Find out what students think about Greek life on campus in the “YouSpeak” video above. Video by Robin Berghaus
Could this be the year of the Greek?
For the first time in nearly two decades, the BU Greek community has expanded—with Kappa Delta joining the ranks of nine other sororities last fall and Sigma Phi Epsilon joining eight previously established fraternities this spring.
“It’s a really positive step to bring new organizations in,” says Bryan Adams, coordinator of programs at the Student Activities Office. Greek life is “definitely getting stronger and growing.”
Yet Kenneth Elmore, the University’s dean of students, sees a difference in how the two bookends of Greek life are expanding. While sororities are “bursting at the seams,” fraternities are having a harder time filling their ranks.
“I think fraternities are struggling with the question of how they make their missions meet the needs of young males on campus right now,” says Elmore, who was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha while an undergraduate at Brown University.
Despite the new sorority and fraternity, BU is not a hotspot for Greek life. Fraternity and sorority members account for only 10 percent of the total student body. The recent expansions, however, do suggest a rekindling of interest among students—especially women, who make up three-quarters of the roughly 2,000 Greeks on campus.
“I do think that many students come to a university, not just this one, with a distinct sense that they are not going to join a fraternity or sorority,” Elmore says. He thinks Greeks on campus work hard to dispel people’s stereotypes of fraternities as solely party centers, à la Animal House, and sororities as populated by vacuous and superficial women. “Our women seem to be able to steer that conversation into a direction women on campus feel is worthwhile,” he says. “Our men are having a tougher time breaking from that image.”
Elmore says he and sorority women on campus often talk about the social and professional opportunities—like fundraisers and life skills workshops—their chapters provide.
He does not have the same conversations with fraternity men.
“They’re pressured to be that social entree point for people,” Elmore says, referring to fraternities’ party image. “It’s a hard point to get people to see that this is not the only thing fraternities do… and not the primary reason for men to connect with them.”
Alex Mecattaf (CAS’14) (from left) and Adam Weaver (SED’13) with Anant Shukla (CAS’10) at Jillian’s during a recruitment event for Sigma Phi Epsilon, a national fraternity establishing a branch at BU. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky
Consider Sigma Phi Epsilon’s spring recruitment. One of the nation’s largest fraternities, SigEp sent two recruiters over 10 weeks to interview BU men, with the goal of starting a chapter of 35 members. To date, 27 have joined and organizers are optimistic they will meet their goal.
Supporters of SigEp say the fraternity is unique and brings something new to Greek life here. Brothers do not pledge and are considered full members once initiated. They tackle a continuum of leadership opportunities throughout their college career, and they follow the Balanced Man program, which promotes a “sound mind and sound body” by attending various cultural events, such as operas, while following a healthy diet and exercise regimen.
“We really like their whole Balanced Man program, they have a good reputation nationally, and they’re really goal-oriented,” says Jackson Sandeen (CAS’11, COM’11), president of the Inter-Fraternity Council, the governing body for BU fraternities, which voted for SigEp’s presence on campus.
“The people in it are really going to be outstanding,” says Anant Shukla (CAS’10), a SigEp chapter advisor. “I feel that this is going to change people’s lives.”
Sandeen is more measured in his opinion of the new entry and is watching carefully to gauge BU men’s interest in joining the fraternity. “We want to take a step back and see how the SigEp process goes,” he says. “If it turns out to be a good experience, with good numbers, then it’s tough to make an argument not to” invite more fraternities to campus.
If fraternities are struggling to fills their ranks, sororities face a different dilemma: how to keep up with demand.
Paige Reese (CAS’11), president of the Panhellenic Council, the governing body for University sororities, says Kappa Delta’s fall rush alone brought in 100 members to the organization, which raises money for the Girl Scouts. That strong response bolsters the council’s plans to invite another sorority to “colonize” in fall 2012—Kappa Alpha Theta, whose chosen philanthropy is National CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).
Many sororities at the University boast more than 130 members, so finding a spot to hold meetings can be challenging. (BU’s Greek houses were sold, primarily to MIT, in the 1960s after a power struggle between the University and national headquarters of various Greek organizations, according to former BU Greek advisor Seth Rosenzweig.) Reese says the Student Union passed a resolution allowing sororities a regular block of weekend meeting time in the George Sherman Union Alley, which can hold 200 people. But she continues to hope for a more permanent space.
“In terms of community, it’s hard not to have a central location,” she says. “You have to hunt people down and figure out where you can meet.”
Why do fewer BU men than women appear to be attracted to Greek life? Students say there’s more to it than the fact that women outnumber men (about 60 percent to 40 percent). Sandeen credits sororities for doing a good job in recruitment, but Reese sees a broader trend.
“Statistically, women are more involved on campuses across the country,” Reese says. “I also think a big part of why women join sororities is to find a close-knit group of female friends. Guys have an easier time finding a group that they click with.”
Reese, a southerner from Kentucky and former president of Gamma Phi Beta, says she felt going Greek was something that would enhance her college experience. “I look at Greek life as a great opportunity to be involved in so many different things,” she says. “I couldn’t pass it up.”
Sandeen says fraternities can offer the same benefits. He cites his own experience in Sigma Chi, which has allowed him to raise funds for charity, assume leadership roles, and join a brotherhood on campus, all while juggling schoolwork.
Admittedly, not every Greek brother takes that perspective. Some off-campus houses, which are rented by fraternity men but not recognized by the University or national organizations as official Greek homes, have reputations as party spots for underage drinkers.
“Sometimes we do have groups that self-stereotype,” says the SAO’s Adams. But “that negates what the majority of organizations are doing.”
Sigma Phi Epsilon is offering two Balanced Man scholarships worth $1,000 each. The scholarship is open to all male applicants who are full-time undergraduate students during the 2010-2011 academic year.