Ten years after re-recognition, fraternities and sororities remain part of the F&M tradition. But challenges remain in creating a model Greek system.
Standing on the steps of Franklin & Marshall’s Old Main on a spring afternoon in 1988, Ken Mehlman ’88 held a lighter and a blank check. The senior and president of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity was surrounded by hundreds of students as he proclaimed it would be the last check he’d ever give to the College.
He put flame to paper, and the check became a smoky memory.
It was April 13, 1988, and the Board of Trustees had just announced it was de-recognizing all fraternities and sororities. The decision prompted Mehlman and members of other Greek organizations to protest on the lawn near Old Main and at the front porch of the Alumni House, where newly appointed president Richard Kneedler and the Board of Trustees had gathered after meetings.
Many across the College community felt angry, disappointed, and even betrayed, and they were making their feelings known.
“I learned as much in the Greek system that’s important to me professionally as I did in the classroom,” says Mehlman, now a member of the F&M Board of Trustees and partner and head of Global Public Affairs at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. in New York. “It provided an opportunity for young people to gain leadership. To me, banning Greeks was a rash decision.”
“De-recognition was a shock to me,” says Carrie Johnson ’90, who is the Chi Omega representative to F&M’s Alumni Greek Council. “Those of us who did not know of previous discussions with the administration were confused.”
After 16 years of uncertainty, during which Greek organizations operated without formal recognition, F&M re-recognized fraternities and sororities in 2004 at the direction of then-President John Fry. This year marks a decade since re-recognition, and today a more deliberate approach and a spirit of collaboration prevail. F&M administrators say the goal is to create a model system for Greek life that partners the College with local Greek chapters and their national organizations, while bridging long-held traditions, the College’s mission and the wants of today’s students.
At the time, the aims of re-recognition were stated as providing safe environments for students, upholding academic standards, and re-engaging alumni with the College. “At first there was a lot of fear of the unknown from the alumni,” recalls Dave Costa ’88, current president of the Alumni Greek Council and a member of Phi Kappa Tau. “There was not an initial wave of enthusiasm. Alumni were taking a wait-and-see approach.”
“There was a process over time to establish trust,” says Ricardo Rivers ’93, a member of Phi Kappa Psi who is now president of the F&M Alumni Association. “We wanted to make sure that there would be collaboration between students, administration and alumni. It was important to bring the system together.”
A National View
The 10th anniversary of re-recognition comes at a time when colleges and universities, including numerous liberal arts schools, are taking a variety of approaches toward their fraternities and sororities. As at F&M, those approaches have evolved over time.
Recently, Wesleyan University mandated that its Greek organizations become co-ed within three years. Earlier this year, Amherst College banned fraternities and sororities and the faculty at Dartmouth College voted to abolish the Greek system. Many who argue against fraternities and sororities say they are discriminatory, anti-intellectual and that they provide opportunities for student conduct that are not in line with the mission of colleges. And some students choose not to enroll at institutions with strong Greek traditions.
But fraternities and sororities continue to be part of traditions at many top liberal arts colleges and at institutions of higher learning nationwide.
When F&M re-recognized fraternities and sororities a decade ago, the core idea was to establish a Greek system compatible with and supportive of the academic and co-curricular life of the College. There was a lot of emphasis placed on student safety, engagement and academic goals. Retired dean David Stameshkin, who was associate dean and Greek adviser in the 1980s, says those issues had become major concerns of the administration prior to de-recognition, especially with regard to hazing and student safety.
“The Greek system had rules to work and live by in the 1980s, but I think today everyone is more on the same page as far as College-Greek relations go,” says Stameshkin, who authored a history of fraternities and sororities at F&M in 1987. “The mindset has changed.”
A New Era
F&M’s Greek tradition dates to the 1850s, when Phi Kappa Psi, Chi Phi and Phi Kappa Sigma established their roots at the College. Others soon followed, many of them developing out of social eating clubs. The relationship between Greek organizations and the College administration ebbed and flowed over time, as some presidents—such as John Williamson Nevin in the 1860s—held strong anti-fraternity views, while others took more neutral stances.
