Not many speakers open their lectures by asking students to “take off their cool caps.” Not many speakers break out in song, complete with a guitar, and encourage students to “sing loudly.” Then again, Dr. Mari Ann Callais is not your average speaker.
Fraternity and sorority members joined Callais Tuesday night in the University Chapel for a unique presentation about the positive aspects of Greek life. As a member of the Greek community herself, Callais emphasized the importance of chapter values and rituals.
Head of Greek Affairs Kelly Opipari said that Gammi Phi Beta (Gamma Phi) researched “someone who could talk about fraternal values and what our core purposes are as an educational movement.”
“As a result, Gamma Phi sponsored Callais’ visit to Colgate because they wanted a positive speech instead of a you can’t do this speech,” Opipari said.
Callais’ enthusiasm and knowledge for brotherhoods and sisterhoods was evident throughout her speech.
“I’m one of those people who spends every day of their lives promoting Greek life,” Callais said.
She pointed to the fact that students in Greek organizations pledge their membership for a lifetime.
“You are who you are all of the time,” Callais said. “For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, I’ve agreed to be in this organization for the rest of my life. Greek life isn’t something you can compartmentalize and separate from you’re life.”
After bringing students on stage to sing “Lean On Me” and “American Pie,” Callais asked students why they decided to join their respective organizations. An array of reasons included “alumni connections,” “registered social functions” and “mandatory meetings.” Callais explained that joining a sorority or fraternity parallels entering a relationship.
“Going through the rush process is like dating,” she said. “When you accept your bid, it’s like deciding a partner. New member education acts as the engagement and initiation constitutes the wedding.”
Callais’ approach sparked the interest of many students.
“When she called some girls and guys onto the stage, began to sing and then asked everyone to sing with her, I knew it wasn’t going to be an ordinary presentation,” junior Gamma Phi Genevieve Jooste said “Everyone around me totally got into it. Unlike other speakers, she didn’t speak at us, but instead she got us involved and made us think for ourselves.”
Several fraternity members from Theta Chi stood up and recited their open creed after Collais asked audience members about their house’s history.
“Live your ritual,” Collais said. “Do you just wear letters, live in a house and think you’re cool? It’s more than just the parties; it’s about being you.”
Opipari agreed that rituals create identity among organizations.
“Each group’s ritual is the one major difference between it and any other fraternal organization,” Opipari said. “Our ritual connects us to all of the other hundreds of thousands of members of our organization throughout the last hundred and 30 or so years.”
The lecture took a more serious note when Callais mentioned the recent deaths of two college students at fraternities in Colorado.
“We mess up sometimes,” Callais said, “but your generation is either going to help [the Greek community] get better, or we’re going to lose.”
Her message about the future of Greeks, especially at Colgate, left students questioning what they can do to improve their communities.
“On the surface, this presentation seemed like just another mandatory meeting, but if you truly listened to what she was saying, her message was very important,” junior Beta Theta Pi (Beta) Sam Yazdanseta said. “Especially with the upcoming actions of the University, I hope the school realizes that rituals are important and they should be continued.”
Greek letters, fraternal vows and sisterhood promises may seem foreign for those students not involved in an organization.
“For a lot of people, it’s just Greek to them,” Callais said.
She emphasized the need for fraternity and sorority members to make other students aware of what Greek life is really about. She provided ways to make this happen are by taking rituals seriously and upholding the values and morals of one’s organization.
Opipari echoed the meanings of fraternal rituals.
“The ritual doesn’t have to be such a huge secret,” she said. “As a lifetime member of a fraternity or sorority, you should exemplify the characteristics demonstrated in your ritual in everything that you do. It’s a huge responsibility to live up to, but it is also really exciting when you think about all the different ways you are able to show your ritual to everyone who can’t be a part of an actual ritual ceremony.”
With the recent passing of Bid Day here at Colgate, Callais explained why making new members feel welcome is so important.
“[New members] are the future of this community,” Callais said. “The people you just brought in – teach them well.”
Jooste further underlined this point.
“Our new members have just gone through our ritual, but now they understand what it is truly about,” she said.
The presentation came to a close with a final song and pieces of insight from Callais.
“When Greek life goes right, it’s the best thing on a college campus,” Callais said. “The way you live as fraternal men and women at this school, on this campus, in this country, matters.”