Greek life hopes to fix reputation

Neil Smith, a member of Theta Delta Chi, said he understood brotherhood best when he got food poisoning sophomore year and all of his brothers met him at the hospital

“It’s like we were a real family.”

Smith organized GW’s first Greek Forum, during which members of the Greek-letter community said they are frustrated with negative stereotyping of fraternities and sororities.

Images of binge drinking, snobbery and sexism have outlived their time, members of Greek-letter organizations said. Yet these stereotypes are pervasive among University administrators and both national and on-campus media, they claimed.

“GW is a large campus, and you want a sense of belonging somewhere, a feeling like you can contribute to something,” said Theta Delta Chi member Jonathan Ruais. “Sometimes, you have a class of 50 people, and you can’t even raise your hand without feeling two inches tall. But, you can join a fraternity and your voice can be heard, and it will mean something.”

But the view outsiders have of Greek life can be different.

In the past two years, fraternities and sororities have been in the spotlight – two fraternities and a sorority lost their University recognition and fraternities have been criticized by advocates of women’s rights and University administrators.

People at the Greek Forum said they felt publications and the administration always remember fraternities and sororities for hazing violations and shoe trees, completely ignoring Greeks’ positive contributions.

The consensus among many Greek Forum attendees was that news stories about those recent incidents focus on a small minority within the Greek-letter community and unfairly represent all the organizations led by the Panhellenic Association, the Interfraternity Council and the National Pan-hellenic Council.

Panhellenic executive board member Eryn Klein said publications neglected to cover events such as Greek Week, Career Day, Casino Night and various community service efforts.

An Alpha Phi Alpha step show was a major event of Homecoming weekend and was not mentioned in stories about the weekend, said Vania Smith, president of NPHC.

The goal of the Greek Forum was to initiate better communication and to unify the Greek-letter community, Neil Smith said. The Greek Forum also was developed to improve relations between the administration and the sororities and fraternities.

Panhellenic President Carrie Jablonow said student publications may not have sent reporters to their community events, but the administration did not show up either.

The administration is seldom invited, according to LeNorman Strong, assistant vice president of student academic support special services.

“The fraternities and sororities the administration knew (when they were in college) were in different schools in a different time with different pressures, and they just don’t know what to do with us,” Jablonow said. “They are just as responsible for focusing on the negative as the publications.”

Greek Forum participants said they were disenchanted by the administration’s use of “negative reinforcement” to handle recent alcohol-related hazing violations.

At the Greek Forum, concerns were raised by various audience members that political organizations get coverage and praise, whereas the Greek-letter community does not.

“You see the spotlight on `Joe College Democrat,’ ” Jablonow said. “But what about that random person in the Greek-letter community with a leadership position?”

She said stereotypes are perpetuated and people’s feelings are hurt when they read stories about rush which do not include the perspectives of those who pledge in the Greek community and see cartoons depicting sorority members in “tight black pants.”

“Lack of balanced coverage leads to the perpetuation of stereotypes,” Vania Smith said. “If coverage was more balanced, people would be able to make a choice about Greek-letter life for themselves.”

IFC President Ethan Baumfeld said around 1,000 GW students comprise the Greek-letter community and their positive actions are denied coverage in publications that are “supposed to be student newspapers.”

“Those 1,000 members generate more community service hours, raise more money for philanthropy and perform academically above the all-male and all-female GPA, on average, than any other organization,” Baumfeld said.

Klein said students outside the organizations know little about the traditions and rituals within chapters.

“These ceremonies were started at colleges hundreds of years ago,” she said. “Organizations such as the Student Association and the Program Board can’t touch that.”

On the other hand, despite having said he felt the Greek-letter community does not get proper coverage, Neil Smith said, “We have to realize that The Hatchet is going to report on hazing and if we want that stopped, we’re going to have to stop it ourselves.”

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