Mention the word fraternity or sorority to most people, and a number of negative stereotypes may come to mind, from binge drinking to hazing.
The greek community at Kansas University is working hard to demonstrate that fraternities and sororities are more than just social organizations and can play a significant role in preparing their members for future success.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of stereotypes on the greek system from movies and things like ‘Animal House,’” said junior Garret Stump of Wichita, president of Sigma Nu fraternity. “It’s changed in the sense that we’ve become more responsible and academically aware. We strive for high GPAs and good academics, while getting away from binge drinking and things like that.”
A driving force behind this was a pair of alcohol-related deaths at the university this past year, said former Pan-Hellenic Council vice president Rachel Burchfield of Topeka, 2009 graduate and member of Alpha Gamma Delta sorority.
“One of the main changes in the greek community is the reaction to the alcohol-related deaths that occurred last year,” Burchfield said. “Alcohol awareness has been raised significantly, and I think that is something that has really been pushed.”
This raised awareness, along with pressure from national headquarters, has changed the binge-drinking culture for which fraternities were once known, said Phi Kappa Psi senior Todd Brown of Kansas City.
“I think from a standpoint of fraternities having national headquarters, it has gotten more strict on parties and hazing,” he said. “It has become a more hands-on process, working with the national chapters and alumni.”
One of the casualties of this increased responsibility is the scaling back of parties, Brown said.
“We have a party every year that’s been scaled back pretty dramatically for insurance reasons,” he said. “With the deaths (from alcohol poisoning) this past semester, things are changing in regards to alcohol. It has gotten to be more controlled.”
Brown does not see this as a bad thing, however.
“Really, I’d say it’s better now,” he said. “We’re in an age where people are more conscious of their health and things like underage drinking, and it’s better for everyone.”
Though the days of wild parties may be gone, numbers throughout the greek system have been constant for the past several years, Burchfield said.
“Numbers are up, but that’s primarily because enrollment at the university is up,” she said. “Overall we have been pretty consistent.”
While numbers have been consistent and fraternities and sororities continue to wield a large influence on the university, they are not the force they once were, according to Stump.
“I’ve seen the numbers increase in the two years I’ve been involved, but from what I understand the whole system has slowly declined overall,” Stump said. “From the alumni I talked to, where there used to be greeks and non-greeks, almost everyone was in a fraternity or sorority. Now it has evened out, and it’s almost an equal number.”
While many students are opting not to participate in the greek community, many others do for the sense of tradition and community, Stump said.
“The greek system provides an opportunity for individuals to become part of something more,” Stump said. “We build a community. That gives us something to work towards and a network for after we graduate.”
It is this feeling of community that draws many people into the greek system in the first place, according to Burchfield.
“The best thing about being greek is that you make a lot of instant friendships,” she said. “It really is a sisterhood; all of these women will be there for you through thick and thin.”
By joining a sorority, Burchfield has developed friendships that will last a lifetime.
“I know for me, I was an only child, and I always wanted a sister,” she said. “Sororities gave me an opportunity to have hundreds of them.”
In addition to feelings of camaraderie, being part of a fraternity or sorority allows students to develop social networks that will help them in their future careers, Brown said.
“I think a lot of the benefits is in social networking,” Brown said. “A lot of people join greek organizations, so you get to know people more easily from events like Rock Chalk Revue, mixers, date parties, things like that. Down the road, these people, and alumni, too, give you a great network to find jobs and make contacts.”
This was something that was important to Stump when he decided to join Sigma Nu.
“It’s a great network for references or employment,” he said. “Also it gives me a small unity of friends I can rely on that I don’t have to worry about losing because I moved from my dorm or whatever.”
Brown expressed a similar sentiment in describing why he chose to join a fraternity.
“I did freshman year in the dorms, and I didn’t like it,” he said. “It just wasn’t the culture I liked. Phi Kappa Psi has a more comfortable atmosphere.”