Guest Column by Scott Reikofski | Commending our chapters

· January 21, 2014, 3:36 pm   ·  Updated January 21, 2014, 8:13 pm

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Greekin’ Out

Greek Life can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. In our first “Table Talk,” we asked our columnists — and others in the Penn community — to chime in on the pros and cons of Greek culture at Penn.

Fraternities have been on college campuses since December 1776, providing a values-based experience, a home away from home, peer challenges and support for hundreds of thousands of students. While each fraternity or sorority has its own ceremonies and rituals, all of these organizations are rooted in scholarship, service and brother or sisterhood. Unsurprisingly, Penn’s Greek community is among the oldest in the nation, celebrating 165 continuous years.

Today, Penn is home to 50 different recognized Greek organizations: 30 Interfraternity Council chapters, eight Panhellenic chapters and 12 chapters in the Multicultural Greek Council. More than a third of the undergraduate student body participates in fraternity or sorority life, and we anticipate upwards of 1,000 new members joining the Greek community this semester. I urge student leaders in all chapters to act responsibly as they welcome these new members into our fold.

Attitudes and social environments within organizations ebb and flow constantly as new people join, drift off or graduate. We are pleased that so many of Penn’s Greek chapters are known for cultivating open-minded, supportive environments where diversity is welcomed and celebrated. Penn is home to historically Christian-based chapters that sponsor Shabbat dinners for their Jewish members. Our gay, bisexual and lesbian students find warm and safe chapters to join. We are especially proud that the racial makeup of the Greek community now mirrors the overall diversity of the University’s undergraduate population. Educational efforts continue as we work to ensure that all chapters are places of encouragement and acceptance.

Recent assessments done by the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life through a national study indicate that the levels of overall satisfaction in Penn’s Greek community is up, and overall learning and program effectiveness have improved significantly. Some of our chapters post the highest grade point averages of all chapters in their national organization. IFC members at Penn earn slightly higher grades than male undergraduate averages, and Panhellenic GPAs are significantly higher than the average for all Penn undergraduate women.

We are proud of these academic achievements, especially because Greek members devote considerable time outside of classes and studying to chapter activities and campus-wide leadership positions. Each year, Penn’s Greek community notches 17,500 hours of hands-on community service while raising $125,000 for local and national charities.

“Sure … that all sounds nice,” you say. “But what about the alcohol? The hazing? The wild parties?”

These are societal issues that are present on high school and college campuses nationwide, and are visible across the entire student body, not just in fraternities and sororities. While there are certainly chapters that have earned their reputations and stereotypes, our office works closely with the Greek community to educate members to not be just bystanders, but thoughtful, caring peers, respectful neighbors and mature stewards of the legacies of their national chapters and alumni.

Recognized Greek organizations benefit from close advising by trained staff that help students grow into leaders who make wise choices and take responsibility for their actions. Penn’s official fraternities and sororities also benefit from meaningful friendships and mentoring that their members receive from alumni.

While Penn is home to chapters that offer something for most students, I recognize that Greek life as we know it isn’t for every student. It’s always possible that you may be interested in joining, but are still searching for an organization that fulfills your own concept of service, sisterhood or brotherhood. To these students we say: You’re in luck! Our community is actively growing, with new chapters coming online each year. Opportunities exist to shape an organization from its infancy.

In conclusion, I thank the student body for its support and inclusion of the fraternity and sorority community, a historic element of undergraduate life and one of Penn’s many grand traditions. A strong, positive fraternity and sorority experience is a superlative compliment to the rigorous academic experience students receive at Penn.

Scott Reikofski is the director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. He can be reached at ?reikofsk@upenn.edu.

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