Greek Life Then and Now

In the face of negative media portrayals, Oregon’s Greek life must prove itself

Members of Chi Psi pose with their parents after conquering Spencer Butte on Parent’s Weekend. (Courtesy of Chi Psi)

By UO student Lili Wagner

“Here are your grade point averages, Mr. Kroger: two Cs, two Ds and an F. That's a 1.2. Congratulations, Kroger. You're at the top of the Delta pledge class,” character Dean Vernon Wormer of 1978’s Animal House says, confronting members of the fictional Delta Tau Chi fraternity. Though the raucous film chronicling the exploits of fraternity life was filmed on the University of Oregon campus, Greek life at Oregon is very different.

Today, the University of Oregon's 33 social Greek-lettered organizations boast of higher GPAs than ever before. Members have higher rates of community service, and chapters host more philanthropic events. Under the leadership of Justin Shukas, the newly appointed Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, the UO's Greek community seeks to combat the challenges of hazing and high rates of substance abuse, bringing progressive policies to Oregon's campus while maintaining the sacred traditions of Greek-lettered organizations.

Greek alumni sometimes worry about how the Greek community has changed over time. Movies such as Animal House, Neighbors, and 22 Jump Street, as well as television shows such as Greek and Blue Mountain State undoubtedly give cause for concern.

But Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) is fighting these negative media portrayals. Justin Shukas laughed, “It’s ironic—a lot of alumni associate fraternity and sorority life with Animal House since it was filmed here. A lot has changed since then.”

From national initiatives to local policy changes, the Greek community is shifting. A dry Greek community since 2002, when Oregon’s fraternities and sororities led the national Select 2000 initiative, UO FSL maintains safety as a priority. Members of the Select 2000 vowed to uphold the founding principles of Greek life and committed to providing substance-free housing. In theory, under this dry system alcohol is not allowed in any Greek house.

Of course, in practice trials arise. The University of Oregon was recently named one of the nation's Top 20 Party Schools by the Princeton Review. The role of the Greek system in earning this title is unclear, but it is certain that dry initiatives have not cleansed the campus of alcohol. However, a comparison of statistics kept by the UO Health Center and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reveals that UO students are less likely to drink in general, and much less likely to binge drink, than their national peers.

But despite challenges, Oregon’s Greek life is crawling back from a period of steep decline. FSL now compromises 15 percent of the undergraduate population and is one of the largest student organizations on campus.

Sisters of Alpha Chi Omega’s 2013 pledge class smile
after receiving their bids. (Courtesy of Alpha Chi

Alumna Carol Comeau ’63, a member of Alpha Chi Omega sorority, agreed that Greek life today is stereotyped as party-oriented but said, “I’ve visited the Alpha Chi house five or six times and I’m impressed with Alpha Chi and the sororities in general. I think they do more philanthropy and community service today. Sororities in particular have taken on the responsibility of improving the image of Greek life.”

Comeau concluded that she is pleased with her chapter today. Last year, Alpha Chi Omega won two awards in the Fraternity and Sorority Life Excellence Awards, including Outstanding Chapter Officer. Comeau declared, “I’m very proud to be an Alpha Chi.”

Fraternities too are working to improve their image. Last spring quarter, fraternity men had higher average GPAs than non-affiliated men at the UO. Sigma Chi was awarded Most Outstanding Philanthropy in the 2014 Fraternity and Sorority Life Excellence Awards, and raised record-setting funds in their Derby Days philanthropy, the proceeds of which benefit Nike’s N7 Fund, founded in 2000 to benefit Native American communities.

Conor McCue, a current member of Chi Psi fraternity where he holds the position of Scholarship Chair and which he represents on the Junior Greek Council, said, “I think media portrayals of Greek life are exaggerated. When partying behaviors do exist, fraternities do a good job of holding individuals accountable with different academic and service standards.”

Shukas is proud of the development of Oregon’s Greek life but said he would love to see “more traditions, new traditions.” Shukas argues that traditions improve the relationship between current and former members of Greek life.

“My favorite tradition is Birthday Banquet,” said McCue of Chi Psi’s annual banquet which draws current and former Chi Psi members. “It’s a nice gathering because you can see the brotherhood extending back sixty years.”

“Some chapters do alumni events,” said Shukas. “The alumni love to give back and mentor current students.” He suggests that involvement in the Greek community keeps alumni engaged with their institution.

This year, sororities kick off Fall Formal Recruitment on Wednesday, October 8. In a process of mutual selection that will be familiar to sorority alumnae, potential new members, or as they’re nicknamed, “PNMs”, first visit every sorority on campus during three Leadership Days. After their initial visits to the houses, PNMs are invited back for Philanthropy Day to learn about each chapter’s different philanthropic work. Next, the recruits return for Sisterhood Day, during which they are given tours of their favorite houses. Finally, PNMs visit their top three houses for Preference Night, an evening of sacred ritual, before receiving their formal bids on Bid Day.

Fraternities go about the recruitment process more casually. After the Interfraternity Council Recruitment Kick-Off Sunday September 28, recruits are invited to attend events with brothers that can range in nature from games of flag football to formal dinners before receiving their bids.

In addition to the traditional North-American Interfraternity Conference fraternities and National Panhellenic Conference sororities, UO also hosts four National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations that celebrate an African American cultural legacy, and one gender-inclusive “frarority” that promotes leadership, change, and growth in the queer and trans communities.

With expansion on the horizon, including the 2015 re-colonization of Sigma Kappa sorority and the 2017 re-colonization of Delta Zeta sorority, Oregon Greek life is working hard to defy media expectations and strengthen the UO community.