Art school community vs. State school Greek life

By Heather Scroering

Phi Delta Theta, Simga Phi Epsilon and Alpha Chi Omega may look like a foreign language to the average Columbia student, but thousands of college students across the nation speak this Greek and sport it any way they can.

Columbia won’t be seeing any fraternities or sororities on campus any time soon. According to Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, Columbia has a “no Greek letter community” policy. Having these types of organizations on campus doesn’t fit the college’s value and belief system,

he said.

“Fraternities and sororities are very common in traditional colleges and universities,” Kelly said. “What they rub up against is our value of diversity

at Columbia.”

Kelly argues that the average fraternity attracts like-minded students with similar backgrounds. Students become too comfortable and less likely to branch out and get to know other students.

Though he finds student organizations to be a positive, enriching outlet to build one’s social life, Kelly said the college wants to push students to go outside of their comfort zones.

“We talk about the concept of the ‘creative posse,’” Kelly said. “We want students to mix it up. We encourage the discomfort to get to know students from many different backgrounds and experiences. What we have not encouraged is for students to create that club atmosphere reaffirming their comfort level.”

However, students’ comfort levels haven’t been forgotten. Kelly said the college has worked hard at transforming the urban high-rise campus setting in order to provide a sense of community.

The college has created outlets for students to get involved with events, such as New Student Convocation, Mary Blood Ball and Manifest, Kelly said. The campus also offers many spaces—Stage Two, 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building; C33, 33 E. Congress Parkway Building; and the Loft, 916 S. Wabash Ave. Building—for students to show their work or simply hang out.

“The list just goes on and on,” Kelly said. “I think we’ve made the right decision for our institution. I’m not saying sororities and fraternities are a bad thing. They’re just not for us.”

Melissa Johnson, freshman interactive arts and media major, agrees with Kelly. She said as a commuter she takes advantage of spaces like the Loft because she can’t go home between classes.

She also believes fraternities and sororities have the potential to become “giant cliques.”

“I think it takes away a lot of the professional development [on a campus],” Johnson said. “For the most part, people who go to college are 18 and older. They’re not in high school anymore. It’s sort of childish to have these big cliques owning the school.”

When recruiting, the college makes sure potential students know the campus does not have Greek letter organizations or intercollegiate sports so they aren’t disappointed when they arrive. According to Kelly, some students find the lack of Greek life on Columbia’s campus to be very appealing.

Chian Fitzpatrick, sophomore theatre major who transferred from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn. liked the change.

“Coming from a state school, that’s all the campus was about was joining Greek life, and everyone was in a sorority,” she said. “I find it so unique that that’s not the center of attention. I personally like it that way.”

Fitzpatrick and Jessica DeLong, sophomore theatre major—who are both members of the Muggles Association of Columbia, a club dedicated to Harry Potter—feel that student organizations are a good way for students to feel connected to a community.

DeLong said she doesn’t think Greek communities would go over well at Columbia because of its geographic location.

“I don’t see it working as well in an urban setting,” she said. “We’re in the middle of the city and everything’s built up around us.”

However, DePaul University’s Greek system, also on an urban campus, seems to be functioning just fine, according to Ali Reimel, senior at DePaul and former president of the Delta Gamma sorority.

Though none of DePaul’s fraternities or sororities are housed on campus, Reimel said a sisterhood could be built without one.

“A Greek letter community really is a great sense of community at bigger schools that have a large student population,” Reimel said. “Or when you are in a big city, it’s a good way to find that sense of smaller community within such a big setting.”

According to her, most fraternities and sororities are connected with a charity that they work with and fundraise for. DePaul is already centered on service-based learning, so its Greek system takes both service and academics quite seriously, she added.

The Delta Gamma national organization works with Service for Sight, a charity that aids the visually impaired and blind, as well as the Golden Anchor Program, a service for the elderly.

While a small fraction of DePaul’s student body is part of a Greek community, sororities and fraternities on campus are well-received, Reimel said. All Greek-hosted events are open to the entire campus, and many students who aren’t in a fraternity or sorority often participate.

Reimel added that only half of the teams who participated in the Delta Gamma three-on-three basketball tournament were Greek-affiliated. Not only are they inclusive, Reimel believes her sorority is very diverse, despite popular beliefs of fraternities and sororities being segregated.

