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To Greek or not to Greek: Weighing the choice to join fraternities, sororities

High school students preparing for college usually are of three minds: They love and embrace the idea of going Greek when they get to campus, detest the thought, or fall somewhere in between. Depending on whom you ask, joining a sorority or fraternity means a sisterhood or brotherhood for life, connections and opportunities, sweat shirts and other memorabilia marked with cool Greek letters, four years of unfettered partying or all of the above.

Kyle Grosskopf, a senior at Clearwater High who plans to attend St. Petersburg College, associates partying and sex with fraternities and doesn't see the point of joining one. Grosskopf, who enjoys photography, baseball and writing, says, "I can make friends on my own."

Teenagers who are avid partiers in high school are likely to participate in Greek life to feed their party habit in college, he says. "The people that join fraternities just for the parties really don't even deserve to be enrolled in that college or university."

Bria Hope, a senior who attends St. Petersburg Collegiate High and intends to major in psychology at Florida International University, is a proponent of fraternity and sorority life and eager to go Greek.

"My mom pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha in college. She is a part of the local AKA chapter in St. Petersburg" that continues to do community service, including a youth program called AKA Exquisite Gems, which Hope has been part of since seventh grade.

Hope likes that sororities provide opportunities to meet new people and network in college and beyond.

"Sisters have each other's backs, and you have someone to turn to if you need help with your academics or personal life," she says. "Since my mom is an Alpha Kappa Alpha, I'll more than likely be pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha, too."

The Greek life basics

How do you know whether Greek life is for you?

Do your homework. Research the organizations online. Note that Greek organizations can be strong and uphold their national standards on some campuses, but closed down for bad behaviors on others. Having some background can help you at rush time. Find out what kind of social activities the chapter participates in, and whether pledges are required to attend parties, and be sure you're comfortable with that if they are. Get family or friends to put you in touch with members or alumni of campus chapters, but not too close to rush time, as that can be considered "dirty rushing" and get chapters into trouble.

To give you a head start with that homework, tb-two* spoke with college students, Greek and not, about what helped them make their decisions.

Expectations vs. reality

Jay Travis Williamson, a junior at American University in Washington, D.C., who is pursuing a bachelor of arts in communication, legal institutions, economics and government, is a member of Sigma Chi. In the spring of his first year, Williamson decided to give Greek life a try.

"Originally I went out to rush to see what I thought," Williamson said via phone. "I wasn't sold on Sigma Chi until closed rush and I learned that it was an organization that is values based. The most important part was that all the brothers cared about Sigma Chi as well as the values."

Williamson said those values of friendship, justice and learning sold him. "Different schools may have very different student bodies," he said. "As a result . . . the organization is made up (of) people who have different talents and appreciations but the same values and core principles, such as the way you act and carry yourself."

Each Greek organization's chapter is only as strong as its members. In November, Sigma Chi International Fraternity's board of directors voted to suspend the Gamma Sigma chapter, which was founded at Auburn University in 1934, because the chapter was hazing its pledges. The fraternity's "belief in the concept of justice requires us to hold each other accountable for failure to live up to our obligation," said international president Michael Greenberg on the Sigma Chi website. He stressed that the decision to shut the chapter down was to ensure undergraduate chapters are motivated to live up to the organization's expectations.

Recently, Florida State University's fraternities have also come under scrutiny. In August, the student president of Florida State University's Alpha Tau Omega, Matthew Berman, was arrested after allegedly allowing underage drinking at the house. In December, FSU's Sigma Chi chapter was under investigation after reports of hazing.

Just last month, Arizona State University revoked the Tau Kappa Epsilon chapter's campus affiliation after it allegedly threw a "black" party on Martin Luther King Day. Members of the fraternity, dressed in basketball jerseys and sagging shorts, held watermelons and posed for Instagram pictures. Pictures were captioned with "happy MLK day homies …" and tagged with "#hood."

Horror stories of fraternity and sorority misbehavior are pervasive on the Internet, and drunk "frat boys" have long provided comic relief as they slur and stumble their way through movies.

