Considering Greek Life when Visiting Colleges
One of our client families recently visited Indiana University. They were amazed by the limestone historic buildings and the beautiful campus. In addition to the campus ambiance, another area of campus life caught their attention - Greek life. They shared several photos of their visit with us, including many photos of the large, sprawling chapter facilities.
I realized that understanding a little bit about Greek life may be helpful for some families when looking at colleges and visiting campuses. I am a member of Delta Delta Delta and was initiated into the Gamma Iota chapter at Purdue University in 1995. I had a tremendous experience as a sorority member. As a freshman at Purdue, I was interested in sorority recruitment as I didn’t want to live in a residence hall after my freshman year (residence halls weren’t as nice as they are now) and knew I was not ready for an apartment (I needed a meal plan!). In addition to the living experience, I wanted to become part of an organization focused on women and grow as a leader. Attending a large campus like Purdue, I wanted a place that felt like home. I lived in a chapter facility that could house 102 women. It even had an elevator! Women in my chapter encouraged me to get involved in student leadership activities on campus and pursue internships. I chose a chapter where members were involved in campus activities ranging from Division I athletics to the Panhellenic Association to Phi Beta Kappa to the student trustee. Approximately 20% of Purdue students are Greek with some notable members including Drew Brees (Sigma Chi), Neil Armstrong (Phi Delta Theta), Brian Lamb and Eugene Cernan (FIJI), and Winifred and Frieda Parker (Delta Sigma Theta).
Dr. Thom was not a member of a fraternity during his undergraduate years at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. This post is intended to provide some general information and resources as you begin considering this part of campus life and involvement when visiting campuses. Some of these questions are more pertinent for when a student has decided on a specific college or university, but hopefully you will know a little more about those Greek letters and what they mean.
What is Greek life?
Fraternities and sororities are membership-based organizations focused around common goals, aspirations and ideals. There are international and national organizations (central office with chapters all over the country and even world) as well as local organizations – chapters that are unique to a specific campus (no national or international organization). Governing bodies for national and international organizations include the National Pan-Hellenic Council, North American Interfraternity Conference, National Panhellenic Conference.
What is not Greek life?
Movies such as Old School, Legally Blonde, Animal House, and Revenge of the Nerds focus on stereotypes. And as most of us know, stereotypes don’t reflect reality. But it is important to consider how actions and behavior can reinforce stereotypes.
How to join?
Joining processes will vary widely by campus in terms of timelines (when students can join) as well as how formal (organized or prescribed) the process is. In addition, what the process is called will vary with terms including formal or information recruitment, intake, rush, COB (continuous open bidding), and COR (continuous open recruitment). We recommend checking with the Office of Student Activities, Office of Greek Life, or Student Affairs for specific details on the process for a campus.
Things to consider and questions to ask
Fraternity and sorority housing
Where do members of a fraternity or sorority live? Are they required to live in the chapter facility? If so, what are the facilities like? Who maintains them? Are they operated (and owned) by a local alumni house corporation board, the campus, or a national organization? Who is handling repairs? Or are the facilities smaller and only upperclassmen or officers live in the facility?
What is the percentage of students who are involved with Greek life? For example, 79% of students at Washington and Lee University are involved with Greek life. At Wabash College, students are required to live in one of eight residence halls or ten fraternity houses. The total capacity of the Wabash residence halls is 361. With an enrollment of 870 students, that means approximately 500 students are living in fraternity houses, including first-time freshmen. At Wabash College, 61% of students are members of a fraternity.
Grades and Achievement
The campus should provide information about grades and scholastics including rankings (which chapter has highest grades on campus, etc)
In addition to being involved in the local collegiate chapter, where are Greek life members leading and involved on campus? Who is the Student Government Association president? Are they a member of a Greek organization? What about other key student leaders on campus?
How much is it going to cost? Ask questions about membership fees and dues.
Are there certain requirements to remain active and in good standing?
Are there participation policies?
As someone who has worked in higher education for 20+ years including Greek life and student conduct, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention hazing. It is certainly an important question to ask of any membership- or tradition-based organizations. In my professional experience, some of my most egregious hazing situations involved sports clubs and bands. Hazing is based on power and a mindset of “we suffered so you will too.” It’s unacceptable in any form and should not be tolerated.
Dr. Thom and I love to read and can be pretty nerdy. There are books, dissertations, and plethoras of research on fraternities and sororities. Most recently, a 2021 Gallup survey conducted on behalf of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) and the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) highlight strong relationships between fraternity and sorority membership and the reported strength of the college experience, feelings of preparation for life after college and general wellbeing. The survey of more than 10,000 college alumni compared the experiences of fraternity and sorority alumni members (“affiliated alumni”) with those who were not fraternity and sorority members (“nonaffiliated alumni”). Affiliated alumni were more likely to report feeling supported by faculty and mentors and were three times as likely to have engaged in experiential learning. More about these findings and implications can be found here.
In addition to the NPC and NIC, the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) is comprised of the nine historically Black fraternities and sororities, often referred to as the “Divine Nine.” The history of these organizations is important, especially in terms of access to higher education and student involvement.
There are professional standards for professionals who work with fraternities and sororities. In addition to the Association for Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) also has developed standards for 48 functional areas of higher education, including Greek life. In 2021, the CAS Standards for Fraternity and Sorority Advising Programs were updated. The CAS revision committee was chaired by my mentor and friend Jane Hamblin, Chief Executive Officer Emerita for Mortar Board National College Senior Honor Society, and a CAS Representative from the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS). Hamblin commented on the relevance of the revised standards for today's fraternity and sorority advising programs, noting that “Fraternities and sororities are essential to co-curricular college life. The standards guide professionals through the very complicated program development necessary to ensure that fraternities and sororities of all types and histories provide equity, safety and relevance to students who are their members.”
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