Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

Koenig: Is Greek life the solution to a struggling Gorham campus?

Posted on October 24, 2011 in Letter From The Editor, Perspectives
By Paul Koenig

Editor-in-Chief Paul Koenig
Chelsea Ellis | The Free Press
Editor-in-Chief Paul Koenig

Colleen Corbett arrived at USM in the fall of 2008, after choosing the university over other schools for what she saw as a vibrant campus life and active Greek community. Three years later, and the campus isn’t the same.

“It makes me sad to see the way everything has changed. Greek life is dying,” she said.

In the last couple years, the fraternity Phi Kappa Sigma lost its house over unpaid taxes and code violations and had its charter revoked by its national organization due to low membership. The sorority Phi Mu also had its charter revoked for low membership. And last fall the Gorham Town Council passed two ordinances banning future off-campus Greek housing and restricting the existing houses.

It’s a shame to see Greek life at USM in such disrepair. Many students, like Corbett, a member of Sigma Iota Sigma, have discovered Greek life as a way to meet friends, stay active in the community and maintain their academics. Regardless of your personal feelings about fraternities and sororities, their positive effect on many students is undeniable.

Greek life isn’t the only facet of campus life that has gone downhill since Corbett and many other students arrived. The Gorham campus as a whole has fallen backwards. I’ve heard a lot of students complain how much less active the Gorham campus is compared to when they first came to USM, and the numbers back it up. We published a story in September about how a third of the beds in Gorham are empty — enough to fill both Upperclass and Robie-Andrews halls.

“When I go to Gorham on the weekends it’s absolutely dead. Everyone on campus goes home,” Corbett said. “It feels like a ghost town. There’s nothing going on.”

Recently USM President Selma Botman formed a taskforce to examine ways to stimulate a more vibrant community on the Gorham campus. The task force’s goals are to bring more classes to Gorham and develop strategies to keep students on campus to create greater community. Two students, including Student Body President Chris Camire, are on the taskforce that is otherwise made up of administrators and faculty.

Greek life isn’t the only way to develop community at a university campus, but it’s still an important component of campus life. Corbett said she doesn’t think USM is doing enough to include Greek life.

“When I first came, there was always involvement on campus between the fraternities and sororities and the campus. Now it feels almost like the campus is pushing them away,” Corbett said. “They make it seem like it’s something new students shouldn’t get involved with.”

Our article about the Gorham revitalization taskforce garnered many online comments about the dismal state of Gorham. Many agreed with Corbett’s view about Greek life being a vital component, while others gave an often-heard opinion about how the split campuses of Gorham and Portland hinder any university-wide community. I wholeheartedly agree with both these sentiments.

With two main campuses, many part-time and non-traditional students, and the fact that the majority of students are commuters, it’s impossible to develop an overall USM community. However, it’s not too late to give up on Gorham. Before USM’s newest marketing campaign that began last academic year, USM had made a deliberate push to attract traditional, 18-24 year old students. It was an almost $400 thousand campaign that Botman has called an error (it was enacted before she came in 2008). Although they saw more applicants initially, USM is still looking for ways to give Gorham a shot of life.

USM will continue losing students looking for a strong campus life if major changes aren’t made to Gorham. It will never be a giant residential campus like the University of Maine. But Gorham, which already feels isolated, can still become a destination for high school graduates looking for an active campus community, even if much of the overall USM population doesn’t fit into that mold.

USM can’t be everything to everyone. All it can do is be the very best for as many people as possible. If that means more cooperation with Greek life, then USM should embrace the sororities and fraternities. If more drastic measures are needed, then administration needs to be able to make the difficult decisions. Regardless, USM needs to act.

“Why would people want to come to a school when it’s lifeless?” asked Corbett. “I really hope for the school’s sake, they can pull it together.”

Me too.

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  • Vbpvjlri

    As a member of Kappa Delta Phi, I think that Greek Life can definitely be an attraction for the uphill battle that is re-populating Gorham. One of the greatest attractions for keeping students living on campus would be involvement in extra-curricular activities. As a whole, Greek Life is one of the largest groups on campus as far as active participants go. Currently there are 3 actively recognized fraternities at USM: Sigma Nu, Kappa Delta Phi, and Delta Chi. There are also 2 actively recognized sororities: Alpha Xi Delta and Kappa Iota. The university as a whole is somewhat indifferent about Greek Life, with some feeling that it is advantageous, while others feel that Greek Life encourages miscreant behavior. One misconception is that Greek Life does not involve itself in the community, however I can speak on behalf of my organization, which has participated in over 400 hours of community service since the beginning of the year. With more encouragement, I feel that Greek Life could flourish in Gorham, creating an atmosphere of camaraderie and community involvement. As I said, Greek Life is one of the largest, if not the largest, involved group of students in the USM community. With support, Greek Life at USM could become further involved in the university as a whole, being a voice for the student body, and providing service to many community and university events. The stronger that Greek Life becomes at USM, the more active the base student population will become, creating more of a reason for students to remain on campus after their first year, and even attracting more students to live on campus in order to participate in one of the most active campus communities.     

