With a reputation as elusive as it is prominent, and traditions as respected as they are controversial, the Greek community rings with distinction at Geneseo. There are a wide variety of perspectives among students, professors and parents, ranging from the concerned to the defiant to the proud. The most compelling view, however, comes from the fraternity brothers and sorority sisters themselves.
Among Greeks, there is little ambiguity with respect to their value on campus: "Greek life doesn't just bring students, town residents, and administration together," said Dave Barner, "it is the heart of Geneseo." As a senior, Barner is a member of Sigma Nu Chi and president of Inter-Greek Council (IGC). "I've made hundreds of friends, networked with alumni, and developed and grown as a person," he said. Senior Kristen Sweeney, of Alpha Kappa Phi (Ago), said that Greek life "really connects you to the college" and sophomore Alex Cortese said that "this experience has made me realize what a wonderful thing tradition can be," reflecting on the 134-year history of her sorority, Phi Kappa Pi (Clio).
Members of the Greek community see its impact on their lives by the values that it instills on academic and community levels. The social bonds formed within these organizations are the closest many of these students have ever experienced. Following the traditional terms brothers- and sisters-for-life, Sweeney said, "I can see myself being really close with [my sisters] for the rest of my life." Expressing the same sentiment, Cortese said, "I have great friendships with every member of my organization, from freshmen to seniors, and even the alumni." Students have found that the social aspect of Greek life connects them to the past, present and future of the school itself. Senior BJ Scanlon said that, because of his place in Alpha Chi Rho, "I'm always going to be coming back to Geneseo."
Despite the opportunities to flourish socially, Greeks hold themselves to the highest academic standard. Pledge processes are known for library hours, and members are restricted from compromising their grades for their life as a Greek. Senior Emily Wright, of Alpha Kappa Phi, noted that the GPA of the Greek community is on par with that of the college on a whole. "I believe this is an extremely strong argument for naysayers who believe Greek life to foster only strong social bonds and ignore academia," said Wright.
Among the friendships and schoolwork, outreach is an essential element. According to senior Cassie Gielow, president of Alpha Delta Epsilon, "Greek life keeps you busy, but it also connects you to what is going on at Geneseo." IGC holds mandatory service projects. "A great deal of community service on campus is done by the Greeks," Barner said. A common concern among those outside of Greek life is balancing all these commitments in daily life. Barner explained that members discover time management through the pledge process, learning that "incorporating them all together" saves any one area of Greek life from overwhelming another.
With the undisputed pride and happiness among fraternity brothers and sorority sisters, it may be hard to determine the source of controversy often associated with Greek life. "I think it is unfortunate that some people have such a negative perception of sorority and fraternity members," said Gielow, referring to the common "party-animal" stereotype. There is also the notion of "paying for your friends," referring to the dues members pay each semester. But according to Barner, "dues fund social and service events that would not occur otherwise." Another stigma is the apparent militancy between organizations, but members agree that incidents are few and resolutions are quick, as group unity overwhelms individual conflict.
Much of the anti-Greek sentiment arises during the time of pledging, which is quickly approaching in this Spring semester. This process is known for instilling values through tradition and ritual. "While pledging isn't easy, it instills a lot of pride," Barner said. "By making it difficult, you become one." But when hazing enters the scene, the process itself seems to be a contradiction. One cannot find values through sub-human treatment, pride through degradation, and unity through attacks. Compromising morals is crossing the line, and will ultimately breed weaker organizations than stronger ones. According to Barner, that is precisely why the College and the IGC have upheld a zero tolerance policy for hazing in the past few years.
Greek life does come with a degree of sacrifice, but according to fraternity brothers and sorority sisters, one gains far more than one loses. "Everyone puts in different amounts of time based on what they want to get out of being involved in their organization," Cortese said. And almost all fraternity brothers and sorority sisters have found that their time spent in the Greek community makes time spent in Geneseo fresh and fulfilling.