"Like most young men, before I got to college, I thought the exemplary fraternity gentleman was Bluto from Animal House," says Sean Quinn, a senior at the University of Florida who is studying political science and public relations.

Quinn, a member of Chi Phi, says his fraternity stresses to new members that "once they join Chi Phi, that they not only represent themselves but something bigger — both Chi Phi at UF and as an organization that has nearly 200 years of history."

Sorority life is not immune from negative portrayal in movies, either. Legally Blonde, The House Bunny and even characters in Disney's G-rated Monsters University have cast sorority girls as ruthless, catty and shallow.

"When I first rushed, I was nervous because the only thing I knew about sororities was how the media portrayed them," says Andrea Kovacs, a member of the Kappa Delta sorority at the University of Florida. "However, once I joined my chapter I realized how different and truly inspiring my chapter and all of the women in it are. Every day my sisters encourage me to continue to do better and succeed."

The cost of going Greek

Another thing to consider in the decision to go Greek is the cost.

"The financial commitments involving a sorority vary depending on the chapter," Kovacs says, and can include dues, room and board if your chapter has a house and a meal plan. In some cases, those costs can be higher than the university's dorm and meal fees.

Most fraternities and sororities, like Kappa Delta, are focused on member's grades and being involved with community service. "Every member is expected to maintain high grades and succeed academically," Kovacs says, as well as participate in philanthropic events throughout the year.

Regardless of a Greek organization's good works, the stereotype of hard partying, wealth and exclusivity is tough to shake.

"As a student who isn't in (a sorority), there are many assumptions to be made about Greek life, and many of them are true," says Leah Smith, a junior who studies communication sciences and disorders at the University of Florida. Her observations of Greek life include "the constant parties, the endless alcohol supply, the loud, obnoxious drunkards leaving the parties," she says.

Although Greek life isn't for her, Smith said, all the people she knows in fraternities and sororities love it and enjoy being a part of a larger community. Yet "a lot of students who aren't a part of Greek life hate Greek life.

"It's kind of like high school all over again, popular versus unpopular."

Other communities

While most Greek life on campus is associated with the Panhellenic Council or Interfraternity Council, there are students who form organizations that deviate from the two councils in order to find something that works for their group dynamic. One organization is Delta Nu Zeta, a service sorority at the University of Florida that has similar traditions as Panhellenic Council affiliates. Mina Radman, a senior who is studying journalism at the University of Florida, is the founder of the Beta Chapter of Delta Nu Zeta at UF.

Radman says she wasn't interested in sororities — "the ones with the big houses and the grand everything" — when she started college, because she knew she could not afford it. "And I knew my parents weren't really thrilled with the idea of it," she says.

At UF, a minority of students go Greek, about 15 percent. "But it's very predominant in that Greeks are very, very involved on campus and it's (all) around you. . . . Even though I got involved in other ways on campus, it seemed as though I was missing out on something," Radman says.

When she learned about the Delta Nu Zeta opportunity, "it just seemed to be the right fit and the right place I needed to be, and so far it's proving to be true."

The sorority participates in at least two service events a week.

Delta Nu Zeta makes sure that the group is affordable for students. "We put a lot of our focus into our service and not so much into socials or anything else," Radman says. "We don't have a house, we don't have a meal plan and the cost is very low. We're very similar in a lot of ways, but we're (an) alternative for girls who don't want to go into the Panhellenic system or don't think they can afford it."

Going Greek is just one of the many decisions you have to make on the road from high school to college. Consider the time you have to devote to joining a Greek organization, what your reasons for joining are and whether they match an organization's values, including grade standards.

Weigh the idea of forging lifelong friendships, which you can do outside of a Greek organization, too, and whether you're comfortable with the chapter's social activities. Like any choice, you'll be fine as long as you make an informed decision.

To Greek or not to Greek: Weighing the choice to join fraternities, sororities 02/19/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 6:26pm]
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