One, two, three, four, Greek.This is what assistant director for fraternity & sorority life Dave Conner sometimes thinks to himself when walking around campus. One out of every five students at the College is a member of one of the 29 fraternities and sororities.
“Last spring, we broke 1,200 students, so roughly 20 percent of the undergraduate population,” Conner said. “This year, I expect that numbers will be dramatically higher. I expect once I have all the finalized numbers, we might actually be closer to 1,400 this semester. Long story short, we’ve had a trend of growth. When I got here in 2007, we had 476 fraternity and sorority life people.”
So why the growth? We hear the news stories of hazing from around the country. In fact, at least 59 students have died in incidents involving fraternities since 2005, according to Bloomberg News, with six others getting paralyzed. The stereotypes of the “frat bro” and the “sorority girl” are well known to several students. But still, people are joining in record numbers. Why do students at the College join Greek life?
“A lot of perception and a lot of rumor is essentially just perpetuated year after year,” Conner said. “Organizations, like people, change over time. Certainly, I don’t think we would have this many people joining and committing so much of their time and energy if it were a bad experience, or if people were buying friends, or were all very shallow or whatever else. There has to be some deeper root piece to this.”
According to Conner, being involved with Greek life provides students the opportunity to develop their whole self by engaging in out-of-the-classroom experiences.
“I think when it’s done right, fraternity and sorority life is probably the most impactful experience a student can have in college,” Conner said. “There are opportunities to develop yourself professionally, socially, cognitively— and really I would challenge one of the ways that’s most difficult, with your peers.”
Fraternity and sorority life does not only benefit the students directly involved with it, but also the surrounding community. A year and a half ago, the College’s fraternities and sororities had over 15,000 service hours. Over the course of the past year, they also raised $100,000.
“What we typically see, especially at the College — God love(s) you, type-A, over-achieving students — is not only that students are meeting whatever their national expectation is for a charity, but they’re (also) going passed that,” Conner said.
Greek life can benefit the school community, as well.
“In my opinion, we find that schools with a fraternity and sorority system tend to develop more engaged and more connected students,” Conner said. “You know, years back, the College’s going reputation was that we were this suitcase school, and I think having a fraternity or sorority system is probably a huge agent in changing that type of perception.”
Compared to other schools’ Greek life, Conner says the College’s is more cohesive, communicative and high-achieving. Conner attributes a lot of this to both the cubes in the Brower Student Center and the level of autonomy given to the groups.
“Most of our organizations here at the College are winning their national awards,” Conner said. “I think students have a very high expectation of themselves, and I have very high expectations of them. Mediocracy sucks. Why be mediocre when you can be great? I try to really push them to try new things, achieve greater outcomes, provide a better experience to their members, because I think they can. I think they have incredibly bright members who can figure out ways to make it better, and you don’t see that at a lot of schools.”
Interestingly, not many students go into college knowing they want to join Greek life.
According to Conner, 15 percent of an incoming class are “always joiners,” while 20 percent of students are “never joiners.” For the other 65 percent of students, it is gray whether they will join.
“If you think you would never want to join a fraternity, you’d probably be our best member,” Conner said. “You’d probably find that you’re in good company. In fact, a lot of our students had no intention.”
Sophomore English and women’s and gender studies double major Erin Shannon is one of those 65 percent of students who fell into that gray area. She decided she wanted to join a sorority during her freshman year and has been a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma since last spring.
“I joined a sorority because I wanted a sisterhood,” Shannon said. “I wanted a support group that would always be there for me, and I for them. I also wanted to meet new people.”
According to Conner, being a member of Greek life has the potential to change a person forever. Conner, a Theta Chi, considers joining the best decision of his life and still uses the fraternity’s motto of “extend the helping hand” every day.
“It finds ways to keep students connected to the school not only as undergraduates, but we find the affiliation the fraternity and sorority people have after they graduate is usually stronger than non-Greek students,” Conner said. “They not only had such an impactful experience, but there’s an organization that’s still there, that’s probably still providing the same opportunity for its members.”
Stereotypes and rumors concerning Greek life are always swirling, but Conner points out that “all these organizations were founded on very altruistic and ethical high-functioning values.”
“Just reconsider, or if nothing else, if you decide it’s not for you, don’t perpetuate what you think you know or what you’ve heard because ultimately, you might be affecting your roommate, or friend, or brother or whomever it is who’s really considering that experience — and it might be the best decision they’ve ever made,” Conner said.