“Not only Delta Gamma, but our entire PanHellenic community is very inclusive of every type of religion, ethnicity [and] sexual orientation that you could imagine,” Reimel said. “It’s an unfortunate stereotype, but if your Greek system is built around the right values, you can have a healthy Greek system in that it is diverse and it does hold education [on] a very high pedestal.”

At Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, students founded a sorority in 2009 that is based solely on diversity, sisterhood and kindness, according to Joshua Heinsz, 2011 SCAD alumnus and one of the founders of the group.

Heinsz, former president of SCAD’s Zeta Kappa Delta chapter, said like Columbia, the art college also has a “no Greek letter community” policy. Though SCAD recognizes the organization as a student organization rather than a sorority, the sisterhood functions as a sorority.

“[Zeta Kappa Delta caters] so much to the type of people who wouldn’t want to be in a sorority,” Heinsz said. “Some girls don’t get along as well with other girls. It became a way to draw them out out of their shell, give more networking opportunities and a way to really create strong bonds of friendship.”

Heinsz, who thus far has been the only male member of the organization, added that the group strives to bring positive light to Greek life through philanthropic work and aims to fight the negative connotations that often surround fraternities and sororities, such as drinking.

Though that stereotype is associated with Greek communities, Reimel said binge drinking is not a major problem within DePaul’s Greek system.

David Western, senior at Hanover College in Indiana, does not believe Greek communities are the main cause of binge drinking on campuses at all.

“I wouldn’t say that being in a fraternity heightens that chance of binge drinking, but they get more notice because they’re one unit who can get blamed for something,” Western said. “The fraternity and sorority system get a bad rep because the whole chapter could be great, [but] one person decides to do a stupid move.”

Hazing, rituals that one must perform to be initiated into a group, is also a recurring issue that comes up in fraternity and sorority life. While both DePaul and Hanover have strict “no hazing” policies, according to Reimel and Western, a student at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire recently accused a fraternity of abusive hazing.

Andrew Lohse claimed in an opinion piece published in The Dartmouth daily newspaper Jan. 25 that in order to be initiated, the fraternity forced him to “swim in a kiddie pool full of vomit, urine, fecal matter, semen and rotten food products; eat omelets made of vomit; chug cups of vinegar, which in one case caused a pledge to vomit blood; drink beers poured down fellow pledges’ a– cracks; and vomit on other pledges, among other abuses.”

According to an article, Lohse made a statement to the Dartmouth administration, but no response was given because the student could not provide evidence of the hazing.

Alan Reifman, social psychologist and professor of human development and family studies at Texas Tech University, said hazing might be connected to the theory of cognitive dissonance, an anxiety caused by having a conflicting belief, such as liking someone but disagreeing with his or her habits.

“If one suffers terribly to obtain admission to a group but joins anyway, doubts may crop up about whether it was worth it,” Reifman said. “To alleviate the dissonance, members will ultimately convince themselves that the group is very attractive and well worth the suffering.”

However, this was not the case for Stewart Moore, senior at Sewanee University in Tennessee. Moore said he chose his fraternity, Lambda Ki Alpha, because it didn’t haze its pledges.

According to Moore, the fraternity has a strict “no hazing” policy in its constitution, and he was not forced to do anything to join.

“Why would you want to do bad things to [pledges] and do things that are kind of degrading to themselves?” Moore asked. “What some fraternities who do haze say is that it brings that class together because they have to suffer together, but for me and for most Lambda Kis here, I think it brings the fraternity closer as a whole if we don’t do that.”

Moore said typical fraternity life on his campus includes heavy drinking and sometimes disrespecting women. While his fraternity does partake in drinking, the frat will reject men who pledge based on observations of how the pledge treats women.

“The appearance of fraternities is definitely drinking, partying and women, and I don’t like that,” Moore said. “I know it happens, and it’s kind of weird to be associated with that, but I don’t really feel like I’m associated with it as much.”

While students across the nation have found comfort in Greek letter communities, Fitzpatrick said she feels like she fits in at Columbia.

“The old school I went to is not the kind of place where you can just hang out with people,” Fitzpatrick said. “You can be in people’s faces at that college. They’re very cliquey, and everyone has cliques, but here, I feel like it’s easier to insert yourself in places. It’s just so easy to make friends here. I love it.”