  • Anonymous

    I find it ironic that the Free Press continues to quote members of Sigma Iota Sigma, a group not recognized by the University for refusing to give of their hazing practices. If you’re going to look at the state of Greek Life at USM, you should at least be talking to members of the recognized organizations: Sigma Nu, Alpha Xi Delta, Kappa Delta Phi, Kappa Iota and Delta Chi.

  • Emily

    The only reason I selected USM over one of the top accounting schools in New England was because USM had a greek system.  Joining Sigma Iota Sigma was my greatest achievement while in college.  And even at that time, USM was fighting to push out greek life. It’s all very sad,

  • Guest

    Take some notes from Orono. Their students are incredibly involved… and while we have a few disadvantages with things like split campuses, that doesn’t mean USM should shift its focus to be ONLY non-traditional students. We want a community with other students, all organizations want to feel supported, and if we keep being pushed aside, USM will soon be a ghost of a campus that once knew how to do things right.

  • Guess_who_katysue

    It’s nice to finally see an article that has something good to say about Greek life! It’s so true thy the Gorham campus is lifeless, USM is looking less and less like an ideal pick for high school graduates due to the fact that it has nothing truly fun to boast about. Hopefully they can come up with something…

  • Samuel Gorgone

    I agree with many of the statements below; with that being said, my question is when will President Botman, Administration and this so called “Task Force (made up of only 2 Students mind you!)” begin to open up for public discussions and allow the students who have thrived in the Gorham campus community such as athletes, club members, greeks and resident hall assistants for suggestions? I will be graduating from USM next spring and had the pleasure of living on the Gorham campus for my first 2 years of college. Since my departure I have seen nothing but an unnessecary downturn in resident hall enroll. At this very same time, other state school’s in New England don’t have this issue. Administration needs to stop blaming the economy, as they did in their last report. The dorms are extremely competitively priced maybe with an exception to Upperclass Hall. Blame the lack of initiative that has been shown by Administration and the disregard that the Town of Gorham has for the University which is essential to their community. If any administration officer even takes the time to read this article that Ms.Corbett so willingly participated in I will be shocked! In fact, it only seems academically kosher to “test” administration. Administration and/or Task Force shoot me an email, show you care, I would love to give you some free advice and obviously others feel the same way. samuel.gorgone@maine.edu

  • Guest

    Not only has USM pushed greek life out, but the town in which the college is located has not really considered themselves to be a college town. When Phi Kap lost their house, and then the town passed laws banning any new greek houses they basically were saying, okay time for greek life to leave, which caused decreased membership along with other things. Ending with the nationals of that chapter concluding that USM was not suitable for a chapter to succeed. 

  • Brian

    Greek life was what kept me at USM for the years that I was there. When I was a freshman back in 2006 the campus was very active, and the Greek organizations definitely helped make the campus better, not only socially, but in all areas. I know there were so many events planned and sponsored by the Greeks, and being apart of it has a lot of great memories. When the support for greek life was gone, I could really see participation and events on campus slowly decline. 

  • Brennan Parker

    Nice job Colleen, its about time we get a positive voice out there. I’m not going to lie, if it wasn’t for Greek life I probably still wouldn’t be at USM today. When I first came here I knew college wasn’t for me, I struggled the first couple weeks. That was until I met the brother’s of Delta Chi. They accepted me, made me feel almost at home and I have been locked in ever since. It gives you a place where you can always go to get away when you need to and it is a guarantee that there is always a group of your friends there for you. I know for a fact I am not speaking for myself, it goes for many Greek members. There is also no better feeling then helping out the community. Whether it be helping out at the soup kitchen, doing leaf rakes and lawn clean ups, helping camp sunshine, or donating the hundreds of dollars to the Jimmy V Foundation as we do. The experience is a once and a life time and the opportunities are endless. With the advantages of networking and the lessons of time management, I have already began to succeed as a young adult, holding a job in the engineering department at one of the areas most profited organizations, IDEXX Laboratories, and I can only thank Delta Chi for that. It is a shame that Greek life has such a bad name here at USM and is slowly dieing because I would want any new undergraduate to experience this unique experience.

