Most students have probably noticed a myriad of their peers in Greek Life promoting events on Facebook for the past two months. Cover photos are changed to advertise a Greek organization’s fundraising activities and Facebook events are shared to encourage attendance. These events, ranging from bake sales in Kogan Plaza to soccer on the National Mall, are all in the name of philanthropy.
I am in a sorority, Sigma Delta Tau, so I know how much work goes into the planning and execution of these philanthropy weeks. Most sorority and fraternity members, especially underclassmen, assist in the actual planning of the events or volunteer to work at them. In SDT and most Greek organizations, we look forward to philanthropy week because we get to raise money for organizations that do important work and spend time together as a Greek community.
But even though it’s great to raise money for worthy causes, students can’t gain the personal experiences that come from active volunteer work by simply purchasing a shirt to support a philanthropy. Donating money is helpful, but it’s also important that students in Greek life participate in community service that benefits others more than it benefits themselves. This is why, in addition to philanthropy weeks, Greek organizations should have community service weeks that involve hands-on volunteering in D.C.
Some sororities and fraternities already volunteer with local organizations, but these outings are infrequent and not mandatory like the philanthropy week events. Currently, the only instance during the school year when all Greek organizations participate in community service together is on Day of Service during Greek Week in November. Many sororities and fraternities do take advantage of additional community service opportunities, as my sorority has in the past year at the Capital Area Food Bank and Miriam’s Kitchen, but these opportunities typically only arise a couple of times a semester.
For Sigma Delta Tau and nearly all other Greek organizations, philanthropy is considered one of the key values that members are encouraged to pursue, which is why so much effort goes into the planning and promoting of philanthropy events. But in contrast to that, volunteering is currently viewed as more of an internal activity that brothers or sisters can choose to do when a service opportunity presents itself. If Greek organizations had hands-on community service weeks which were planned and promoted in a similar way to philanthropy weeks, volunteering could be seen as a much more engaging way to get involved with Greek life. These community service weeks should be implemented and enforced by the Panhellenic and Interfraternity councils.
Community service week could function similarly to philanthropy week in that it could feature multiple volunteering events over the span of six or seven days. The community service opportunities could include serving dinner to the homeless at Miriam’s Kitchen or Food & Friends, packing food at the Capital Area Food Bank or playing with children who are experiencing homelessness at The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project. Non-Greek students should also be invited to register for any of the volunteering events throughout the week, as easy access to events is one of the greatest strengths of philanthropy week. Additionally, there’s no reason why sororities and fraternities should limit their volunteering during a single semester or into only a seven-day period. This week should serve as a jumping off point to get Greek organizations volunteering around the District on a more frequent basis.
All of this isn’t to say that philanthropy weeks are ineffective or represent the Greek community in a bad light. However, it’s fair to argue that some members of sororities and fraternities attend philanthropy events just to have fun or take an Instagram photo without doing anything substantial. In fact, most of us in Greek life – including myself – have probably been guilty of this. It’s not necessarily the fault of individual members as much as it is the structure of philanthropy week and the sororities and fraternities themselves for not providing more opportunities to volunteer. It’s hard to criticize someone for not doing anything substantial when the occasions to help in a substantial way are few and far between.
There is a lack of consistent activity in community service in Greek Life and change is absolutely necessary. By implementing more options to serve, GW’s Greek life can both improve their reputation on campus and help out the community. A better image is something Greek life especially needs now, with fraternities and sororities under scrutiny and five chapters shut down in the last three years.
Sororities and fraternities should consider a hands-on community service week because students can’t experience what it means to truly help others by attending a bake sale or fundraiser at Roti. Donating money in any form is a very kind gesture from Greek organizations, but it’s entirely different when you volunteer for a hands-on activity like serving dinner to people experiencing homelessness. That personal connection is something that every student — regardless of whether or not they’re in a sorority or fraternity — should experience. Fundraising and volunteering are equally important, and it’s time for Greek organizations to reflect that.
Natalie Prieb, a sophomore majoring in English and creative writing, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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This article appeared in the October 12, 2017 issue of the Hatchet.