Greek life may be different than you’re thinking

Posted on November 05, 2012 in Perspectives
By Spencer McBreairty

More than a year ago, an article titled “The state of Greek life at USM” appeared in The Free Press. In the piece, serious difficulties facing the future of Greek life at the university were outlined. Among these difficulties were declining numbers, a smaller pool of residential students as potential pledges and negative perceptions of Greek life by students and administrators.

In the year since that article was published, significant changes have occurred within the fraternities and sororities at USM. Perhaps the most positive sign is the recent announcement that Phi Mu Delta will be returning later this fall after several years of dormancy.

One of the students leading the re-launch is junior Christian Evans. “The plan for Phi Mu Delta, as it stands right now, is that we’re trying to provide another opportunity for people who are curious about Greek life, or even those that might’ve never considered it to get involved,” he said. According to the group’s Facebook page, more than a dozen students attended a recent meeting to help with the re-organization.

Other Greek organizations on campus are welcoming the return of Phi Mu Delta, seeing it as a step in the right direction. “Greek Life is growing, and it’s only going to benefit USM through service and dedication to creating a better environment at this university,” claims Sigma Nu representative Richard Lamirande.

But one need not turn only to the new Greek life at USM to see positive signs. Sigma Nu, which arguably has the largest presence on the Gorham campus, is consistently involved with charitable events and service projects. According to Lamirande, members are very actively involved on and off campus in events that range from fundraisers for the White Cane Society (which assists the visually impaired), to joining organizations such as the Gorham Events Board and student senate.

Samantha McAvoy, the public relations chair for the Kappa Iota sorority, echoed that sentiment. “Kappa Iota has made a positive impact at USM on campus by being actively involved in student groups such as GEB, and Active Minds. We also participate in Consent Day and some of the Sisters have been Resident Assistants on campus as well as

working in the Campus Involvement office.”

No one can deny that, at times, Greek life has proven itself an easy target for criticism. Sigma Iota Sigma, which still has members, but is not recognized by USM, lost its recognition in 2001 following incidents of hazing. The instances, which included leaving members blindfolded in the woods and forcing them to rent pornographic videos, left the university in uproar and Greek life’s reputation bruised. Although eligible for recognition after a period of two years, they have remained blacklisted by the university.

But do acts such as those represent the entirety of Greek life at USM? According to the individuals I spoken to, the answer is no. They argue, and many would agree, that the philanthropic work these groups dedicate their time to makes up for whatever negative images students may have once had of them.

The result? Greek life at USM appears, at least for now, to be doing well. According to Gorham Student Life, total involvement is roughly 100 students. Signs of Greek life involvement are everywhere, especially to those living in a predominantly freshman residence hall. Things like banners for themed dances at Sigma Nu or Pokemon-themed rushes with Kappa Delta Phi occasionally adorn the walls of Upton-Hastings. It is not the party scene it once was. Many students, if not most, are engaged for a mix of social interaction and charitable work. Not only does involvement in a Greek organization boost a resume, it also boosts one’s sense of community.

A friend, who is an active sister of Kappa Iota, sited events such as Consent Day, blood drives and breast cancer awareness as her inspiration for being a part of Greek life. While none of those questioned mentioned partying as a reason for joining their organization, many may speculate that it is an obvious aspect. As someone who has lived on the Gorham campus for three years, though, I can easily say that partying remains an active part of the USM experience, Greek or not.

Despite what they understand to be relatively negative perceptions, those fraternity or sorority members interviewed remained optimistic and passionate about their cause. “Rush each sorority or fraternity because we all promote different ideals and are all different groups of people,” says McAvoy.

To those students who may be on the fence, those involved have stories to share. According to Lamirande, “Joining a Greek organization is an amazing life-long experience that can’t be understood fully unless actually experienced personally. The connections made through networking are unreal. Many of my brothers have found professional jobs through alumni relations.”

One of the most striking things I noticed in researching this article is the level of passion these students exude for their organizations. Many went above and beyond to answer my questions and guide me in the right direction. As someone who has never been to a Greek event, it really opened my eyes to the benefits of Greek life. The wealth of community, charitable involvement and social interactions that occur on and around the Gorham campus can provide even the most socially awkward student an entirely new experience at USM.

As far as advice for potential pledges, all groups interviewed shared a common theme: get to know them. “If you see someone around campus with Greek letters on, say hello. Everyone in Greek Life is more than happy to talk about their organization, and will definitely assist students who are interested,” says Lamirande. Kappa Iota reiterated that point, with McAvoy commenting, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions! It is the only way to learn about being Greek!”