Greek Life more than meets the eye
Freshman Cassie Ferlitch thought she was going to go Greek.
Ferlitch began to rush last semester. She attended the events and socials the sororities held, but when it came time to pay, she said she just couldn’t do it.
“I didn’t like what it was all about,” Ferlitch, a nursing major, said. “There were a lot of good things but when it came down to it, I couldn’t pick one sorority that I could find myself being a part of.”
Ferlitch decided not to join the 11 percent of campus that is involved in Greek Life.
For Ferlitch, it was about the labels.
“You just had to be a part of one of those girls who grouped,” she said. “I felt like people just wanted to wear the same thing and that people looked at you different…as, ‘Oh that girl is in that sorority,’ and I didn’t want to be labeled with the letters.”
Others never give Greek life a chance, electing to remain unaffiliated.
“I don’t understand the point of it,” junior Nick Sporgitas said.
But Nicolette Macchiaroli, president of the Panhellenic Association, an administrative body that oversees 10 sororities on campus, said that all it takes to understand is an open mind.
“People who are not affiliated…see Greek life as a negative stereotype rather than a great opportunity,” Macchiaroli said in an email.
The opportunities presented by Greek life include participation in community service, leadership roles and sisterhood or brotherhood, Macchiaroli said.
“Each fraternity and sorority offers their own set of core values that teach you how to be a woman and a man,” she said.
Junior Jeffrey Cusick is a founding brother of Theta Chi, a fraternity that was founded in 2011 based on its set of values.
“We were researching different fraternities and found that one was closest to our values. Their motto was ‘an assisting hand,’ the benefit of all members and to help others as much as we can,” Cusick, vice president of the IFC, said. “Their maxim is ‘Alma mater first and Theta Chi for alma mater’ because we are here for school so, school has to be your highest priority.”
And Cusick said since its inception, it has seen success, its brothers holding an average of a 3.04 cumulative GPA, higher than the all-male average.
Similar numbers are seen across the board, Nicholas Lawler, President of IFC, comprised of delegates from each recognized fraternity chapter and an executive board, said.
The IFC had a GPA of 2.83, which is higher than the all-male number.
In addition to striving for academic excellence, Lawler said Towson’s Greek Life works to develop well-rounded students.
“Greek Life is a stepping stone for a lot of other things,” Lawler said. “All but two presidents since 1825 have been Greek. The majority of our SGA right now is Greek…It develops your leadership. It develops you culturally.”
Greek life organizations must go through what is called the Chapter Assessment Program, which examines organization’s commitment to academics, chapter management, member development and community service.
“You do community service and you do co-sponsorships with chapters not only in your council, but the other councils,” Lawler said. “The [Unified Greek Council] is a multicultural council, [National Pan-Hellenic Council] is historically African-American. IFC members historically are Caucasian, so we work with them and we learn a lot about not only their fraternities and sororities’ histories, but also their culture. And our culture, they pick up different things that we do.”
But with all the positive aspects of Greek life, Lawler said he sees many people with misconceptions of the Greek community.
“Everybody’s seen ‘Animal House,’ everybody’s seen ‘Dazed and Confused,’ ‘Old School,’” he said. “Everybody’s seen those so that’s where a lot of the stuff comes from. You see a lot of people comment like, ‘oh that kid’s wearing Sperrys’ or whatever. But, yeah, there are fraternities that look like that…but for the most part, I think a lot of the misconceptions are misconceptions.”
Popular culture, Lawler said, is to blame for many of the stereotypes of Greek Life, including hazing.
“Towson University has a zero hazing policy, so does the IFC,” Lawler said.
“We do not stand for hazing of any sort. Any hazing incident found by the IFC is turned over to the Office of Student Conduct.”
In the past, organizations that have been found hazing or violating Towson’s policies have been suspended from campus, the most recent being Alpha Epsilon Pi, which was suspended in November of 2013.
These organizations feed into the stereotypes as well, Macchiaroli said.
“These conceptions come from fraternities and sororities that do not live out their creed and core values and choose to act irresponsibly, which can give Greek life a stigma,” Macchiaroli said.
But not everything from the stigma is completely false, Lawler said.
“Fraternities and sororities do have parties,” he said. “They’re called socials and we do them at third-party vendors. We try to minimize as much risk to every individual as we can.”
Each of these socials must follow the Fraternity and Sorority’s Procedure Guideline, however. This means that a portion of each organization is sober at each event, everyone is ID’d, safe rides are ensure and food is provided. In addition, each fraternity and sorority has standards boards and risk management committees to hold members accountable.
But at the end of the day, Lawler said, it isn’t about the partying.
“No matter what, you’ve got every person in your sorority or fraternity there to back you up, no matter how wrong they think you are sometimes,” he said. “That really is the benefit of brotherhood. A lot of fraternities bicker just like siblings because that’s essentially what we are. You get that close-knit.”
For some, the closeness of Greek communities is a turn off.
“I don’t think I’m the right type of person,” Kristen Magnani, a senior, said. “I don’t think I’m outgoing enough.”
The recruitment process may seem intimidating, but Cusick said it shouldn’t be.
“What people probably don’t understand is that people are just as nervous to meet the new people as the new people are to meet them,” Cusick said. “It’s tough, you know. You are both putting yourself out there and saying, ‘this is what we offer to you’ and they are saying, ‘this is what I offer to you,’ so you are really hoping they both align.”
And Lawler said that when you really break it down, recruitment isn’t all that scary.
“They’re all like middle school birthday parties, basically,” he said. “Some of them will do paintball, there’s nights at restaurants…a lot of chapters did the SECU Arena for basketball games. When I was going through, I just went to a few events, a bowling night, things like that, and just met people.”
Naturally, students don’t have to go Greek to find a community, Cusick said.
“I try to say get involved in other opportunities like clubs and stuff that can bring you similar experiences,” Cusick said.
And though there may be some animosity between independent students and Greek affiliates, it is something Towson’s campus can overcome, Lawler said.
“Obviously, sometimes one bad apple in a fraternity or sorority can change some minds, but overall fraternities and sororities are good things,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s an overwhelming feeling among non-affiliated people on campus.”
In fact, Cusick said he has observed only a small group exhibits animosity toward Greeks.
“I think it is the isolated people, the people in Greek life that don’t necessarily have unaffiliated friends, and unaffiliated people who don’t necessarily have friends in Greek life,” Cusick said.
And Lawler said that Greek life still has to work on getting the word out about all of the good things its members do in the community.
“In the past, there’s been, through administrations and different groups on campus, bad PR for Greek life,” Lawler said. “And Greek life never did a really great job of making sure that we were getting out the good things that we did, really putting that out there for people to see.”
This is a problem that stems from many aspects of our society, Cusick said.
“The problem is people don’t like to hear about the good things,” he said. “It’s not exciting. When you write an excellent piece on how well this one student group did, it’s not a good as when someone gets caught for hazing. It’s scandalous. It’s the society we live in today.”
But now it is time to focus on the community’s contributions, Lawler said.
“If you look at TigerTHON, the majority of TigerTHON’s money was raised by Greeks,” Lawler said. “A lot of marathons across the country are run by Greeks…Greeks completed over 13,500 hours of community service in 2013…We just haven’t done the PR work and we haven’t been willing to work with others, and now we are.”
–Thomas Martinson contributed to this article