Greek life boasts great outlook for students

Fraternities and sororities provide tremendous opportunities for students.

by Derek Olson

Before I became greek, I had little inclination of the benefits it could provide. Deciding to take a chance, I was immediately blown away by how much the organization had to offer. The negative stereotypes of greek life are especially embedded in the minds of students at the University of Minnesota, but the reality is that greek life far surpasses the perception it receives from the outside world. Due to stereotypes, which are unjustly placed upon all fraternities, sororities and their members, many students are turning away from a tremendous opportunity to help them mature as individuals, strengthen moral values, develop lifelong relationships and prepare them for professional success.

Most greek organizations are founded on core principles that include moral development, ethics, community service, academics and scholarship. These values-based organizations create a tightly knit group of people who come together to support the development of their principles among members. The result is startling.

The small percent of university students nationwide who become greek are vastly represented among the high ranks of society. Greek alumni constitute about one quarter of Fortune 500 CEOs, nearly half of all U.S. presidents and vice presidents, 42 percent of U.S. senators, 30 percent of U.S. congressmen, 40 percent of Supreme Court justices, all of the Apollo 11 astronauts, countless recipients of Pulitzer Prizes, Oscars, Emmys, a myriad of Hall of Fame athletes and local community leaders everywhere. In virtually every vocation, public office and discipline, greek alumni have risen to the top of their fields.

Hollywood has fomented stereotypes of fraternities that are often inflated, outdated or flat-out wrong. The University of Minnesota greek system has a strict anti-hazing policy which is in accordance with Minnesota state law. Heightened awareness of bullying in the past decade has resulted in further promotion of anti-hazing ideals. Despite their reputation for overuse of alcohol, fraternities are responsible for complying with strict risk-management controls set by multiple governing bodies including the Interfraternity Council and chapters’ respective national management. Fifteen years ago, my fraternity instituted a nationwide dry-house policy in which alcohol is strictly prohibited in chapter houses. Those chapters that have been caught violating this policy have immediately been dissolved. In the past decade especially, fraternal organizations have taken strong strides to ameliorate the negative stereotypes placed on them.

Students involved in greek organizations at the University display strong academic success. They have higher graduation rates in 4, 5 and 6 years than their non-greek counterparts. In recent years, the GPA of greek students has begun surpassing that of non-greeks. These organizations hold their members accountable to certain academic standards and provide help to achieve those standards. Oftentimes, members must meet specific GPA requirements to maintain membership, be eligible for leadership positions or even to join the organization.

The greek community fosters strong school spirit and lifelong dedication to its values. Greek alumni are significantly more likely to give back financially to their alma mater and other nonprofit organizations. They are more likely than non-greeks to donate their time and participate in community service after college. Sixteen buildings on campus were named after famous greek alumni from the University. This includes such landmarks as Coffman Union, Carlson School of Management and Northrop Auditorium.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of membership in the greek community is the lifelong relationships it cultivates. A fraternity or a sorority is a home away from home, a close group of individuals that form a support group. It is not a coincidence that “frater” and “soror” are the Latin words for brother and sister, respectively. Included in that familial support group is a close network of alumni eager to help their ambitious brothers and sisters. Fraternity and sorority networks are often more useful than university alumni networks because of a stronger bond between members and a dedication to the organization’s principles. A strong network with greek alumni and colleagues becomes an invaluable professional resource that aids young greeks in reaching the highest achievements in their fields.

A consummate liberal arts education is more than academics. It is also necessary to acquire skills not often taught in the classroom. In an address on the role of fraternities and sororities, Dr. Donald Eastman, president of Eckerd College, said this: “Social and emotional intelligence is just as — if not more — important than academic intelligence — more important for jobs, and for success and happiness in life.”  Greek organizations foster the growth of social intelligence by providing great opportunities to develop interpersonal skills, collaboration and leadership. Social intelligence and experience leading an organization is often more relatable and necessary to a career than traditional classroom education.

The success of greek alumni in virtually every profession is a testament to the skills and values that greek organizations develop among their members. A strong liberal education, particularly at a large university, is often missing some ingredients of preparation for life and career. This is the role of fraternities and sororities. While they are not the only place to find these missing ingredients, students should consider looking beyond the stereotype and benefiting from the wealth of opportunities available by becoming greek.