Greeks: All Grown Up?
Fraternities and sororities change with the times
to remain relevant to a new generation of students
By Bethany Bradsher
Photographs by Forrest Croce
f you remember Greek Life at East Carolina as a blur of fraternity parties, rushes and formal dances, you should have spent the night with members of Phi Beta Sigma sleeping in cardboard boxes in front of Mendenhall to raise money for the homeless. It was a chilly night, but by morning things began to warm up as the fraternity delivered truckloads of clothes and food to a city shelter.
Of course, sleepovers of the more traditional variety still occur on campus, such as when new Alpha Xi Delta members stayed up late getting to know other women who had just rushed the sorority. Helping girls make good friends remains a hallmark of Greek sororities, but sisters these days also share loads of advice on academics and career choices.
Greek Life has changed at ECU. Rush is now called recruitment, pledges are known as new members and sorority members no longer jump around and sing in the front yard on Fifth Street.
Another difference is in tone, as when Greek Life director Kay Christian strongly encourages fraternity and sorority members to create a balance of academics, service, friendship, leadership and social life within their Greek experience.
This new face of fraternity and sorority life will come into sharp focus this month (April) during Greek Week, which will feature a slate of activities, parties and service projects designed to bring all 32 campus organizations together. The main event of Greek Week, a non-alcoholic affair, will be a 5K fun run benefitting the Boys and Girls Clubs of Pitt County.
The buzz around this year’s Greek Week is word that the university is exploring the idea of creating a Greek Village to provide housing for all fraternities and sororities as well as common meeting and social rooms. Why go Greek? S
ome 1,200 ECU students are Greeks. Some were drawn in by the community service; others were looking more for a social outlet. All will be challenged by the university’s Greek system staff to make a decision with lifelong benefits.
“Hopefully, your Greek experience is to prepare you for when you get out of college,” Christian told pledges at a February orientation. “If, in your new-member experience, the social piece is half of the pie, then all you’ve joined is a social club.”
Stephen Showfety ’70, chairman of the ECU Board of Trustees and a Pi Kappa Alpha, said he’s seen a thread of community service in the Greek system that has held up through the years. That desire to improve the community should be the tie that binds alumni and undergraduate members together, he said.
“While there were other opportunities to be engaged in community service, the Greek system reached those who might not have been exposed through other outlets,” said Showfety. “For me, it was an opportunity to engage in some lifelong friendships, but it had other benefits as well.”
ECU’s fraternities and sororities are under the umbrella of three national governing bodies. The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) includes the eight national fraternities and sororities whose memberships are traditionally African-American. The National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) and the InterFraternity Council (IFC) oversee the eight sororities and 16 fraternities whose memberships are historically white.
Of the three, the IFC has had the toughest public relations battle. Nationally publicized hazing incidents and movies like Animal House have taken their toll, but members like ECU IFC president Matt Mosley are part of a movement to expand the perception of fraternity men.
“Probably our biggest stereotype is just drinking and partying,” said Mosley, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon. “But there’s a lot more to it.”
Phi Beta Sigma’s “Sleep Out for the Homeless” is a part of that new reputation. That was what attracted Torico Griffin to Phi Beta Sigma. “We’re here solely for community service,” Griffin said. “It makes a big impression to hang out with people who all like volunteering. I need positive people around me, and these are my positive people.”
After spending part of the summer on a mission trip to Honduras before enrolling at ECU, Dana White was convinced that she wanted no part of sorority life. But she found herself lonely that freshman year, and her sister, who was part of the Greek system before her, convinced her to give rush a try.
“I just fell in love with it, and I ended up in a different sorority than my sister,” said White, a junior member of Alpha Delta Pi and the president of the NPC. “Pledging was intense, and I met some of my best friends while I was pledging. We’re all well-rounded. We do have social lives, but with all our fun we put in hard work for our philanthropies and our grades.” Making the grade T
he prominence of academics in the Greek landscape is often overlooked, but in fact fraternity and sorority members must maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA. In the NPHC, men and women must have a 2.5 just to go through the recruitment process. Christian and Ion Outterbridge, the director of Greek Life, keep track of each sorority and fraternity’s grades. The group with the highest cumulative GPA is honored each semester.
“Greek Life is here to complement the academic mission of the university,” Christian said. “It is not to take away from it.”
Christian has noticed a disconnect between the image Greeks think they have on campus and actual impressions held by non-Greeks. Only six percent of the ECU student body participates in Greek Life, compared to nearly 15 percent at UNC Chapel Hill. Considering their minority status, the true battle of ECU Greeks is letting the rest of the community know who they are and what they’re doing, she said.
“I think the Greek students think that they have a bad rap on campus,” Christian said. “But I think they don’t have any reputation on campus. Because they live in Greekdom, they think, ‘Oh, we do all of these good things, and people don’t know about it, they just know about all the bad things,’ And I’m going, ‘I don’t think they know about the good or the bad. I don’t think they really know you exist. I don’t think you’re on their radar.’”
But Outterbridge and Christian know they have a good story to tell. They know that while Greeks are a fraction of the student body they traditionally hold the majority of Student Government Association positions. Also, the university knows from experience that alumni Greeks stay connected emotionally and financially.
“This university would not be this university without us,” Outterbridge said. “We bring so much to the table.”
“Greeks, I don’t think people understand,” said Deidra Morrison, the student vice president of the NPHC and a member of Zeta Phi Beta. “We don’t run the campus, but we have the highest GPAs, the highest number of volunteer hours, and we do more stuff than people ever see.” The village concept O
ne development that would increase Greek visibility is the construction of the rumored Greek Village somewhere near the heart of campus. Outterbridge and Todd Johnson, associate vice chancellor for campus living and dining, have made visits to other campuses, including UNC Charlotte and Mercer University, which have constructed Greek complexes.
UNC Charlotte broke ground last winter on its Greek Village, an 11-acre site on campus. The university currently has no Greek houses. The complex consists of 13 houses to accommodate 350 students with meeting rooms and other support facilities capable of serving almost 900 students. The village will provide a large outdoor commons area.
Mercer University in Macon, Ga. opened its $7 million Greek Village in 2000. The complex consists of 18 fraternity and sorority houses that accommodate about 150 students. Houses come in two sizes—with 10 suite-style bedrooms for the larger fraternities and sororities and four bedrooms for the smaller ones. All houses have a chapter meeting room.
An ECU Greek Village wouldn’t take the place of fraternity and sorority houses, Outterbridge said, but would supplement them and give organizations that don’t have houses a place to live and meet. Greek Life staff know they need solid support from the undergraduate Greek community and Greek alumni if such a hub ever becomes a reality.
“It’s a great way to engage alumni who might not otherwise be in the loop,” said Showfety, who learned about the Greek Village concept during a presentation Christian made to the trustees early this year.
But then as now, students join for a myriad of different reasons. And then as now, it’s an experience that, whether it’s heavy on service or heavy on social, helps give definition to the years spent at ECU.
“People are like, ‘You’re buying your friends,’” said Jenna Beach, a sophomore from New Jersey and a new member of Alpha Xi Delta. “Actually, you’re making relationships that you can’t pay to get.”