On the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 2, hundreds of young women were “sittin’, waitin’, wishin’” in Elon University’s Alumni Gym before they opened their bid cards. To some outsiders looking in, that Bid Card, as well as that moment, held zero significance. But others knew the contents of that envelope would change those women’s lives forever.
“The moment I opened my bid card was such a big moment,” said first-year Sophie Angst. “I was so excited and felt so much energy and happiness as we were running down the hill! At the same time I felt content knowing that I had found the place for me.”
Greek life on Elon’s campus has unified men and women for more than 50 years, but in doing so has created divisions amongst the student body. According to some Elon students, there is a distinct separation between those who are affiliated and those who are not.
Not only are there perceived differences between affiliated and unaffiliated individuals, there are also many stereotypes and facets within the Greek system. It’s hard to deny that almost every student is affected by the Greek system — whether they’d like to be or not.
GREEK LIFE ON ELON’S CAMPUS
The first Greek organization appeared on Elon’s campus in 1968 with the chartering of local organization Tau Kappa Epsilon. National chapters have been on Elon’s campus since the chartering of Sigma Sigma Sigma in April 1970. Since then, 23 other nationally recognized chapters have been chartered, with Delta Upsilon being the most recent. There are currently 2,189 men and women, or 42 percent of undergraduate students, who are affiliated with a Greek organization.
“I think that Greek life is one of those things that can be both unifying and dividing,” said Anthony Hatcher, associate professor of communications. “For the people who are in [Greek life] they are brothers or sisters for life. But there’s also a divide between non-Greeks and Greeks. Many times I hear from non-Greek students that they feel left out.”
He said he believes Greek life is here to stay on Elon’s campus.
With Greeks having such a large influence on campus life at Elon, the concept of unity seems to come into question. Are students able to see each other as an Elon University community? Or will there continue to be this segregation of Greeks and non-Greeks?
College Sans Greek Life
With Greek life having such a visible presence on campus, it makes sense when people who are not affiliated are overcome with FOMO — fear of missing out. When one friend is finding a mate for a date party and another is baking cookies for a philanthropy event, it is understandable that a non-affiliated student may feel there aren’t a lot of social opportunities for him or her.
Since dropping out of the recruitment process two years ago, junior Emma Kwiatkowski said she has felt the ripple effects of being unaffiliated.
“I have felt left out for not being involved in Greek life,” Kwiatkowski said. “On Facebook, all I ever see are girls with their sisters taking pictures with each other at different events. Even when I do hang out with girls in sororities, they insist on sorority pictures rather than an inclusive picture of everyone.”
Kwiatkowski said Greek life dominates social life and campus activities for many students.
“When you are not involved with Greek life, there is a lot less to do around Elon,” she said. “I love dances and getting dressed up, but I never have an opportunity to do that because I am not a part of Greek life.”
Although Kwiatkowski is not alone in feeling left out, other non-affiliated students find Greek life’s large presence on campus easier to deal with. Senior Kim Lilienthal is one of these students.
Lilienthal went through the first few days of recruitment during her freshman year but realized sorority life wasn’t for her. Since then she hasn’t looked back with any regrets.
“I think that the majority of the ‘Greek exclusive’ events are the parties, the mixers and the formals, and those types of things aren’t very enjoyable to me anyway,” Lilienthal said.
Like many other non-affiliated men and women, Lilienthal has found a sense of home with other organizations.
“I feel a great sense of community and belonging among the other students in my major and I am certainly academically supported through this group of people,” Lilienthal said. “I became a leader on campus through my involvement with New Student Orientation and the Center for Leadership. I’ve served the Elon, Alamance County and global communities through the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement. I think that it is very easy to find your niche without Greek life, and there are lots of students who are willing to support you as you do that.”
Even though Lilienthal said she feels comfortable with her decision of not participating in Greek life, there are still instances that leave her feeling excluded.
“The times I’ve felt most left out are when businesses in Burlington offer ‘Greek Letter Specials’ or sales that only apply to customers wearing letters,” she said. “I remember when Ann Taylor Loft hosted a sale for Greek women. One of my friends offered to loan me a shirt so I could go with her, but I wasn’t interested in supporting exclusivity in a public place.”
Blame it on the Alcohol
An understandably large element that comes with Greek territory is the party scene. When freshmen are thrust into campus life, their first exposure to Greek organizations are loud, crazy and typically memorable off-campus frat house gatherings and red solo cups. This portion of Greek life is more dominating than some would like, which turns them away from being in an organization.
