On the field, sophomore quarterback Eddie Jenkins is a star for Penn sprint football. But off the field, the Delta Kappa Epsilon President is one of many student-athletes who seek another family in Penn's Greek life.

Credit: Sam Holland

A sense of community, a strong brotherhood and sisterhood, and the pride that comes with being a part of something bigger than yourself are all reasons students join groups at Penn.

Therefore, it should not be a surprise that student-athletes highlight these reasons to not only justify their involvement with sports, but also their involvement with Greek life.

Fraternities and sororities are an integral part of the social scene on campus. In all, approximately 25 percent of the student body accepts a bid to one of the 49 chapters on campus, with even more joining numerous off-campus chapters.

Given Penn’s emphasis on Greek life, it is not surprising that varsity athletes join such organizations.

A prime example is the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon, better known as DKE. Roughly half of DKE is composed of sprint football players and the varsity lightweight football team. Among its members is 2017 First-Team All-Collegiate Sprint Football League quarterback Eddie Jenkins.

Though not particularly set on joining a fraternity before coming to Penn, Jenkins quickly realized he wanted to be a part of the camaraderie many of his teammates enjoyed off the field.

“It was definitely one of, if not the biggest factor in my decision,” Jenkins, currently DKE's President said reflecting on sprint football’s impact on him joining DKE. “I looked around at some other places, but at the end of the day, I just wanted to live with as many of my teammates as I could. I knew that the bond we had, not only being teammates, but being fraternity brothers would only grow stronger.”

In Jenkins' freshman sprint football class, eight of the twelve athletes elected to join DKE. Though this year’s freshman pledge class only has five sprint football members, the sprint football-DKE connection is something Jenkins and his brothers take pride in.

Still, most fraternities and sororities on campus are not linked to a particular sports team, and many athletes join Greek life specifically to meet a completely new set of faces outside of their sport. 

That was particularly the case with sophomore tennis player Kaden Funk, who pledged Beta Theta Pi last spring. 

“I had a great group of guys on the tennis team. However I kind of just wanted to expand a little bit and meet kids outside of tennis and the sports team,” Funk said. “I didn’t want to limit my Penn experience to just being around guys on my tennis team. I wanted to meet a lot of interesting people who don’t play sports.”

Even with the desire to meet new people, Funk joined Beta Theta Pi with fellow sophomore tennis players Robby Smithline and Max Cancilla. Each of them saw joining a fraternity as a way to experience college social life individually and collectively. 

“With my fraternity guys, it’s kind of a breath of fresh air from the stress of tennis and athletics in general.“ Funk said. “I am able to just talk to them about matters outside of the scope of tennis while being able to set the sport aside.”

Funk, like so many other students, is well aware of Penn’s notorious high-stress environment. Coming back to a chapter house with all of his brothers provides a necessary escape from his busy student-athlete schedule.

On the flip side, many female varsity athletes also elect to join sororities. One of those is sophomore Alpha Phi sister and volleyball player Madison Goldstein. Like Funk, Goldstein wanted to meet people from other walks of life. However, unlike Funk and Jenkins, her team did not play as big of a role in what sorority she joined.

“As a freshman, none of my teammates were in APhi so I didn’t even know it existed until rush,” Goldstein reflected.

Despite not entering the same sisterhood as any of her teammates, the other volleyball players influenced her to join a sorority. 

“A lot of my teammates were in Greek life and they kept saying how much they enjoyed their experiences,” Goldstein said. “They also kept saying how completely manageable it was to do both. So I just decided to go through rush.”

Now in her third semester in APhi, her sorority experience has only validated what her teammates told her. In particular, she points to the relative ease in which she’s balanced her school, sports, and social life, pointing to how all three compliment each other. Furthermore, APhi and volleyball are not always mutually exclusive. 

“During my season, some APhi girls will come to my games with signs,” Goldstein said. “It’s nice because I’ll see both groups, not only in their respective seasons.”

Still, during volleyball season she spends more time with her team because athletics is always her first priority. However, Goldstein is equally close to the girls in both of her extracurricular commitments.

What is particularly intriguing about Goldstein’s experience when compared with Funk’s and Jenkins’ is that she did not join with any of her teammates. Though everyone has their own unique experience during rush, differences in fraternity versus sorority rush could explain the varying cases above.

For example, on-campus sororities are not allowed to “dirty rush” in the first semester.

Dirty rush refers to having informal rush events throughout first semester to get acquainted with incoming freshmen or transfer students before official rush begins in January. Going into fraternity rush, potential new members have a strong sense on where they want to rush or where they will likely receive bids based on experiences over the course of first semester.

Sororities on the other hand, are forced to evaluate around 1000 women over the course of a mere week for roughly 50 spots. 

Given less exposure, women are inherently forced to make more hasty judgement when picking their sorority, as opposed to when men pick a fraternity. Frat rushers tend to go to events with friends, while women rushing sororities are put in random groups and go from house to house. As a result, frats are more likely to rush and give bids to friend groups, including guys from the same sports team.

Essentially, women are forced to rush more as individuals than men.

Ultimately, athletes do not want to leave a team environment when their seasons end, and fraternities and sororities function as “social teams” away from the courts and fields. As long as athletes continue to keep their grades up and remain upstanding ambassadors of Penn on and off the field, the Greek life-athlete connection at Penn should be celebrated and further encouraged. 

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