When you think of college fraternities, do scenes from the movie Animal House come to mind?
For 30 years, America's view of fraternities (and in some cases, sororities) has been influenced by the toga-wearing, hard-drinking, food-fighting brothers of Delta House. In fact, fraternity members, themselves, may have believed that the brothers of Delta House were role models to emulate, perhaps the very thinking that caused a backlash against fraternities (originally organized to promote scholarship) in colleges across the nation.
But fraternity brothers are not the town rowdies that comical movies, books, and television shows often portray. When colleges support and partner with these Greek-letter organizations, fraternities and sororities can become sources of scholarship, philanthropy, leadership, and deep, abiding friendships.
Just ask Dr. Steven J. Tyrell, vice president for student affairs at Alfred State College (SUNY College of Technology) in upstate New York. He believes that Greek-letter organizations can be positive forces in the lives of our young people provided the organization and the institution (college/university) clearly understand and agree upon what is expected of both parties.
"Because fraternities and sororities can have such positive influences on today's college students, Alfred State College has taken steps to support and nurture these organizations with the proviso that the college and the fraternities/sororities have the same goals. To this end, the student-run Greek Council on campus and appropriate student life administrators have forged a relationship statement that spells out the criteria Greek groups need to follow in order to receive the recognition and support of the college," Tyrell says.
Among the most important of these requirements, says Tyrell, is that the membership hold each other accountable.
"Students need to take ownership of their club and of the actions of its members," says Tyrell. "When students are held accountable, most often they live up to our expectations."
The relationship statement crafted by the Division of Student Affairs and the Greek Senate at Alfred State holds fraternities and sororities to four major standards:
Scholarship-because academics and scholarship are ideals upon which most Greek organizations are founded, a student's academic responsibility should unquestionably receive the highest priority. Greek-lettered organizations encourage members to embrace a lifelong desire for learning and thus they demonstrate this value in how they inculcate the value of scholarship in their actions and daily practices. Fraternities and sororities must promote scholarship by providing opportunities for students to develop important study habits such as study groups and workshops on time management, note taking, study skills, and test anxiety, as well as foster informal and formal advising sessions with members. Each organization must maintain a minimum of a 2.0 (out of 4.0) grade point average.
Philanthropy and community service-Greek organizations provide members with the opportunity to become involved in giving back to the community through service and philanthropies because Greek organizations care about others and are willing to do something to show that care to others.
Leadership (development)-Greek members can cultivate their leadership skills through their participation in organizational activities or through their involvement in Greek Senate activities. In order to meet their obligation as an exclusionary group, they are required to fully participate in Greek Senate activities, meetings and initiatives, as this insures that the standards will be met and completed at a level of quality that will allow the entire Greek community to thrive at the college. Alfred State College will provide training, seminars, and other leadership opportunities that meet the specific needs of the current Greek population.
Brotherhood/Sisterhood (friendship)-when choosing an organization, students may look for a comfortable fit where they feel they can share values and interests with members. A chapter can serve as a place where friends become family and the friendships can last a lifetime. Greek organizations also give members the opportunity to network with alumni/ae and interact with members who have made a successful transition from college to the work force. Fraternities and sororities also provide a wide variety of events which help bring members of different organizations together, fostering relationships outside the core group.
When asked how the college can be certain these standards are being met, Tyrell noted, "We're not naïve. In a nutshell, we expect the Greeks-who are all assigned a Student Life adviser-to provide us with annual reports; plans for leadership opportunities; policies and procedures -especially as pertains to recruiting new members; and clear, functional risk management policies and procedures to mitigate potential risks to members or visitors.
"Should a Greek-lettered organization-or any student organization on campus, for that matter-disregard the guidelines set in place, it risks losing recognition by the college; groups who choose not to abide by our standards cannot seek to associate with the college or with Greek Senate, nor will they obtain (or retain) college recognition," Tyrell continues.
"We've had great success with our Greek organizations in the past few years," adds Tyrell, "and we're expecting even greater success with the full implementation of our relationship statement.
"So, despite the sometimes tarnished reputation of college fraternities and sororities, Alfred State College has made a commitment to foster the responsible growth of such organizations. After all, if approximately 25 percent of chief executives on the Forbes Super 500 list were members of fraternities during their college years, it simply supports our belief that the skills students obtain while being a brother or sister in a Greek organization can later give them an edge when they enter the work force, allowing them to become contributing members of our society."