Let’s be honest about greek life

The sorority-girl stereotype doesn’t need a ‘professional’ makeover but simple honesty from those involved.

by Jennifer Bissell

It concerns me that sorority recruitment is at the highest it has ever been, both at the University of Minnesota and at the national level. I have no doubt that being involved in greek life is fun. Greeks do give back to the community through philanthropy projects, and it makes sense that Panhellenic members have a higher graduation rate than those who are not involved in the greek community. But these are still the same people who, according to information cited in a 2009 study by the American Psychological Association, are âÄúat the center of campus alcohol cultureâÄù and have an âÄúenormous influence on campus âÄî wide drinking.âÄù Yes, these greek men and women truly are the leaders of our University. But IâÄôm not even trying to complain about campus drinking. What bothers me is that the truth isnâÄôt being fully reported; only half the story is ever shared by greek communities. Visit any one of the UniversityâÄôs greek Web sites and youâÄôll find proud language of taking responsibility and being honest. But take a look at the majority of membersâÄô Facebook profiles and youâÄôll find an arguably different story. The greek commmunity needs to stop constantly defending itself with only good qualities and needs to own up to its flaws as well. It is at this point that it becomes amusing to hear that Panhellenic Council President Sarah Shook attributes the rise in sorority recruitment and the expected rise in fraternity recruitment to the fact that âÄústudents realize that the job market is incredibly competitive right now, and they want to network, boost their résumés and get leadership opportunities.âÄù New recruits arenâÄôt thinking about job opportunities; they are thinking about making friends and having a good time. To me, this statement by Shook seems to be putting up a bit of a front, and this idea of a good âÄúnetworkingâÄù opportunity sounds more like a justification for being in a sorority/fraternity that older members have conjured up âÄî you know, the 22-year-olds who arenâÄôt very active in their fraternities any more but still serve as the go-to people for advice or other beverage-related services. If recruits were concerned about future career opportunities, I would think theyâÄôd be a little concerned about the perpetual stereotype surrounding greek life and would rather be involved in the same volunteer and leadership positions without the greek letters. Or, at the very least, IâÄôd expect that the fraternities focused on business or specialized fields such as engineering or agriculture would be swarming with new recruits, while the more traditional non-career-based fraternities would begin to fade away. This does not seem to be the case. To get a leg up on the competition, IâÄôd suggest getting a job instead. Perhaps it may be low on the food chain of your chosen career field, or maybe itâÄôs not even paid, but networking with an employer that knows you and your working habits is far more valuable than networking with loose alumni connections who may or may not be in your career field. But letâÄôs just say that a fraternity member did happen to snag an interview with a Panhellenic alumnus and was hired based upon a greek connection. Is that really fair? What if there was a competitor that had more experience also applying for the position? Is it really acceptable to be networking based on status for a process that should be based on skills and work experience? Again, is that really taking responsibility and being honest? What sorts of values are being exchanged here? Indeed, it should be concerning that recruitment for greek societies are increasing. I do not see the rising numbers as a sign of more eager young professionals but as a sign of more incoming students who are scared of getting lost in the crowd. The University is huge and very impersonal; itâÄôs reasonable to want to be part of a group. I think a lot of people can agree on that. But again, these rising numbers are a problem. It suggests that more students âÄî probably smart and previously overworked in high school âÄî want to take it easy and party hard. They arenâÄôt going to be able to do that in the dorms, so being a part of the greek system really seems to be the solution. Perhaps this should be an indicator to the University that some changes to its social structure are necessary. Everyone can remember that first lecture in Willey Hall, looking sheepishly around, bewildered, thinking, âÄúHow the hell am I supposed to make friends in here? Should I complain about the professor? I bet IâÄôll never even see this person IâÄôm sitting next to again, so why bother?âÄù A large school does not necessitate a large greek community, and having a large greek community doesnâÄôt mean its members should feel the need to continually defend themselves or be dishonest. In the end, the requests are these: Own up to your behaviors, do not put up any more fronts, do not take shortcuts and, above all, continue to do the good that the greek community âÄî especially Panhellenic chapters âÄî certainly do accomplish. ItâÄôs fine to be a member of the greek system, but live up to the high expectations, not the loose expectations you may have had coming in. That is my challenge for the new recruits of 2009-10. Jennifer Bissell welcomes comments at [email protected].