The Changing Face of Greek Life

Colgate’s Greek Life organizations are already preparing for next semester’s recruitment, as was seen last Wednesday when sorority members sported “Go Greek” t-shirts all across campus. There is a different atmosphere this year, however, as there will only be three recognized sororities holding recruitment next year. The Dean of the College office has rejected the Panhellenic Association’s Extension Proposal, which set out to colonize new sororities for the upcoming academic year in response to Kappa Alpha Theta’s four-year suspension last semester.

The proposal requested the addition of two National Panhellenic Conference sororities and one multicultural sorority to Colgate’s Greek Life system. This proposal, if accepted, would have brought the number of recognized sorority chapters even with fraternity chapters.

The October 31, 2008 issue of The Colgate Maroon-News reported that the Extension Committee was quite optimistic that they would succeed in convincing Vice President and Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson that adding a sorority would be a good thing for Colgate.

“The statistics show that more and more girls each year are going through recruitment,” then-President of the Colgate Panhellenic Association senior Shannon Smigen said in October. “There was probably a need for another sorority even before [Theta’s suspension].”

Dean Johnson did not seem so optimistic, however, stating in October that she found it “ironic that we’re talking about expansion under these circumstances. The focus should be on how we tackle the problems that led to the loss of a sorority…in the first place.”

Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Scott Brown, who is in charge of Colgate Greek Life, has now echoed that position in explaining why the proposal was rejected.

“Our energy and support is going into strengthening our existing [Greek Life] system rather than expanding the system,” Brown said. “The decision is about enhancing and amplifying the best aspects of Greek life – leadership, scholarship and character – and minimizing the negative aspects, particularly as they relate to the health, safety and dignity of all students.”

Brown said that he has been very happy with the amount of passion that students have shown in support of the extension process, but stated that, with regards to expanding the Greek Life system, “We’re just not there yet.”

Brown explained that he hoped that the decision would not be seen as an attempt to create an “us versus them” atmosphere with the administration and Greek Life, and said that he will continue to “work closely with Greek leaders” to resolve issues and strengthen the existing system.

Regardless of Brown’s support for Greek Life, some students seem to feel that the Extension Proposal’s rejection is indicative of an anti-Greek agenda on the part of the administration.

Current Colgate Panhellenic Association President junior Michelle Vatalaro feels that the administration has been supportive of Greek Life.

“The administration really has the best interests of the students at heart,” Vatalaro said. “Although disappointing, the administration’s decision about extension is not fully reflective of their attitudes towards Greek Life, and it won’t be a defining factor in our relationship.”

Vatalaro explained the “strengthening” that needs to occur in Greek Life before expansion takes place.

“We need to increase diversity and inclusiveness in the Greek system and also have more emphasis on scholarship,” Vatalaro said. “Essentially, we want to strengthen the bonds of sisterhood in existence.”

Vatalaro explained that, while it may be difficult and new, the three recognized sororities are excited about next year.

“There is definitely a positive attitude about recruitment next year,” Vatalaro said. “We’ve made some changes to make it work better for current sisters and potential new members. We’re trying to make it more comfortable.”

Vatalaro mentioned that changes in recruitment have not been finalized as of this article, but one change that has been made is a switch to a five-day recruitment schedule.

She did say that new member classes in all three sororities are expected to consist of roughly 65 women each, and stressed that the lower number of sororities next year will not make recruitment more exclusive.

Some students question the viability of such large classes, especially in regards to forming meaningful relationships within the classes, though those students declined to comment publicly for this article.

“Everybody’s nervous about having so many new members,” Vatalaro said. “Some say that it will make it more difficult to get to know the sisters. I don’t think that is going to be the case. We are approaching recruitment very responsibly, and each chapter is taking steps to prepare. Personally, I’m really excited about having so many new members.”

Another change in Greek Life next semester will be the filling of the Director of Greek Life position that was left vacant this semester when Tim Mansfield became Director of Alumni Affairs. Current administration and Greek leaders are spending this week interviewing candidates to fill the Director position.

“I am hoping for [a Director of Greek Life] who will work closely to establish real relationships with the chapters,” Vatalaro said.

The face of Colgate’s Greek Life will go through many changes next semester, but Brown stressed that he is excited to continue working cooperatively with Greek leaders to make those changes positive ones.

“Greek Life is an amazing part of the fabric of this institution,” Brown said, “And we have a great momentum for strength.”