Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

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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