CCLS Spotlights Greek Life



Mollie Reilly

Two weeks after the executive summary of the Colgate Campus Life Survey (CCLS) was released, details have emerged about the contents of the full report. Several student groups, including Student Lecture Forum and Cushman House, have organized panels to discuss the survey, and The Colgate Maroon-News has obtained an unedited August 2009 draft of the CCLS. This version of the report, which includes the full analysis of the CCLS as well as free-response comments, was not released to the general public.

The survey reviewed student satisfaction as correlated to many demographic and social factors, such as race, gender, socioeconomic class and political affiliation. The data about the social factor of fraternity and sorority affiliation touches upon many of the issues covered in the other 12 chapters of the report.

The CCLS found that members of Greek-letter organizations are, as a group, more satisfied with their overall experience at Colgate. After race and class year, fraternity and sorority membership is the third best predictor of overall satisfaction at Colgate. The study attributes this to Greek students’ higher levels of contentment with the social climate, as Greek students’ and non-affiliated students’ reports do not differ significantly in happiness with academics.

Gender is also an important indicator of happiness within Greek affiliated students, as fraternity men report higher levels of happiness in regards to their social lives than sorority women do in regards to theirs. Additionally, fraternity men are more satisfied with how dating works at Colgate, as well as with the hook-up culture on campus. It is important to note that sorority women show the same level of unhappiness with dating and hook-up culture as unaffiliated women, despite the fact that sorority women have engaged in hook-ups almost as frequently as fraternity men.

Sorority women are also more likely than unaffiliated women to experience dating violence, sexual abuse, attempted sexual abuse, attempted sexual assault and sexual assault.

As compared to unaffiliated men, fraternity members are much more satisfied with the dating and hook-up culture. Affiliated men report having more sexual partners in the last year than every other group. This is seen as particularly important because satisfaction with the dating climate at Colgate is directly related to general satisfaction for all groups of students.

“This may explain why fraternity men are so satisfied with their Colgate experience; they are the only ones who are satisfied with the dating scene. They are also the only students for whom [sic] Pressure to Drink has no effect on [sic] Overall Satisfaction,” reads the report. 

Looking at the demographics of Greek members who responded to the survey also offers insight into the nature of the organizations. Fraternity and sorority members are disproportionately white and wealthy. 90 percent of Greek students, as reported in the survey, are white, as opposed to 75 percent of the whole population. Additionally, 75 percent of Greek affiliated students describe themselves as wealthy or upper middle class, as opposed to 62 percent of unaffiliated men and 55 percent of unaffiliated women. 

The survey also shows that members of Greek organizations drink significantly more than their non-affiliated classmates. Fraternity men report much higher levels of drinking – both in frequency of drinking occasions, as well as drinks consumed at a time – than all other groups. The study also shows that fraternity men are drinking three times as much as unaffiliated women per week. On an additional note, sorority and fraternity members are more likely to have hangovers that keep them from attending class. The study also places a good deal of emphasis on the finding that fraternity men feel much less pressured to drink than members of all other groups, and links this to their overall satisfaction with the campus climate. Fraternity men are the only group to report that the pressure to drink does not have a significant negative effect on their happiness at Colgate.

One important component of the report is its exhaustive institutional history of Greek life at Colgate. Going back to the first petitions for a secret society in 1843, the history details the evolution of the Greek system over the past 160 years, culminating in the 2008 suspension of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority and the recent efforts to establish historically African American, Latino and Jewish Greek-letter organizations. The institutional history also traces how issues of race and gender developed within the system over time, particularly with the 1968 Board of Trustees decision to ensure that all fraternity chapters engaged in non-discriminatory recruitment practices and the 1979 charters of the first sororities on campus.

The August 2009 draft of the report also contains comments from the free-response section of the survey. In this section, participants were invited to elaborate on any issues they felt were important to address. 708 responses were received, and a small sample of these comments is included in this draft of the report. These comments are not included in the version of the report now being distributed to campus governance groups. According to Interim President Lyle Roelofs, they are slated to be released in a separate document at an undisclosed date.

Of the 708 free responses received, 114 directly address Greek life at Colgate. These comments are evenly split between critics and defenders, with 52 responses that describe Greek life negatively and 51 that describe it positively. The critics of Greek life mainly address fraternity and sorority dominance of the campus social scene, as well as Greek life’s perceived promotion of “bad behaviors,” including racism, sexism, homophobia, the hook-up culture and binge drinking. In contrast, those who comment positively on Greek life defend the positive experiences that these organizations have to offer, as well as the contributions that fraternity and sorority members make to campus. They also write to complain about their perception of the University administration as being anti-Greek.

Additionally, 12 students wrote about underground Greek organizations. Only one of these comments spoke positively of these groups.

Nineteen students discussed the need to expand Greek life. Of these comments, nine specifically mentioned the necessity of a historically black sorority or fraternity on campus.

Nine students mentioned how crucial the relationship between Colgate alumni and Greek organizations is. They specifically addressed the importance of Greek alumni donations to Colgate, and how these donations would be put in jeopardy if Greek life were to be dismantled.

Associate Professor of Sociology Carolyn Hsu and Assistant Professor of Psychology Landon Reid, two of the authors of the survey, said they were asked by Roelofs not to discuss the full report until after the Presidential Forum scheduled for November 12. Likewise, Roelofs himself declined to comment for this story. However, Hsu and Reid did give insight into the survey’s origins, methodology and implications.

Despite there being a general national policy of Greek organizations to request that their members not identify their Greek affiliation when responding to surveys of this nature, Hsu and Reid emphasized the fact that the numbers of survey respondents who identified themselves as fraternity or sorority members matched up proportionally to the total percentage of Greek-affiliated students on campus. This population data, however, does not include students involved with organizations not recognized by the University.

Hsu and Reid also discussed the implications of the survey for Greek life. They pointed out that the survey is not all negatives, and it is important to recognize that Greek life does have a positive effect on the satisfaction of students involved. They also said that the survey gives Greek organizations the opportunity to address the issues brought up in the report, as well as to separate the fact from the fiction in commonly held beliefs and preconceptions about Greek life.

“This whole thing is a mirror being held up to our community,” Reid said. “It shows us the flaws and the best features of who we are.”