When The Party's Over
Life is not always a party, even at fraternities and sororities.
But in light of the "Animal House" reputation of many college Greek houses, this weekend's annual Northeast Panhellenic and Intrafraternity Conference in Baltimore has made the changing role of fraternities and sororities on campus the main topic of debate.
"There is certainly a lot of coversation about getting back to the basics of what we originally were meant to do, like education and leadership, as opposed to being just a social center," says Patrick Farley, executive director of the Northeast Intrafraternity conference.
The clubs, whether they are fraternities, sororities, selective or non-selective, have traditionally been the focal point of campus social life.
At Princeton, more than 75 percent of juniors and seniors are members of the school's 13 non-residential eating clubs, which are similar to other schools' Greek communities in forming the nucleus of the university's social life, according to Assistant Dean of Students Stephen Cochrane.
"A club functions as a social center for the members," says Steve U. Stechschulte, president of Princeton's Ivy Club. "They offer a more intimate atmosphere for students to meet than the residential colleges. Its membership is more tightly bound."
"They're very important to the social life here," Cochrane says. "As Princeton is not in a Boston or a Cambridge, we don't have as many social opportunities off-campus."
And even though no more than one-fifth of the students at the University of Pennsylvania belong to fraternities and sororities, "on weekends they support the majority of the social life," says PiKappa Alpha fraternity President Barry A. Fleischer.
UPenn student Laura J. Fuller, former Pan-Hellenic Council president, says that the demand for Greek life at Penn outstrips the supply.
"Housing is a problem here," Fuller says. "We've tried to deal with it by bringing more houses here. "We've added new sororities this year."
None for the Road
But in the wake of recent incidents involving alcohol abuse, universities have begun to crack down on the clubs. This will probably change this social scene in the near future, administrators and students say.
Next year, Tufts University administrators will for the first time take charge of regulating the annual "rush" because of problems with alcohol policy compliance, according to Tufts Associate Dean Bruce H. Reitman.
"Up to this point, rush has been unregulated," Reitman says. "That's going to change this year. Both the Intrafraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council and the administration are drafting a document to regulate rush, since there have been a number of alcohol-related incidents in past years."
Earlier this year, two incidents involving illegal possession of alcohol by under-age Dartmouth students resulted in two fraternities and one sorority being put on probation.
At Princeton, 39 undergraduates were treated for alcohol poisoning the night of the initiation parties for the eating clubs. As a result, all of the 13 clubs have taken measures to control drinking at the clubs, ranging from alcohol education programs to stricter carding policies.
Alcohol related problems recently resulted in the first dry rush at UPenn, where the administration decided to take a more active role in fraternity and sorority affairs following problems with alcohol abuse incidents at annual rushes.
"Because of liability and insurance problems, the administration is cutting down a little on drinking," says Fleischer. "The university has been pretty laid back so far."
But Fleischer says that UPenn's non-alcohol approach has its advantages. "Now that it's dry, it's better for meeting people. You can't get to know somebody in four or five weeks if they're always drunk."
The controversy at Princeton has been fueled by more than just alcohol. In the past, the eating clubs have been targeted for student protest because of the selective process through which some clubs choose members and because two of the clubs remain all-male.
Christopher Orr, president of the non-selective Terrace Club, says," personally, I think it's about time they got rid of the all-male clubs. They're about as progressive as stone tools."
It was this type of sentiment that inspired Princeton student Sally Frank to file a sex discrimination suit against the all-male Cottage Club last spring. The decision, which is now being appealed, said that the club could not discriminate on the basis of sex because of the "symbiotic" relationship it had with the University.
But Stechschulte, whose Ivy Club is still all-male, defends the clubs' right to choose their members, explaining "it enables us to select members who we feel will contribute to the club."
The controversy created by the Frank case has not, Orr says, made most students into anti-club advocates.
"Most people at Princeton like the eating clubs," Orr says. "The bottom line is that now there are so few options, people think they are a good thing."
Cochrane says that eventually the decision could force the university into a more direct relationship with the clubs.
"The connection is actually one which is still being ajudicated in the courts," Cochrane says. "The courts have shown that there is a symbiotic relationship between the university and the dining clubs. But that decision is being appealed. Socially and educationally, the university feels a responsibility for all parts of the community, but the legal implications are unclear."
