Six Years after Rerecognition, Greek Life Continues to EvolveIt is springtime on the Franklin & Marshall campus, with tree blossoms in full bloom and students basking in the warm April sun on Hartman Green. Just a stone's throw away, a group of 64 men dressed to the nines gathers on the steps of Distler House. Some are young alumni of the College, while others graduated decades ago. Many current students are also in the crowd.
The men are members of Phi Kappa Psi, one of the College's oldest fraternities. They are congregating for a group photo in celebration of the 150th anniversary of their establishment as a Greek organization at Franklin & Marshall. As they smile for the camera, they know that the spring afternoon represents more than the end of one of Lancaster's harshest winters—it also symbolizes a new era for Greek life at F&M.
After 16 years of derecognition, the College welcomed fraternities and sororities back into campus life in 2004. The first six years of "rerecognition" have seen the College work with Greek organizations toward a goal of producing a model Greek system. While the system continues to evolve, scenes like the one on the steps of Distler show that the relationship between the College and the Greek community has improved since rerecognition.
"Ten years ago, we wouldn't have had our anniversary celebration on campus," says Marc Persson '00, a member of Phi Kappa Psi and former president of the Alumni Greek Council. "Not only was this a celebration of our group, but of our return to F&M."
President John Fry, who initiated the rerecognition of Greek organizations shortly after his arrival at the College in 2002, says there is still work to be done. "Six years later, we don't have the model Greek system," Fry says. "But we do have a really good Greek system that is a work in progress."
Return of the GreeksThe Greek system is evolving in a way that some people might not have imagined 20 years ago, given the relationship between Greek organizations and the College in the years following derecognition in 1988. Tony Della Pelle '84, a member of Zeta Beta Tau and former president of the Alumni Greek Council, remembers when his fraternity house closed its doors in 1990.
"At the time, we were the only fraternity that leased a house from the school," Della Pelle says of ZBT, one of the College's five inactive Greek chapters today. "The College initiated a lawsuit to evict students during the school year. The keys were handed over, and ZBT moved around and never really found a home. I'm a parent now, with a daughter starting college this fall. I can't imagine the trauma and friction that would exist if the school sought to evict students from their housing. These conflicts between the College and the Greeks caused the system to break down, and John Fry revived it."
Fry knew the Greek system needed to be addressed and did so early in his presidency. "One of the things about my approach is to take on your toughest problems first," he says. "The Greek system was the elephant in the room. I couldn't have a conversation with anyone about anything without someone's working the Greek system into the conversation. I realized after a couple months that we either take this on now, or this is the overhang."
The College's administration began to explore the best ways to bring Greek organizations back into the fold. Working with faculty, Greek alumni and Greek undergraduates, the administration eventually produced a document titled "Recognition Guidelines for Greek Organization," which articulated the specific elements of the proposed relationship between the institution and Greek organizations. The guidelines were designed to meet the challenge of creating a model system consistent with the College's mission.
"The rerecognition agreement identified values and delineated objectives," says Kent Trachte, dean of the College. "The core idea was that a model Greek system would be compatible with academic life at the College. A lot of emphasis has been placed on establishing academic goals for Greek organizations."
The agreement also laid out guidelines that indicate Greek organizations must operate with a fundamental respect for human dignity and a commitment to inclusiveness; place the highest priority on the health and safety of all students; and embrace the College's commitment to serving the local community.
"Now, we actually have guidelines in place where we didn't prior to rerecognition," Persson says. "Compared to six years ago, the mindset has changed. We have rules to work by and live by."
The College has designed an administrative structure to support the approx-imately 30 percent of students who are involved in Greek life through the seven fraternities and three sororities on campus. Mary Kate Boland '01, head women's volleyball coach, now has a dual role as director of fraternity and sorority life.
In addition, Adam Taylor, head baseball coach, has assumed responsibilities for advising the Interfraternity Council and fraternity presidents. Steve O'Day, senior associate dean of the College, has assumed direct-line responsibility for Greek affairs, while Trachte remains involved with more strategic issues.
Academic Achievement and Civic EngagementMembers of Greek organizations at F&M have made significant progress in meeting academic goals since 2004, Trachte says. Part of the progress could be the result of a rule capping new-member education programs at a length of six weeks. Commonly known as "pledge" periods, the new-member programs previously lasted more than a dozen weeks.
"Prior to rerecognition, the length and intensity of the pledge period was a concern," Trachte says. "We put together data that showed a typical first-year student who joined a fraternity had a decline in grade point average from 2.7 to 2.3 prior to rerecognition. The administration and many faculty members suspected that it had to do with the pledge program."
Greek chapters must now adhere to "Guideline 2.7," which holds that students' participating in the chapter's new-member program earn an average G.P.A. of 2.7 or higher. If the group's G.P.A. falls below 2.7, the chapter loses the right to recruit second-semester, first-year students the following year. "Had the rule been in place the year before rerecognition, six of the seven fraternities would have failed to meet the standard," Trachte says. "In more recent years, all or all but one chapter have met the standard each year."
