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STUDENT SURVIVAL GUIDE '08: Greek life guide

My big fat Greek dilemma: The pros and cons to fraternity/sorority life

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BY JESSICA BAKEMAN

Frat boys and sorority sisters. To American teens, those phrases probably evoke images of young guys guzzling endless cups of beer and out-of-control young women who just want to party.

            But be wary when approaching the Greek life scene with pop-culture-based preconceptions. Monica Smalls, University of Rochester's director of fraternity and sorority affairs, says what you assume may not reflect what's actually there.

            "If I had my way, pop culture would be the fraternity and sorority members enacting their values on a daily basis," Smalls says. "But are there issues within the fraternity and sorority community?" she asks rhetorically, citing such pop culture portrayals of Greeks as "Animal House." "Sure there are. It's about choices. Some fraternities and sororities -- some people -- make the right choices, and some make choices they will regret later on."

            To Smalls, fraternity and sorority life isn't about the drinking and partying shown in the movie "Old School," or the shallow relationships exhibited in the TV series "GRΣΣK." It's about learning and leadership.

            "It's really about... the personal development, the value-based action that students participate in and gain -- creating communities and providing an opportunity for students to get involved," she says.

At Rochester-area colleges, you'll see letter-bearing men and women walking around four campuses: University of Rochester, RIT, SUNY Brockport, and SUNY Geneseo.

            Each national Greek organization has specific charitable causes that it devotes its community service energies toward. For example, UR's frats and sororities dedicate their time to Amnesty International and Boys and Girls Clubs of America, as well as local causes like the Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong. Students program fundraising efforts and events as a part of their pledge to complete community service hours. According to Brockport's Greek life website (brockport.edu/campuslife/greek), undergraduate Greeks perform more than 850,000 hours of community service and raise $7 million for charities each year.

            Geneseo Dean of Students Leonard Sancilio says the school's Greeks do a lot of volunteer work, including raising "a boatload of money" for Relay for Life, an annual event to benefit cancer research. Additionally, Sancilio says many Greeks hold other leadership positions on campus, including acting as resident assistants or orientation assistants.

            Being a leader in college may lead to more prestigious ones later in life, as all but two United States presidents, and two vice-presidents, born after 1825 -- when the first social fraternity was founded --were fraternity members, according to Brockport's Greek life page.

Greek life activities aren't just to benefit others, however. Sancilio says the sisterhood or brotherhood may fill the void of loneliness in a student's life. "For those who are looking for a closer-knit group of friends, or a family away from family, Greek life does fulfill that for some," he says.

            On the other hand, St. John Fisher, which does not offer Greek life, specifically excludes fraternities and sororities because, as Tom Rodgers, director of campus life, puts it, Fisher's already close-knit community doesn't need them.

            "With Fisher being a smaller college," Rodgers says, "we focus on and we promote our sense of community. We feel that we do the best we can to fit the need to where there wouldn't be a demand for fraternities and sororities on campus."

            As far as Rodgers can see, the policy regarding Greek life is ironclad. But, he says, students don't seem to care.

            "It's not that we haven't had questions about fraternities and sororities," he says. "But since I've been here, we've never had students saying this is a...void that needs to be filled."

Geneseo's Sancilio says that the media sensationalizes Greek life, but he acknowledges that some of the downsides attributed to it are accurate.

            "Alcohol is an issue on every college campus," Sancilio says, "and I think Greek life has a way of continuing that. I think that would the No. 1 issue."

            Tammi Wiley, assistant director of campus life at Brockport, says some students join Greek life with unrealistic expectations of the party scene. In fact, students who come into fraternities and sororities solely for the social aspect "tend to not be as successful," she says. Their frustration and disappointment with the "work" side -- community service, leadership roles -- leads to less commitment.

            Greek life is not for everyone, Wiley says. There are time commitments that may be too demanding for some students, and which could have a negative effect on a student's grades if time management isn't his or her particular skill.

The most important advice for potential Greeks: do your research.

            "We provide a lot of information so [potential pledges] do their homework," says Jessica Berner, assistant director of campus life at RIT. "They find the group that is the right fit for them."

            There's usually a financial requirement that must be considered before you make any kind of commitment. Fraternity and sorority chapters support themselves by charging members dues. According to RIT's website, "Each chapter has different dues for membership that cover such things as chapter and national dues, due to the Interfraternity, Panhellenic, and National Pan-Hellenic Councils, social activities, resources and other miscellaneous costs."

            College-life resource site ecampustours.com says fraternity/sorority dues can range from $100 to $1,000 per semester. Some fraternities and sororities have sponsorship programs if a student cannot afford to join.

            Find out the extent of your commitment before taking the plunge -- don't find yourself stuck in a financial drain that you're not ready for.

What about hazing? SUNY Brockport dedicates an entire chapter of its handbook to its no-tolerance policy of this infamous ritual -- a policy shared by all colleges in New York, as the state outlaws hazing.

            Hazing is an initiation process involving harassment, and if caught, can be punishable by up to one year in jail. Other potential punishments include probation and fines.

            But hazing is not only what you might picture, such as students being pressured into chugging alcohol, for example. Some frats and sororities haze new members in a variety of other ways that may seem less harsh, or more subtle.

            Hazing ranges from new members being ignored or forced into performing meaningless or ridiculous activities, to actions that can cause physical or emotional harm, such as sleep deprivation or personal servitude.

If you're looking into a fraternity or sorority, also be aware of unrecognized organizations, or "underground fraternities." These are groups -- often initially recognized by a school, but which were stripped of privileges by judicial rulings -- that a school does not support in any on- or off-campus activities, including the recruitment of new members.

            Some schools even punish students for becoming involved with these groups, although that has not yet happened at any Rochester-area schools. Geneseo is currently in the process of implementing this policy, since the school is aware of at least two unrecognized Greek organizations active on its campus.

            At UR, Smalls says the school has not had to deal with this problem extensively. However, there is a policy in place that states once an organization loses the school's support, it cannot regain recognition until two years have passed without any problems or initiations of new students.

            Brockport lists its unrecognized frats and sororities on its website, and suggests that new students stay away from "for the most part because there's no benefit," Wiley says. "You're not getting the benefit of the network; you're not getting any foundation of values; you're not getting leadership development, character building, and service; and you're still paying a lot of money to someone who is probably personally profiting rather than benefiting a larger group."

SIDEBAR:

Does your school go Greek?

Brockport

Greek life: Yes

Number of organizations: 9

Academic expectations: 2.25 GPA or higher

Pledging allowed: After completing at least 12 credit hours

Contact: Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, 395-5646

Finger LakesCommunity College

Greek life: No

Geneseo

Greek life: Yes

Number of organizations: 19 (encompassing nearly 12 percent of the student body)

Academic expectations: 2.0 GPA or higher

Pledging allowed: 15 credits, one semester of on-campus residence

Contact: Wendi Rice, 245-5968

MonroeCommunity College

Greek life: No

Nazareth

Greek life: No

Roberts Wesleyan

Greek life: No

RIT

Greek life: Yes

Number of organizations: 29

Academic expectations: Each chapter sets its own GPA requirements

Pledging allowed: Right away

Contact: Center for Campus Life, 475-7058

St. John Fisher

Greek life: No

University of Rochester

Greek life: Yes

Number of organizations: 31 (encompassing roughly 23 percent of student body)

Academic expectations: Not specified by school, although some chapters may have national standards

Pledging allowed: Second semester freshman year

Contact: Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, 275-3167

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