Students, staff look at virtues of greek life
Greek life has taken a hit in recent months, from national stories surrounding the now-defunct University of Oklahoma's Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity’s racist chant, to local news surrounding Rutgers chapters.
Rutgers' chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity was shut down in March due to an underage drinking incident, according to a previous article in The Daily Targum. There are currently six fraternities and one sorority at Rutgers under disciplinary review.
But media coverage of a few bad eggs are affecting the reputation of an entire group of organizations, said Laura Luciano, assistant director of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance.
Drinking, sexual assault and derogatory language occurs everywhere on campus, Luciano said.
“We know there are things happening in fraternity-owned homes, but those things are also happening on-campus and with off-campus students,” Luciano said. “While some (fraternities) may contribute negatively to our community, others provide positive contributions to our community.”
Alex Peterson, a member of Theta Delta Chi (TDX), said joining a fraternity was one of the best decisions of his life and has sparked his social and professional network.
The media portrayal of greek life has been fair considering all of the incidents occurring, but not reflective of the entire greek community, he said.
“Many onlookers to greek life do not understand the diverse network greek life institutes,” said Peterson, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
Greek life traditionally aims to build character and leadership for the betterment of our society’s future, Peterson said. TDX's average grade point average is a 3.2, with a diverse range of majors from engineering to marine biology.
Social fraternities, medical fraternities, business fraternities and academic fraternities all aim to positively impact the community, Peterson said. Rutgers has a number of greek organizations that raise money for charities and non-profits.
As just one example, TDX raises $15,000 annually for autism awareness and participates in a mentoring program for teens with autism called “BrosUnited,” Peterson said.
Greek life is philanthropic at its core, Luciano said, noting Dance Marathon as an example. Dance Marathon raised more than $600,000 for cancer research last year.
But greek organizations still need to actively work toward eliminating violent activities, such as hazing and sexual assault, and many fraternities on campus are doing just that, Luciano said.
Every year, all of the newly elected fraternity presidents at Rutgers must attend a 45-minute introductory violence prevention workshop, she said. Fraternity presidents are given the option to sign up for a more extensive, follow-up program afterwards.
“We really encourage fraternities to be involved in the anti-sexual violence movement,” Luciano said. “Right now, they don’t want to be associated with sexual assault one way or another, good or bad, so they’ve historically stayed out of it.”
Luciano said multiple fraternities have chosen to partake in this multi-session bystander intervention program, called “SCREAMING To Prevent Violence,” which totals eight hours. The program uses acting and skits to teach intervention skills.
Fraternity members who participate learn how to become active bystanders when they see an inappropriate situation, whether that be sexual assault at a party or derogatory language within the chapter, she said.
A fraternity that participated last year proved the success of the program, Luciano said. While on spring break in Daytona Beach, the fraternity brothers told Luciano they intervened in a situation using the skills they learned from the program.
“(The Rutgers fraternity members) saw another group of men targeting a group of women and trying to force the women to dance with them,” Luciano said. “(The Rutgers fraternity brothers) were really proud of themselves for intervening.”
Before the sessions, they may not have intervened, Luciano said.
It is the group mentality of fraternities and sororities that encourages negative behaviors, Luciano said.
“If I’m with a group of friends and no one challenges me on my bad behavior, and they actually encourage bad behavior, that is when group mentality sets in,” Luciano said. “Some groups encourage attitudes and beliefs that ultimately support rape culture.”
But Peterson said one of the best aspects of greek life is having group mentality.
“The group mentality does not promote abusive activities,” Peterson said. “It promotes a team mentality where we all can work together to benefit ourselves as individuals and as a whole.”
Many figures in the media, such as Bill Maher, have been arguing for the ban of greek life everywhere. In 2013, the University of Central Florida did take a stance and halted all greek activities on campus.
But Luciano said this is a knee-jerk reaction to the situation, and eliminating greek life will not solve any problems.
“I’d rather take the approach of working with fraternities — teaching them bystander intervention, deconstructing masculinity and how to create a culture where all people are respected,” she said.
Natalie Mahoney, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, has never been involved with the group mentality of a sorority. She said she sees greek organizations evolving in the near future.
“It’s foolish to think things like underage drinking and sexual violence don’t happen at fraternity parties,” she said. “But I think because of the watchful eye everyone now has on greek life now, these behaviors won’t happen as much.”
There are ways to change the negative aspects of greek culture, Luciano said. Rutgers is an educational institution and needs to educate students inside and outside of the classroom.
"Those specific fraternities that are doing what their commitment says and treating other students with respect will hopefully be the ones that continue to be vocal, work on these issues and work collaboratively with programs like mine," Luciano said.