Sophomore Marie Williams* was initiated into a sorority in the spring of her freshman year, but after realizing her and her sisters’ interests differed, she decided to leave her organization.
“I think that there are a lot of divisions that you do not see until people get more comfortable with one another,” Williams said. “A lot of those divisions were the result of me disagreeing with the behaviors of many girls. I don’t drink — I don’t believe in that — and that was very dividing because a lot of girls bond over those types of experiences.”
Williams said she felt ostracized for not having the same values as the women who were supposed to be her sisters. When she began to not feel as welcome as she had hoped to feel, Williams began to doubt what it actually meant to be a part of a sisterhood. Eventually, it was her inability to find common ground with the sisters, as well as the overabundance of alcohol, that pushed Williams to leave Greek life.
“The culture of Greek life is very biased towards drinking. I believe that the Greek culture encourages and supports underaged drinking, which I am not comfortable with,” she said.
Despite Greek organizations’ strong tie to alcohol, many believe drinking is more of a university problem rather than strictly a Greek problem.
“The university as a whole — at least to some extent — encourages safe drinking instead of saying the rules and enforcing them. This sets a tone that extends through the social life on campus and then into Greek life. The tone is ‘please drink safely,’ rather than ‘please drink safe and don’t drink underage,’” Williams said.
Campus programs such as SPARKS discuss safe drinking methods with students — no matter the age of the consumer.
“Telling people not to drink on a college campus is unrealistic. We are here to help people make informed decisions if they do choose to consume alcohol,” said SPARKS member Felicia Cenca.
While strobe lights and beer buckets may seem fun in the moment, others said frat parties aren’t the healthiest places to form relationships. And with the presence of alcohol, events can take a turn for the dangerous.
“If there’s anything that could be changed, [frats] could crack down on the size and scale of parties,” said a male junior who wishes to remain anonymous. “The university as a whole could provide more education on date rape for females because I think that a lot of preying on young college girls happens in frat houses.”
He added that first-year girls feel they need to go to frat parties to meet guys.
“There are a lot of other outlets to meet guys and safer environments to make friends such as service and religious organizations,” he said.
Fraternities and sororities are often connected to the degrading practice of hazing. Even though Elon’s Office of Greek Life has taken steps to eliminate hazing from Elon’s campus, the possibility of it occurring always exists.
According to Greek Life Director Shana Plasters, every year the Office of Greek Life gets multiple reports of hazing. They then fully investigate each situation, but most of the time the reports turn out to be untrue and spurred from legends. The type of hazing most commonly seen is done by individuals to other individuals, not done by a full organization.
Plasters, though, does not hide the fact that serious hazing has occurred in the past.
“We’ve had groups of students found responsible for hazing and have received some pretty significant sanctions,” Platers said. “[The sanctions] can range from the severity of what was found.”
The Office of Greek Life tries to keep students and families informed with information about anti-hazing and an anonymous hazing hotline that anyone can call.
Image is Everything
One bad incident can ruin everything for a Greek organization. The thousands of dollars raised for their philantrhopy, impressive GPAs, and countless hours of community service can be easily forgotten once people hear words like ‘hazing’ and ‘probation’.
Being a part of a Greek organization doesn’t end when a member takes off his or her pins and letters. It takes a great deal of responsibilty and ownership for a person to represent their organization well.
“We tell our individuals that they don’t get to take off their letters and are always being held to that standard,” Plasters said. “You don’t get to say ‘Well we’ve done these five positive things so this one negative thing shouldn’t count against us.’ That’s not how it works.”
Even with all of the positive things Greek organizations have going for them it is still hard for the organizations to shake certain reputations. What can be done to help the image of certain fraternities and sororities?
Plasters said there are a lot of things Greek organizations can do to help, and that begins with being able to tout their positives.
“I think sometimes Greek students get in their world and they think everyone knows the positves but they don’t stop and think that everyone doesn’t [know about the achievements of Greek organizations].”
When things go wrong, Greek organizations can also do things to help their reputations.
“When groups do things that are not in line with their values, they need to be up front and honest,” Plasters said. “It goes a long way to send a message of, ‘It’s not that we did this and are only sorry because we got caught, but we did this and realize it’s wrong and here’s what we’re doing to change that.”
Going through difficult times as an organization can have a silver lining to it, though. Many individuals found tough times as an opportunity for them to grow closer with their brothers and sisters.