  • daniel santos

    Nationals shut chapters down due to failure to thrive. How can you thrive when you are constantly in an uphill battle with a university who only pretends to support. I can honestly say that it was an eye opener when I went to student council to get extra funds to help build greek life and the response I got was “we dont want to make it a habit to give moneys to greeks” with repsonses like that no wonder nationals want to leave.

  • Marty Macisso

    Personally the only reason I feel nostalgia when thinking of USM is because of Greek life, which made my time in Gorham some of the best times. Fact is, USM has never supported Greek life, has only seen it as a nuisance. I highly recommend more of a cooperative relationship between the two, its better than any marketing plan the school may try to draw up. History shows across the nation that the strongest Alumni relations, financial support and overall sense of community come from Greek-friendly colleges. just my opinion;)

  • Nicole McLaughlin

    When I checked out the campus in Fall of 2005 there were people EVERYWHERE! Greek Life was BIG. Everywhere I went someone was wearing letters. I was an extremely shy, awkward freshman until I found Sigma Iota Sigma. I went to USM to grow as a person, and I know any brother or sister of any organization will back me up 100% when I say that my sorority is the reason I grew to my full potential. I agree with Colleen- hopefully Gorham/USM can pull it together and realize what happened when they began to shut down one of their biggest assets. 

  • Heather

    I am part of Phi Mu. At this point it is a little to late for us to fight for ourselves. However, Greek life is still very important to me. I feel as though you walk onto any other campus that has a dominate Greek life in any state you can feel the atmosphere is different. Believe it or not this is something students look for when picking schools. Not only that but as part of Greek life keeping a high GPA is a requirement. I would be very interested to see the comparison of grades to non Greek life and Greek life students. It seems as though the more that this aspect of college keeps dwindling at USM, the less amount of people are attending or staying at USM. Greek life truly brings excitement to campus, it’s not just about the parties as most would like to think. It helps bring excitement, new friends, good grades, community services, and so much more. The involvement between campus and Greek life, was.. what made my time at USM the best it could be. However it just doesn’t seem to be there anymore. I really believe that bringing this back could help USM become a better school in itself. 

  • Anonymous

    It isn’t fully the universities fault for the lacking Greek life; Nationals of the fraternities and sororities are shutting down the chapters from financial reasons and lack of membership; If the chapters were able to reestablish without nationals and only deal with the university concerning the direction of each chapters, involvement would increase.
    USM you have two chapters of prestigious backgrounds who have been eliminated and members of each respectively still wearing letters. Help in allowing them to create a revitalization for each and use all the active chapters to promote Greek life for the very reasons mentioned by Ms. Corbett for her joining of Sigma Iota Sigma. You have the people, you have the resources, and could really help these guys and women who now have nothing to turn to now that their chapters are gone.

  • Brea

    This makes me sad and nostalgic all at the same time. The years I spent on the
    Gorham campus were chock full of amazing times, activities, events, concerts
    and friends. A huge part of that was the large Greek community that helped
    organize and also attended all these events. At that time there were 5 fraternities
    and 4 sororities and a very active council between them all. I have noticed over the past several years the push the
    University has made to distance the Greek community from the campus. 

    only are the Greeks willing and able to organize activities they also attend in
    large groups and are die-hard supporters of whatever events they are involved
    with. Contrary to some people’s belief the Greeks care about their community and want it to be a success. I hope the University utilizes this talented group rather than continuing
    to push them away. 

  • Jill Armstrong

    I completely agree! Greek life in an important part of our school system that allows students to become more involved and active in the community.  Like Colleen said, no prospecting freshmen will want to live on a campus where there is no student involvement or campus life.  Personally, being a sister of Sigma Iota Sigma and being involved with an organization much bigger than myself, it has taught me many important life lessons. I have also made some life long friends, and amazing bonds and memories because of Greek life. The fact that it is ostracized as something negative or something that shouldn’t be a part of our school system absolutely baffles me.  If the school is worried about the dwindling numbers on the Gorham campus, supporting our Greek life would definitely be one of the answers!

  • Lydia Rosa

    Well said Colleen! I accredit greek life to the amazing freshmen year experience I had at USM in Fall 2009. I’ve met so many unforgettable people before and while being a Sigma Iota Sigma sister. Before I started getting involved in Greek life, I literally had a hard time finding anything to do at all (on campus, or off). Not only that, but the skills I have acquired and been taught will holding chairs as a sister have given me a huge advantage in the business world now. It’s an overall amazing experience. Strengthen and expanding Greek life and activity will bring more students to the campus and I have no doubt in that.