Greek organizations, national and local, are a part of college life that has never really made sense to me. I understand that they are social groups in which people consider each other siblings. They party together. Hang out together. Work on community projects together. They fundraise as a group.
Greek life at Ursinus is different from Greek life at other colleges and universities. The organizations aren’t as big. Most are local, which means they’re based only here and don’t have a national governing body. Only four organizations are national. I myself am part of the gender-neutral fraternity, Delta Pi Sigma.
The groups are also not that big. Ursinus estimates that 20% of students are involved in Greek life. At a school of roughly 1,500 students, that’s equivalent to 300 people. And when you consider the changes within the last couple years, it honestly feels like even fewer people than that are involved. When I got here as a first year, Greek organizations were not that big. Three years later, they only seem to be shrinking. Just last year a fraternity was at risk of disappearing due to lack of members. It managed to get one new member to hopefully rebuild it. One fraternity also got suspended. And though I believe that suspension was unfair, it doesn’t change the fact that the fraternity will most likely disappear from campus. This would further lessen the amount of people involved in Greek life.
There are positives to Greek life at Ursinus. Ursinus states that the Greek GPA is higher, on average, than the GPA of the rest of the student body. The college does require that students intending to participate in Greek life have a minimum 2.33 GPA. That, along with each org having to fundraise money for a cause they are passionate about, makes them a positive thing.
Last year, an article in “The Atlantic” talked about the case of Tim Piazza, a sophomore at Penn State who died due to a hazing event for a fraternity. The article states that 80% of fraternity members report being hazed. Which means that hazing is the norm, not an outlier. Ursinus college prohibits hazing of any kind, and any incidents involving it have strong repercussions. Banning things isn’t a fool-proof system, however. Prohibition does not mean that something doesn’t exist, just that if it’s going to be done, it’ll be kept secret. Secrecy is inherent to these orgs.
Which leads me to the reason Greek organizations never really made sense to me: It seems like everything important they do could be done without their secrecy and exclusivity. So what is their purpose on campus?
People can form strong enough, sibling-adjacent, relationships with each other without Greek letters. They can do community service projects and fundraising events without letters. They can still throw parties and live in the same house or dorm.
It’s unlikely that something like what happened to Tim Piazza would happen at Ursinus. But it’s clear that stories like that have tarnished the reputation of Greek life. It’s not uncommon to hear others question the need for these kinds of organizations. And the amount of people interested in Greek life has appeared to dip, though it could just be a part of the ebb and flow of college culture.
Essentially, Greek life at Ursinus does have a social role. One that I agree can be beneficial. But I also feel that it’s a superfluous thing. It does not need to exist. I wouldn’t cry at the funeral if it were to disappear. To me, it currently seems likely that Greek life will quietly fizzle out. Greek organizations can form lifelong friendships and connections, but that shouldn’t come with the tradeoff of unnecessary secrecy and exclusivity.