KU Greek Community
It's Rush Week at Kansas University, and hundreds of young women are trying to choose - or decide whether they want to be part of - a sorority.
But increasingly, more women - and men - are turning their backs on the greek community. Or once they've gone greek, they don't stick with it.
In the past five years, membership in KU sororities and fraternities has declined from about 3,500 to about 2,800 last fall. That's the first time the greek population was below 3,000 in some time.
"The numbers may be on a decline over the past 10 years, but have been fairly steady over the past couple of years," said Laura Bauer, director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life at KU.
Indeed, the current greek population has seen a major decline from its heyday of nearly 5,000 in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The decline had tapered off to about 70 members a year from 2003 to 2005.
Then that changed.
KU lost two large fraternities on campus - Sigma Nu because of allegations of hazing and Phi Kappa Theta for throwing a large party that included illegal alcohol sales.
The KU greek community declined by nearly 350 members between fall 2005 and fall 2006.
"Though the numbers are down, I think the quality of the membership is up," Bauer said. "Some of our smaller fraternities and sororities are the most well-functioning because they really follow our values."
Meanwhile, Pete Smithhisler, executive vice president of the North America Interfraternity Conference, said he thought the greek community, nationally at least, is growing. He cited growth in membership from a low of 290,000 in 1998 to 350,000 in summer 2006.
"We think that's consistent with the millennial generation (people born in the 1980s and 1990s) joining fraternities," he said. "They've been socialized throughout their life with group membership and group leadership."
Although there are signs of growth nationally, KU's decline continues.
Non-greek KU students give a number of reasons why they've chosen to stay away.
"I thought about it, and I have a lot of friends who are in fraternities," said Sam Winter, a sophomore from Minneapolis, Minn. "But I'm pursuing two degrees, and I figured if I were in a fraternity, there would be too much of an outside influence on my time."
Other students say it's just something they "don't think they'll like."
Matt Krische, a Lawrence dentist who was a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity at KU about 10 years ago, said much has changed.
"The liability aspects that are now placed (on chapters, regarding) having parties, the pledge program. There's a lot more restraint that's placed upon them at this point in time," he said.
Krische added that new rules - such as houses prohibiting alcohol - and better housing options on and off campus have been a blow to some recruitment tools that chapters use.
"It's definitely harder to recruit than it was 10 years ago," he said.
But in the view of Erin Gregory, the trouble isn't with recruitment but with retention.
"There's a really strong tradition with the greek community at KU," which brings a number of women out for recruitment, said Gregory, president of the Panhellenic Association, a group of 13 KU sororities. "In terms of retention, there's now a major focus on senior involvement. We want women who are going to stay involved through all four years of their college experience."
Ultimately, says Christy Steinbrueck, the Panhellenic Association's vice president for recruitment, the process is not about numbers.
"It's really important to chapters to keep their numbers, but I don't think about them when I do my job," she said. "I'm not going out and trying to get the biggest number of women to join sororities. It's about finding fits in the community."