What do Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Warren Buffet, Erin Andrews, Ashton Kutcher, and Lucy Liu have in common? Yes, they are all famous and successful, but one thing that unites them is that they were all a part of Greek Life while they were in college. In fact, according to an article by Nicole Glass on USA Today, all but three U.S. presidents since 1825 have been members of a fraternity.
Greek Life is a community in U.S. colleges that consists of fraternities for men and sororities for women. The reason why it is called “Greek Life” is because fraternities and sororities use Greek letters (Alpha, beta, chi, delta, etc.) as the official name of their organization. If we narrow them down, fraternity and sorority is a secret society for undergraduate students that promote brotherhood/sisterhood, service, and academic achievements as their core values. In this article, I will combine my own experience as a member of the Delta Chi Fraternity Washburn Chapter (The name of the chapter often represents the university where the fraternity locates) for the past four years and knowledge that I gained while serving as the chapter treasurer in the fall of 2010 and chapter president in the spring of 2011 to explain why millions of college students in the United States decide to be a part of Greek Life, what members of a fraternity and sorority do, and stereotypes about fraternity and sorority and why they exist.
In the first two weeks of every semester, Student Life Department in many U.S. colleges hosts events that give fraternity and sorority chapters opportunities to recruit new members.
I remember my second Friday night in college, when my roommate in the dormitory who was also a freshman asked me whether I wanted to go to “Hawaiian Pool Party” hosted by Delta Chi. The only thing that came to my mind was, “Party? Cool! I’ll go.” The event turned out to be a very fun event with no alcohol involved – even the members who were already 21 only drinking soda and lemonade. Yet, I still had a blast because I got to play water polo and chill in a hot tub with new friends, not to mention some attractive girls whom, as I later found out, were members of a sorority on my campus. I also had intelligent conversations with several gentlemen, some of whom were in their last year of college and ready to either apply to graduate schools. Some others had just started their career in a law firm or investment bank.
After the event, I asked my roommate how I could be a part of Delta Chi. He gave me a white card to sign, giving the right to the chapter president and scholarship chairman of Delta Chi to check my educational background and verify my GPA. A week later after the event, I had lunch with the recruitment chairman of Delta Chi, and he explained what the organization is all about and what the members do. After listening carefully to what he had to say, I signed a green card, which made me the official member of the Delta Chi Fraternity. This later turns to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made in my entire college career.
In Delta Chi, and most other Greek chapters, we have a chapter meeting every Monday night where every executive staff and recruitment chairman gives their reports. The reports include what the person has done for their position in the past week and what he plans to do for the upcoming week. An example of the report is a brotherhood chairman explaining the progress he has made regarding the preparation for the upcoming trip to comedy club next weekend. Our executive body consists of president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, alumni relations secretary, and risk management officer. The chairman positions include recruitment, associate members program, social, brotherhood, philanthropy/community service, wellness, technology, scholarship, and public relations.
During my first semester of membership, I had to go through associate members program (Many other chapters call this “Pledge program” as the new members are often called “Pledges”), where I, along with other new members, was taught about the history of Greek Life and Delta Chi, appropriate manners as a gentleman (similar to the curriculum from The John Roberts Power school), and strategies to succeed for the rest of our college career. All of the new members are also being evaluated in their first semester before they can go through the initiation ceremony, which would make them the official active member of the organization. The evaluation includes the new member’s participation in events and associate members program, semester GPA, and fulfillment of dues. Yes, there is a $450 fee every semester that comes with your membership. The amount of membership dues varies among fraternities and sororities, depends on how active the specific chapter is, because all the money goes back to the members through events that they host during the semester and insurance that cover them while they are at the event.
Many fraternities and sororities have a housing facility, and it is up to the member whether he wants to live in the house or not. The capacity of a Greek chapter house can be up to 30 members, and the rates to live there is usually cheaper than living in the dormitory. Delta Chi at Washburn does not currently own a house, but many of our members decide to rent an apartment together, so they can still be close to each other. The word “close” is important because as a member of a fraternity or sorority, you would want to strength your relationship with your brothers/sisters. This close relationship cannot be built by just coming to chapter meeting every Monday night or going through associate members program. You need to make an effort by participating at the events that your brothers have organized and taking leadership roles within the chapter. Now, as an alumnus, I cannot remember the time during the school year where I did not have anything to do on the weekends. After attending chapter meeting on Monday, we always had an intramural game either on Wednesday or Thursday, sometimes on both days, where we played sports (e.g. 3on3 basketball, flag football, dodge ball, indoor soccer etc.) and competed with other fraternity chapters and student organizations on campus. Then, there is always a social/brotherhood/fundraising /community service event on Saturday and Sunday. Many fraternity and sorority chapters require their members to complete certain number of community service hours every year. Every Greek chapter also has their own philanthropy, where they raise money for a good cause. Delta Chi for instance, hosts a number of events such as hot dog eating contest and 5K run competition every semester, where all the proceeds go to Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. We were usually able to raise almost $1,000 each year from these events.
Despite all the good things (associate members program, community service, philanthropy events, etc.) that Greek chapters do, fraternities and sororities are often associated with underage drinking, party, and hazing. I personally think that the main reason why these stereotypes exist is the misleading image built by the media. An example is the movie Old School, that features Will Farrell and Vince Vaughn, and tells the story about three men who are trying to start a new fraternity chapter in a college campus. While the movie itself is very funny, unfortunately 2/3 of the movie does not show what most fraternities across the nation really do. They only show the fun part of fraternity parties where everyone is drinking alcohol and pledges that were forced to run in early morning in order to be a member. There was nothing about volunteering with a local community food network or raising money for cancer survivors. The coverage of fraternity and sorority life is also unbalanced. Hazing scandals often make headlines on the school’s newspaper, but thousands of dollars that is being raised from philanthropy events usually does not. In addition, there are always a few Greek chapters with bad behaviors that ruin the image of the whole system. An example is an accident that happened last month, when more than twenty students at a state university in Illinois faced criminal charges due to the death of a fraternity member caused by heavy drinking.
It is really hard to explain what being Greek means and share my experience as a member of Delta Chi in less than 2,000 words. One thing I can say, millions of undergraduate students in the United States, and thousands will join us this year, decided to be a part of a fraternity or sorority for a reason; build resume, improve interpersonal and leadership skills, and make new friends. Whatever the reason is, I can proudly say that I am a better man than I was five years ago. Back then, I did not know different techniques to wear a tie, good color combinations for my tie and dress shirt, and dining etiquette rules. As a finance major, I also had not had any real life experience when it comes to handling other people’s money until I was given the responsibility as the chapter treasurer to oversee an approximately $10,000 budget. Right now, I also have a connection in almost every state in America; as Delta Chi and most other Greek chapters are nationally affiliated. Every year, each member is given the opportunity to attend Regional Leadership Conference where they can learn how to be a better leader for their chapter and network with members of Delta Chi from other states. Regardless of all the good things that Greek life has to offer and stereotypes that come along with it, I would like to share my very first reason why I wanted to join a fraternity: I did not want come to the United States just to study and hang out with the people who have similar cultural backgrounds. I wanted to try something new and get involved in an organization that I would not have had chance unless I went to school in America. Go Greek!
Ana Santos on USA Today
Madison Margeson on Elon University