuse for us. In the past, we’ve had a priest come and bless the club room. We’re a part of the Byzantine Center, so we talk about Pascha a lot. Throughout the year, we would go to Greek festivals and light candles in the Church. The importance of our faith is definitely something we’re all aware of.”
With Queens College slowly transitioning to in-person operations, the club’s focus has shifted to getting more members involved, especially through social media. Indeed, Ikaros Club members are actively organizing café nights at popular Greek establishments throughout New York City. “We have a café night in Astoria later this month, and we are planning a couple of big events in the future. Anyone who has ideas for potential events can reach out to us on Instagram.”
To get involved with the Queens College Ikaros Hellenic Orthodox Club, you can follow them on Instagram for updates on upcoming meetings, events, and hangouts.