Just as the Frank case brought its share of controversy to Princeton, the exposure of Georgetown University's all-male secret society brought turmoil to campus.
Last April, Voice, a student newspaper at Georgetown, disclosed that 12 undergraduates, including many student leaders, were members of a group called the Stewarts.
Club members said their purpose was to do public service anonymously, but the anger and protest from the Georgetown student body forced the members to dissolve the club.
"People took it the wrong way," says former member Christopher A. Donesa, who resigned as editor of the campus daily The Hoya following the controversy. "They thought we were meeting in closed rooms deciding the student body's fates."
Donesa says that many of the members took a more critical attitude towards the organization after it was made public.
"After it all came out, we had an opportunity to hear the other side of things," Donesa says. "What we decided was that the secret society was wrong."
In the past, fraternities and sororities have been accused of underrepresenting minority groups on campus. But many students and administrators disagree with these traditional views, saying that the selective clubs have not been discriminatory, and have, in fact, succeeded well in integrating diverse ethnic groups.
At UPenn, "the fraternities are generally diverse," says Fleischer. "Unfortunately, they have a reputation for attracting only certain groups of people. Our house, for instance, has a reputation for being really Jewish, but it's really diverse."
Stereotyping the various fraternities and sororities oversimplifies the system, says Julie A. Benton, president of UPenn's Panhellenic Council, which oversees campus sororities.
"People who are trying to make it easier for themselves to understand the Greek community tend to group stereotypes together," Benton says. "How to make freshman aware of that is the big question at hand. It's going to entail more publicity during first semester, before rush, about how diverse each of the sororities really are and how we really don't fit into those kinds of categories."
At Tufts, minority groups are well represented in the Greek community, according to Reitman.
"The frats are pretty good about being open to minorities," Reitman. "We realize that the fraternities and sororities do discriminate on the basis of sex, but that is expected because of their nature. Other than that, they're expected to subscribe totally to the university's standards for fairness."
Though most of the clubs at Princeton are non-selective and consequently non-discriminatory, the age-old tradition of the eating clubs has tended to discourage minorities from joining.
"I wish minorities were better represented in the club community. I think traditionally minorities have felt less welcome at the clubs. Much of that feeling is based on traditional views," Cochrane says.
Still, "Some of [the clubs] have an incredible diversity of people and values represented," Cochrane says.
It's Not Just A Party...
Although fraternities and sororities draw the most attention to themselves for breaches of alcohol policy and instances of sex discrimination, there is another side to the "Animal House" image of Greek life, club members say.
Living in a fraternity or sorority may actually help members in getting a job after graduation, students say.
At UPenn, "most sororities and fraternities have an alumni book that lists where they're living and working, for getting jobs and stuff like that," Benton says.
Networks are not the only way Greek houses help students get jobs. Benton says that sorority members usually perform better academically than their non-Greek counterparts.
"Usually the Greek grade point average is higher than the average grade point average," Benton says. "When you live in a house, you've got an impetus to work harder. You want to work harder so your house's average is higher. If you do badly, you feel like you let them down."
Membership in a Greek house also means taking on the responsibilities of leadership, which in turn provides marketable skills, some members say.
"I have a lot of opportunities for employment because I've had a position of authority and due to the fact that being in a sorority naturally involves you in many other things," says Fuller of her UPenn sorority.
But after the party is over and before the job hunt begins, members of fraternities and sororities often find time for community service work, members are quick to point out.
At Stanford, for instance, each house has its own community service representative to organize local charity work.
"Frats and sororities are usually pretty involved in community service," says Stewart K. Levy, Stanford's Intrafraternity Council chairman. "They can spend a weekend taking children out to a ballgame, painting houses for the blind and doing all sorts of charitable work."
Cornell's houses all belong to their own national philanthropies, says Carolyn Keegan, Cornell's Panhellenic Council rush chairman.
"The sororities spend a lot of time on philanthropic acitivites," Keegan says. "They coordinate their own activities with national sororities. For instance, Alpha Tau Omega sells daffodils for the American Cancer Society."