G.P.A. is not the only thing the Greeks have raised. Over the past few years, Boland has seen an increase in community service by members of Greek chapters. She begins to talk about several events planned by Greeks during the month of April before stopping herself. "There are so many to rattle off here, it would take me an hour," Boland says. "The groups have really impressed me. They returned their focus to one of the reasons they exist as organizations."
Boland was particularly excited about "Eat Your Heart Out," an event sponsored by Alpha Phi sorority to benefit women's cardiac care. "It was an eating contest focusing on foods that are red," Boland says. "The entire College Center was packed, and people were ringing the balcony. It was great to see so many different students there."
Gregory Kiss '10, president of the Greek Council and member of Delta Sigma Phi, also has seen an increase in community service since he arrived on campus in 2007. His chapter hosts a Christmas party in partnership with the Milagro House, a long-term, education-based program committed to restoring the lives of homeless women and children. Each Greek chapter at F&M supports at least one philanthropic cause.
"I wasn't initially looking to become involved in Greek life," Kiss says. "I went on a campus tour at another university and heard some incredible fact that 80 percent of students were involved in Greek organizations. That put me off. But when I came to F&M, I gave it a chance, and it turned out to be a phenomenal decision."
"I think there's a growing recognition of community service, not just for public relations, but for service to the community," says David Coyne '87, president of the F&M Alumni Association and a Kappa Sigma brother. "Greek organizations are adding to the collective impact of students, faculty members and staff who have contributed to the community. And it's self-initiated. Members come up with their own ideas. If cancer has touched their families, they say, 'Let's do something for cancer societies.'"
As Greek students have increased their civic engagement, Greek alumni have become re-energized. In 2003, several alumni demonstrated their interest in the rerecognition efforts by reorganizing the Alumni Greek Council. The council, comprising two representatives from each Greek organization, aims to reconnect alumni to the Greek system and to the College. Ricardo Rivers '93, a Phi Kappa Psi brother, succeeded Della Pelle as council president last year.
The council has been looking at other schools and benchmarking what they have done to help create a better Greek system. "When you use terms like 'model,' I'm not sure if you can ever get there," says Coyne, a past council president. "I'm a believer in you're either getting better or you're getting worse. In February, the Alumni Greek Council had a conference call and decided that what we really need to be doing is articulating our vision about what a model Greek system looks like."
Cathy Cross Roman '77, director of alumni relations, has noticed a closer relationship between Greek alumni and the College since rerecognition. "Six or seven years ago, there were more alumni who would say they didn't want anything to do with the College because of derecognition," says Roman, whose office helps to coordinate Greek milestone events, such as Phi Kappa Psi's 150th anniversary. "And you don't hear that any more."
The Challenge of HousingThe area in which the College and Greek community need to make the most progress together, Trachte says, is housing. At the time of rerecognition, five of the seven fraternity alumni groups owned houses for their organizations. None of the three sororities owned a building, leaving five Greek organizations without a chapter house.
Della Pelle calls the housing situation the most compelling aspect of the evolving Greek system at F&M. "When you became an upperclassman when I was a student, it was much more desirable to live in a fraternity house than anywhere else. All of the frats had a house, and they were better housing options. We were also eating lunch and dinner together five days per week. Now, it doesn't work that way."
Trachte is concerned about the ability of alumni and current students to invest adequately in high-quality housing and maintain properties in good condition. Over the past two years, local authorities have condemned two fraternity houses—Delta Sigma Phi and Phi Kappa Tau. "We want the houses to get to the point of meeting the College's quality and safety standards," Trachte says. "Alumni and undergraduates both have goodwill, but most alumni organizations are undercapitalized to invest in significant improvements."
To meet quality and safety standards, Delta Sigma Phi asked the College for assistance with improvements to the house. The College responded by guaranteeing a loan, a process that will enable the house to reopen in the fall. Meanwhile, the alumni of Phi Kappa Tau elected to secure their own loan to make improvements.
For chapters without an alumni house, the College has partnered with Silverang Hallowell Development Company to provide safe and secure off-campus housing. The properties, managed by Kevin Silverang '77, house students from all three sororities and two fraternities. "The College has a set of standards that mirrors the standards of Silverang properties," says Trachte, who notes that F&M is exploring the possibility of converting College-owned or Silverang-owned properties into Greek "clusters" in the future. "The important thing is that we have fire-suppression systems throughout the houses. "
However, the current Silverang buildings are not officially designated as Greek houses, and residents are not permitted to have parties or social functions like those in the Greek alumni houses.
Illegal alcohol consumption by students attending Greek parties has long been a concern of College administrators, and new guidelines have recently been established. For College-approved parties, licensed bartenders have taken the place of student bartenders. In addition, numerous Greek students have become involved in ".08," an organization that fosters student-to-student conversation about responsible drinking. "A number of Greek students have assumed a very constructive role in discouraging excessive alcohol consumption, and I applaud them for that," Trachte says.
Della Pelle looks forward to the continued evolution of the Greek system. "Many alumni refer to themselves as members of their Greek organizations first, and alums of F&M second," he says. "We've taken a lot of positive steps over the past six years, but there is still work to do."
Franklin & Marshall currently has seven active fraternities, three active sororities and five inactive chapters.