As universities across the country suspend fraternities and sororities, USFSP aims to bring Greek life to campus.
By Emily Wunderlich
Despite the shadow cast by Florida State University’s recent ban on Greek life, Student Government still sees a place for it at USF St. Petersburg.
“Fraternity and sorority life represents that sense of spirit on campus that we could really use more of,” said Mariah McQueen, senate committee and policy chair and junior marketing major. “I think it would be a great way to create tradition. That’s something we’ve been really wanting to work on.”
Last Tuesday, FSU suspended all fraternity and sorority activities after the death of Andrew Coffey, a fraternity pledge, at an off-campus party.
To destigmatize Greek life, Student Government refers to it as “fraternity and sorority life” – or FSL for short.
The acronym is meant to draw attention to the academic and professional aspects of Greek life, rather than the social ones.
Last month, the organization polled students to gauge their attitudes regarding FSL. Of the 505 respondents, 63.56 percent expressed interest in bringing FSL to campus, regardless of their intent to join.
Voter turnout for the survey was two times greater than that of senate elections, which only yielded 250 votes.
According to McQueen, first-year students made up most of the vote – 39 percent of it – while sophomores made up 18.42 percent, juniors 20 percent and seniors 22.5 percent.
SG will host a town hall meeting Monday in Bayboro 220 from 3-4 p.m. to share the rest of the results with the student body and answer any additional questions they might have.
After the meeting, SG plans to reach out to consultants, who will assess whether the campus environment supports Greek life.
Based on the consultants’ findings, SG will then begin interviewing representatives from different Greek organizations to determine how well they would suit our campus.
“We’re going to take it one step at a time,” McQueen said. “Right now, it looks like students are really interested in it, so then we’ll move onto the next step with the consultant. Then, if we still feel like the students are really wanting to have this happen on campus, we will continue.”
USF St. Petersburg’s first Greek life proposal appeared in the 2003-2008 Strategic Plan. Strategy No. 2 of the plan specifically mentioned Greek life in seeking to “increase student engagement through expanded and enhanced opportunities for student involvement.”
In 2013, SG resolved to approve Greek life with the sole purpose of giving “back to the community and the campus by becoming highly involved with activities, community service, and helping to create a better campus experience.”
Its Spring 2015 Resolution cited “housing, networking or leadership skills, and philanthropic interests” as benefits of introducing Greek life to campus.
However, Student Government is considering housing alternatives that mimic the Living Learning Communities that already exist on campus.
“We don’t want to designate off-campus houses necessarily. We might put them in floors in the residence halls so we’re supporting them in that there’s not students just going off and clustering together, but practicing safe behaviors,” said David Thompson, student body president and senior political science major.
McQueen hopes that Greek life will also offer a support system much like Compass does for freshmen.
“With our retention rate right now and how we want to boost it, I think it would create a sense of belonging – not only for first year students but for everyone,” she said.
Over the decades, media coverage has become clouded with alcohol-related hazing incidents, sexual violence and even deaths in fraternities and sororities across the country.
As chartering president of service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, junior psychology major Amber Piazza says this should not be considered as the norm.
“A lot of Greek organizations get bad names from a few college kids that did some horrible, stupid and immature decisions that can result in tragedy in some cases,” she said. “Just because you join a Greek organization doesn’t make you a bad person.”
Hank Nuwer, a Franklin College journalism professor, has dedicated the past 30 years to studying hazing on college campuses.
According to Nuwer, there has been at least one hazing-related death in the U.S. every year since 1969.
Additionally, a 2007 study by researchers John Foubert, Johnathan Newberry and Jerry Tatum at the College of William and Mary was the third to suggest that fraternity men are three times more likely to commit sexual assault than other college men.
Freshman graphic design major Mary Kate Brittain says she wouldn’t mind having Greek life on campus as long as campus leaders take the necessary precautions to ensure student safety.
“I think it would be a great way to have new students meet others and create a healthy community, but I know someone will take it to the extreme, so with that in mind, there has to be someone responsible for overseeing the activities such as rushing and Greek life events,” Brittain said.
With seven active Greek organizations on campus, Thompson and McQueen agree that USF St. Petersburg has the small-school advantage over FSU, which has 54, according to its FSL website.
“Think about how many staff members there are supporting the 4,800 students that attend this university,” Thompson said.
“But how many people were supporting the Greek life at FSU? I’m not saying they didn’t do what they needed to do, but you also need to realistically look at it and say … ‘Are we doing this in the right way?’”
SG anticipates expanding staff positions in the Office of Leadership and Student Organization as Greek life grows.
“As student leaders we recognize that we have to hold our organizations accountable,” Thompson said.
“We need to take the conversations seriously and we also need to make sure there is support for the organizations … We want to definitely make sure they have fun and enjoy and learn from these opportunities, but we also want to give them everything that they need to do it successfully,” Thompson said.
McQueen doesn’t think the controversy surrounding Greek life is a new phenomenon.
“This definitely isn’t a new thing. Yes, with the uprise of media, it has been coming to more awareness, but this has been going on for decades at least. I think definitely the time to learn – or start doing something from what we’re learning – is now,” McQueen said.
Information from the New York Times was included in this report.
Pictured Above: Pi Kappa Phi (Upsilon chapter) house at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Andrew Coffey, 20, was a pledge of Pi Kappa Phi at FSU when he was found dead Nov. 3, resulting in the immediate revocation of the chapter’s charter. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.