“The Greek system is part of F&M’s tradition,” says Margaret Hazlett, dean of the college at F&M. “Our intent is to make the best Greek system in the country, and take advantage of the assets that it brings to the community and the development of students.”
In 2004, when fraternities and sororities were embraced anew by F&M, the College’s administration worked with faculty, alumni and undergraduates to create a set of guidelines for organizations seeking re-recognition. The document outlined a new partnership between the administration and Greek organizations focused on creating a model system that advances the College’s mission.
The document also stipulated that 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.
“We are working to build partnerships with the local Greek chapters and their national organizations to promote student engagement and uphold standards,” Hazlett says.
“Greek life is in place to further the collegiate experience for students,” adds Marc Persson ’00, chapter adviser for Phi Kappa Psi and former president of he Alumni Greek Council. “Fraternities and sororities provide a method of networking with alumni locally and nationally. They provide an avenue for helping with the entire scholastic experience through mentoring, tutoring and collaborative efforts.”
F&M also invested in an expanded professional infrastructure to support and advise the students who are involved in Greek life and on-campus organizations. Stuart Umberger joined the College in 2013 as director of fraternity and sorority life. This leadership position was previously split between Mary Kate Boland ’01, who served as both head women’s volleyball coach and director of fraternity and sorority life, and Adam Taylor, who was the head baseball coach and advised the Interfraternity Council.
“It’s important for F&M to be proactive and remain engaged with the fraternities and sororities. Together we can help students navigate their responsibilities, yet allow them to show leadership,” says Hazlett.
“All students have a better experience when they feel a sense of belonging, and Greek life creates this for a large percentage of students,” Chi Omega rep Johnson says. “When the Greek institution’s goals are aligned with the mission of the College, all benefit.”
Impact on the College Community
Approximately 45 percent of women at F&M participate in sororities, while 33 percent of men participate in fraternities. Since re-recognition, the number of fraternities has remained steady at seven, while the number of sororities is now five with the establishment of Alpha Xi Delta in 2014. In addition, the first co-ed fraternity, Phi Sigma Pi, was welcomed at F&M in 2010.
For Kimberly Hilfrank ’15, the president of the Panhellenic Council, the opportunity to be involved in Greek life was important in her decision to enroll at F&M.
“I knew I wanted to join a sorority before I even got to college,” says Hilfrank, a native of Norfolk, Mass., who is majoring in public health. “It was imperative that the strength and health of the fraternity and sorority life was strong.”
According to some alumni leaders, fraternities and sororities now are better aligned with the College’s mission and community. And, indeed, a strategic review of Greek life a few years ago found that the College’s fraternities and sororities reflected the diversity of the college’s student body.
Academically, the spring 2014 grade point average (3.15) among members of fraternities and sororities was similar to the average among non-Greek students (3.12)—a departure from 10 years ago, when non-Greek students earned higher average marks than members of fraternities and sororities.
The fraternities and sororities also now work more closely with Umberger on frequent and ongoing philanthropic activities within the community.
“The philanthropic efforts of the Greek organizations bring awareness to a variety of causes both nationally and locally, and engage students in events that help these causes that are much greater than themselves,” says Hilfrank.
Among partnerships with national organizations, Phi Kappa Psi has a longstanding relationship with the Boys & Girls Clubs, Alpha Phi works routinely to address heart disease, and Delta Sigma Phi is the first fraternity to team with the American Red Cross on blood drives.
Locally, Phi Kappa Psi recently partnered with the Lancaster Science Factory to produce its “Science is Amazing” program. Alpha Delta Pi has an ongoing commitment to support the Lancaster Women’s Shelter, and Chi Omega held a special event to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In addition, all of the sororities combined to participate in Relay for Life, a signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
“We also encourage alumni engagement with undergraduates to provide mentoring, leadership development and career networking,” says Hazlett.
