Greek Life: More Than Just Beer and Togas

Greeks have gotten a bad rep in recent times ... Greeks as in fraternity boys and sorority girls.

With movies like "Old School" reinforcing negative stereotypes set forth in the original frat-boy flick "Animal House," the question remains: how are these supposedly booze-drenched students getting any work done?

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But college officials say "Greek" students aren't really partying more or studying less than other students — and if they are, it's more about the kids who pledge and less about the frats and sororities.

“I think there’s a misconception that alcohol consumption is rampant,” said Chris Bullins, director of the office of sorority and fraternity affairs at the University of Florida, which has twice made Playboy magazine’s list of top party schools. “What we’re seeing is that sororities and fraternities don’t encourage people to drink more, it's that people that drink more are more likely to join a fraternity or sorority.”

That said, several highly publicized incidents have drawn lots of negative attention to the Greek system. They've also forced universities across the country to reevaluate their strategies when dealing with fraternities and sororities.

Most, if not all universities, outwardly condemn practices like hazing. But it still occurs.

“I think a lot people think that hazing is a Greek problem,” Bullins said. “But it's everywhere from athletic groups to the marching band.”

And many pledges understand what they are getting themselves into.

“Tonight is welcome night,” said Tara Hankinson, 19, a sophomore at Bucknell. “Which means we go through the doors of each frat and get beer poured on us.”

Going Greek: Pros and Cons

To balance the tales of kegs and togas, schools work hard to make something positive come out of their Greek communities.

The University of Florida has one of the bigger dance marathons among colleges in the Southeast (the marathons raise money for charity and usually have a large Greek presence.) And almost every single fraternity or sorority has an annual philanthropic event.

According to Chip Marrarra, assistant dean of students and director of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, Bucknell donates an average of 22,000 hours of service a year, in addition to over $100,000.

Mararra also touted the most obvious reason to join a fraternity or sorority: to find a close group of friends in a seemingly gargantuan college or university.

“Sororities and fraternities are like any other organizations on campus,” he said. “They create a smaller community for students to find a larger connection.”

But going Greek certainly isn’t for everyone, Bullins warns.

“Being in a [fraternity/sorority] does take time,” he said. “If you don’t have clear priorities, it could impact someone’s grades.”

He says time management is extremely important for a student pledging a Greek organization. This is especially true for freshmen, who are usually trying to adjust to life away from home for the first time and being forced to set their own schedules.

It is for this reason that schools like Bucknell require rushees to be sophomores before they can join, or even a minimum GPA (Bucknell requires a 2.25).

“The transition to college can be difficult,” Mararra said. "We want people to be acclimated academically and socially [before rushing].”

Even for someone with a year of college under their belt, rushing can still be stressful.

“I’m going to drown my sorrows in emo music (angst-ridden, hardcore punk-inspired rock music),” Hankinson said after a particularly trying day of recruitment activities. “I don’t know, I'm debating being a GDI (slang for God Damn Independent).”

Hankinson participated in fall rush for the 2006 school year at Bucknell, but had mixed feelings about the experience once it was over.

While she weighed the decision of whether or not to go through with pledging, she ultimately decided that it was something she wanted to do.

“Me and a few of the other girls are taking it upon ourselves to reinvent the sorority,” she said. “[At least] it isn’t a cutthroat, superficial one.”

Ultimately, finding a house that best fits your needs comes down to finding a group of people that are like-minded and are going to help you achieve your goals rather than hinder you from achieving them.

“It’s important to understand they are values-based organizations,” Bullins said. “It’s a great way to find people with your values and interests that will last, if you put [in] an investment.”

But there are also heartbreaks ... especially among rushees.

“I did cry after the first round of eliminations,” Hankinson said. “When I was cut from any sorority I had remote interest in.”

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