STATUS OF GREEK LIFE AT PENN STATE

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The following assessment was developed from on-line sources and input from, and interviews with, individuals closely involved with Greek life at Penn State.

There are 43 fraternities (3 Co-ed), with 36 in the Inter-Fraternity Council and 27 sororities consisting of 12% of the undergraduate student body. The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life (OFSL) has 11 staff positions in OFSL with two posted vacancies; the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Compliance (OFSC) has eight positions. OFSL has implemented many new programs including mandatory pre- and post- recruitment training in alcohol abuse, hazing, sexual assault, bystander intervention, mental health and good citizenship. OFSL conducts mandatory new member (i.e., pledge) program reviews with 68 evaluated in fall 2018. Optional training, open to the public, is also offered. OFSL will sponsor a four-hour workshop on April 28 for Alumni House Corporation members and advisors.  

OFSL is encouraging fraternities to meet with first semester freshman to build a prospect list for immediate use when the spring formal recruitment period begins. Although fraternities still can’t “rush” first semester freshman (i.e., freshmen with less than 14 completed credits), they are free to schedule open houses and other similar informational and familiarization activities to inform anyone of what they have to offer. Fraternities are being encouraged to do so early in the fall semester before housing commitments are made for the next year.

OFSC had a very rocky start in the beginning and we saw chapters getting into conduct issues that probably never should have escalated to that point. Now that they have established themselves and have a set of best practices to operate from, we are seeing less issues. We have noticed an increase in their willingness to work with chapters to resolve issues without resulting to sanctions. Minor infractions are addressed but not punished unless they become a reoccurring problem. Four fraternities have a suspension ending this spring and one extends through the spring of 2022. The house corporation of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, with its chapter’s suspension ending this spring, has chosen to rent its house (corner of Pugh & Beaver) to a sorority, Phi Sigma Sigma, for a three-year term with alumni use of the first floor during the summer break.  In January, OFSL reported a 22% decrease in incidents cited by the Borough.

Recruitment is improving. Summary: Fall 18: Average of 10 bids accepted per 36 IFC chapters, average GPA of new members was 3.2; Spring 19: 16 and 3.3. Additionally, the professional fraternities and sororities on the Penn State campus like Tau Phi Delta, Delta Theta Sigma, Sigma Alpha, Alpha Rho Chi and Alpha Zeta are currently working together to write by-laws and form a council.  The advantage of this will be their ability to recruit all year long.

Other developments: Pi Lambda Phi recently has sold or is selling its house with the first right to rent it for its residence. Phi Kappa Tau is recolonizing this semester and will start anew in Fall ‘19 in their house. IFC held a spring brunch at Lambda Chi Alpha on March 31 as part of its neighborhood outreach program.

Today’s Greek recruits continue to see the advantages of membership, such as:

  • Finding a support group that helps with adjusting to college life
  • Gaining access to resources that help students achieve their academic goals
  • Learning leadership skills through hands-on experience
  • Gaining confidence to get involved in other campus organizations and activities
  • Dedicating time to philanthropy and community service projects (e.g., the Inter-Fraternity

Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (aka THON) raised over $10 million this year)

Continuing concerns: (1) Delayed recruitment and push for students to move into apartments has hurt house occupancy. Living in the house is not a priority and is not as appealing as the apartments. Alumni constantly sell new members that living in a fraternity is actually less expensive than the variety of apartment options. Some houses report buy-in by their actives. (2) As long as the party and underage drinking culture is the principal focus of fraternities, seniors have little motivation to remain in fraternity houses when they can party downtown with little restriction and live in a higher quality residence. (3) In order for a chapter to be sustainable long-term, there needs to be a consistent alumni presence to hold the chapter accountable for their actions and to maintain the chapter's standards. (4) Many freshman do not see the fraternity has a life-long commitment. They plan on being involved in the fraternity primarily as a sophomore and some of their junior year. Seniors have been checking out.

Overall, the system is improving. This academic year has been viewed by some as a rebuilding year with many of the former party – party – party culture moving on or graduating. The keys to keeping upperclassmen in the fraternity houses are providing meaningful (non-alcoholic) brotherhood experiences/activities and providing a well-maintained property with good quality common area furnishings/amenities. The university and the chapters need to come to the table to decide what they would like our Greek System to look like and commit fully to achieving that vision. Both parties are making progress on this but another incident could easily undo this hard work.

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