Baxter Lehman ’15, a Latin and economics double-major, is the president of the Interfraternity Council and a member of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. He didn’t know much about the fraternities and sororities at F&M when he decided to enroll and did not plan on joining one. However, he now credits Greek life for providing an important support system for students.
“Fraternities and sororities offer friendship during college, and more service opportunities than most other student organizations,” says Lehman, who hails from New York City. “After graduation, the fraternity and sorority system also provides national networking and career advancement opportunities with alumni.”
“I learned as much in the Greek system that's important to me professionally as I did in the classroom.”
There have been many positive steps in creating F&M’s much-envisioned model system, but challenges remain. One of the largest is for Greek organizations to continue to mirror the changing demographics and needs of undergraduate students.
Greek life needs to remain relevant, Hazlett agrees. As the student body becomes more international and more diverse, the challenge for fraternities and sororities will be to provide the leadership, mentoring and career opportunities desired by an increasingly diverse undergraduate student body, she says.
Housing, too, remains both an essential element of the Greek system and a critical aspect of the College’s commitment to its students.
“It’s important for students, alumni, administration and parents to be sure that fraternity and sorority housing provide safe environments for students,” said Persson.
In addition, one of the tenets of re-recognition cited by alumni leaders was creating a system that would eventually be self-governed. “We are getting there, but have a long way to go when it comes to self-governing,” concedes Persson. “It is up to alumni to help mentor current students so fraternities and sororities can continue to provide them with leadership opportunities.”
Ten years after re-recognition, fraternities and sororities at F&M still represent an important aspect of College tradition yet continue to be a work in progress.
“Greek organizations can provide wonderful, positive additions to the College, but shifting a culture takes time,” says Hazlett. “We need to ensure that students stay engaged, organizations uphold their responsibilities and recognize the national conversations taking place about Greek systems.”
Mehlman has seen that culture shift since 1988, when he burned the blank check. He’s now a strongly engaged alumnus, having served multiple terms on the Board of Trustees, been a member of the Alumni Greek Council, and participated in numerous alumni forums.
“I have always had nothing but great feelings about the school,” Mehlman says. “F&M gave me the best education anywhere, and that includes Harvard Law School. I had small classes and was personally engaged. And I gained experience in leadership through the Greek system.”
As for current senior Lehman, he looks forward to a greater leadership role for Greek students and organizations in their contributions to the F&M community.
“The administration has given us a lot more responsibility and opportunities to demonstrate leadership. It is up to us to show what we can continue to bring to F&M.”
F&M’s Fraternities and Sororities
Coed Honorary Fraternity
- Phi Sigma Pi (Zeta Beta Chapter), est. 2010
- Chi Phi (Zeta Chapter), est. 1854
- Delta Sigma Phi (Upsilon Chapter), est. 1915
- Kappa Sigma (Delta Rho Chapter), est. 1929
- Phi Kappa Psi (Penn Eta Chapter), est. 1860
- Phi Kappa Sigma (Zeta Chapter), est. 1854
- Phi Kappa Tau (Xi Chapter), est. 1921
- Sigma Pi (Nu Chapter), est. 1918
- Alpha Delta Pi (Theta Lambda Chapter), est. 2011
- Alpha Phi (Zeta Sigma Chapter), est. 1982
- Alpha Xi Delta, est. 2014
- Chi Omega (Phi Lambda Chapter), est. 1987
- Kappa Delta (Eta Lambda Chapter), est. 2008
- Lambda Chi Alpha (Alpha Theta Chapter), est. 1917
- Phi Sigma Kappa (Pi Chapter), est. 1903
- Pi Lambda Phi (Tau Omega Chapter), est. 1947
- Sigma Sigma Sigma (Delta Nu Chapter), est. 1978
- Zeta Beta Tau (Alpha Tau Chapter), est. 1931