Greek organizations at the University of Connecticut have been working to combat the negative stereotypes frequently associated with Greek life by promoting values of responsibility and philanthropy.
“(Greek life is) founded upon a bunch of different principles: academics, brotherhood and ritual are some of the biggest ones,” Ryan Cunniff, the president of the Interfraternity Council and member of the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity, said specifically of fraternities. “They’re creating better men through all these different sort of advancement principles.”
“Being involved in campus groups, including Greek life, tends to help students identify with UConn as their ‘home’ and to continue returning each year to complete their degrees,” UConn Spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said.
Greek life is often scrutinized due to the perceived atmosphere of excessive drinking and partying. The Atlantic even published a story on the “Dark Power of Fraternities” in 2014 which analyzed the rising trend of lawsuits against fraternities and the nature of the Greek culture.
The organizations raise millions of dollars for worthy causes, contribute millions of hours in community service, and seek to steer young men toward lives of service and honorable action. They also have a long, dark history of violence against their own members and visitors to their houses, which makes them in many respects at odds with the core mission of college itself,” The Atlantic wrote.
Cunniff said many people’s views of Greek life are colored by negative media coverage and popular culture.
“Some of it (the stigma about Greek life) comes out of valid things that happen and it’s not necessarily in our Greek community, it’s stuff in the media,” Cunniff said. “It’s a tough thing to combat because, a lot of times, the people who dislike us the most are getting all their information from these media outlets which, a lot of the time, never do any sort of coverage on the good things we do.”
Following the death of UConn student Jeffny Pally, six members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity were arrested for providing Pally, a minor, alcohol.
The Kappa Sigma fraternity was permanently expelled from the university for unrelated incidents. The UConn chapter of Pally’s sorority, Delta Gamma, was also suspended earlier this semester.
“We’ve taken those events as a learning experience. As tragic as all of that unfolding is, we’ve definitely come back from it and are trying to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again,” Cunnif said.
In light of this situation, the Interfraternity Council has begun taking strides to create a culture of increased responsibility for risk management at their events.
“We’re trying our best to up our risk management, we’re holding each other accountable so we see a difference in how smoothly we operate,” Cunniff said.
The Interfraternity Council has been working with administrators on an Observe and Report system to ensure Greek events are being held responsibly.
The ONR system consists of members of Greek life attending social events and making sure they are abiding by a set of safety rules.
“It’s a bunch of risk-related items that we need to hit in order to make sure we’re hosting something that, A, won’t be dangerous and, B, won’t get us in trouble,” Cunniff said.
Some things included on the list are marking guests who are of drinking age and having a guest list for the event.
Garcia said within her small sorority, the women look out for each other.
“We’re working on better risk management and better accountability within our organization because we want to keep each other safe,” Garcia said.
Garcia said she thinks those in Greek life need to take risk management seriously in order to effectively combat the stigma about Greek life.
“It’s really just trying to take care of each other and we just try to be a good role model for the rest of the community, the last thing we want to do is perpetuate more of that negative stereotype of being Greek.”
Rebecca Shafer, one of the founders of the Mansfield Neighborhood Preservation group said she has seen the corrosive effects of fraternities in her neighborhood since one moved in next door to her.
“It was about a year and a half ago the house next to us was sold to an investor and became a fraternity, and until that point we didn’t know that that’s what was happening in our neighborhood, we had never seen what that meant to a neighborhood until one moved in right next to us,” Shafer said.
According to Mansfield’s zoning regulations, fraternities are not permitted in the town, Shafer said.
“Frats are a non-permitted use in Mansfield yet they have been operating underground party houses in our neighborhoods for years,” Shafer said.
The Zoning Regulations for the Town of Mansfield only allow for the RA-20 and RA-90 zones to be used for single-family dwellings, facilities for the mentally disabled, state-licensed daycare centers and cemeteries.
Shafer, a lifelong Mansfield resident and UConn graduate, said the concern over the changing character of Mansfield neighborhoods is what drove her to work to unite her neighbors through social media to form the Mansfield Neighborhood Preservation Group.
“It changes the character of a neighborhood, it’s a safety hazard,” Shafer said, “It’s not just a party, its underage drinking that’s dangerous on many levels, and it’s illegal.”
Shafer said Greek events bring criminal and illicit activity into Mansfield neighborhoods.
“With fraternities and sororities, there is a criminal element that is brought in, like underage drinking, drugs, there’s a lot of sexual assault,” Shafer said.
Cunniff said the heavy drinking and partying typically associated with Greek life is not a uniquely Greek problem.
“It’s a culture that pervades college campuses,” Cunniff said, “There are students within Greek life and the UConn community (who are not a part of Greek life) as well that feed into that culture.”
Alexandra Garcia, the vice president of the Intercultural Greek Council and member of Kappa Phi Lambda, an Asian interest sorority said the shenanigans college students partake in feed into the stereotypes about Greek life.
“People can get careless, we’re all in college, we do things we shouldn’t do (and) that helps with the whole stereotype of what it means to be Greek,” Garcia said.
Greek organizations have been utilizing social media to spread the word about their philanthropic activities to those who do not realize what a large part of their mission it is.
“I’ve seen a lot of Greeks showcasing helping out the community out of the goodness of our hearts,” Garcia said, “It’s sad to say we have to prove ourselves over and over again despite all this philanthropy and service.”
Garcia said her experience as a part of Greek life has given her the opportunity to be involved in large-scale service projects, such as travelling to New Orleans to help rebuild the homes of flood victims.
“It’s definitely transformed me, Greek life really gave me the chance to be who I want to be and make that impact in my community,” Garcia said, “I would never have gotten the chance to serve people to this extent without Greek life.”