“During tough times you have to have each other’s backs,” Hunt Cable, affiliated senior, said. “We all look at it as one person is the fraternity. All of the fraternities in times of trouble stick together to avoid any more trouble.”
Not Four Years, For Life
Despite negative stigmas attached to Greek life, there are also positive things that come with a Greek membership. Being part of a Greek organization means meeting people to confide in as you make memories and help the community. It means entering something that is bigger than yourself, community and even school.
Senior Joe Racanelli has felt a lasting impact since joining a fraternity his sophomore year.
“Being in a fraternity has allowed me to get exposure to a variety of opportunities that I may not have had the chance to experience otherwise,” Racanelli said. “After joining during my sophomore year everything that I have experienced has had a positive impact on my life.”
Being a part of a Greek organization can help a person mature and see the important things in life. Not only do students build strong relationships, they are also given the opportunity to meet people they never would have met if it weren’t for their organization.
“Over the past few years I’ve realized how important one’s relationships with others are,” Racanelli said. “The people that I’ve met over the past years have had an influence on my life and I’m sure that many of them will continue to do so.”
Sophomore Hayley Owen said she is thankful for the variety of women she has met through her sorority.
“Getting to know more diverse people has helped me to become a stronger, better and more confident person,” Owen said. “I just love every second of it. No matter what happens, I know they will be there to share my life with.”
Greeks Give Back
Greek organizations also help make their members and community better. Each organization hosts events and fundraisers throughout the year to support their chosen philanthropy. Baked goods are made and sold, men walk in high heels and students flock to the Elon Community Church for everything from pancakes to baked ‘Xiti’. During the 2012-2013 year, affiliated men and women donated over $200,000 to their philanthropies and reported over 4,500 service hours. On a national level, according to The University of Missouri - Kansas City, undergraduate members give an annual average of $7 million and over 850,000 hours towards charitable causes.
Greek organizations put a lot of weight on academics and expect their members to achieve high marks in the classroom. The average GPA for affiliated members is 3.34, which is consistently higher than 3.24, the average GPA for undgraduate students as a whole.
“I feel that with my sorority I have the support system I need to do well in school,” Erin Turner, junior, said. “Whenever I need help with something they’re always there to help me. Also when I see them doing well it motivates me to do the same.”
Being involved with Greek life also gives students opportunities to challenge themselves through leadership roles and responsibilities. Amongst the 24 organizations there are over 250 leadership positions for students.
“Students get real world accounting and event planning experience,” Plasters said. “[Students] have an opportunity to practice out challenging coversations and explore people who are different than they are in a supportive environment. To me those are some of the best aspects of Greek life.”
When it comes to unifying those who are affiliated with those who are not affiliated, more often than not it’s those who are not in Greek organizations that struggle more. As the popular quote states, “From the outside looking in you can’t understand it; From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.”
Elon’s Inclusive Community Council works to “further a campus climate that upholds the dignity of each community member” and to build “a culture of understanding and respect”. Lilienthal, who is familiar with and supports the ICC, expanded on that.
“The Inclusive Community Council has been working to establish programs and safe spaces that support all students and help them find their place at Elon,” she said.
Lilienthal instigated a partnership between the Inclusive Community Council and Greek life.
“I think that the inclusion initiatives do support Greek life, however, the Greek community is already well established on campus and I don’t think it needs the same level of institutional support that other groups might,” she said. If anything, I think the inclusion initiatives challenge Greek life to use their well-established status to advocate for an inclusive campus climate for everyone.”
Individuals usually understand each other more easily if they branch of their comfort zones. If affiliated people only spend their time with other affiliated people then their perspective may not be as deep as it could be. By mixing friend groups and participating in a wide variety of activities many individuals have found a fulfilling balance and positive prospective.
“I joined a fraternity around the same time that I became a tour guide,” said Cable. “A lot of the people that I work with are not in Greek life. Their different perspectives and experiences at Elon have opened my eyes to things I never would have experienced if I was solely involved with Greek life.”
Cable added, “I love my fraternity and have had an awesome experience, but I also really appreciate my time as a tour guide with a different group of people.”
Greek life. Love it. Hate it. Affiliated. Non-affiliated. No matter what your views on Greek life at Elon are, one thing is certain: Greek life has a large presence on campus and affects a lot of people. It’s not going anywhere. Will you be the one to bring Greeks and non-Greeks together or continue to carry stereotypes and judgments? You decide, Phoenix, you decide.