The week of March 3-8 a group of Troy University fraternity brothers marched to the sea for spring break, but not for fun in the sun. The brothers of Alpha Tau Omega walked about 130 miles from Troy to Panama City Beach to raise money to help wounded military veterans. This annual event for ATO has raised $35,000 over the past two years for the Florida-based Outdoor Wounded Warriors Adventures. This year, the event raised more than $40,000!
This portrait of selflessness and service stands in sharp contrast to the “Animal House” image associated generally with college Greek life. Many colleges and universities are taking strong stances to pull the reins in on their Greeks. The education insurance and risk management firm United Educators reports that 133 Greek chapters were shut down, suspended, or otherwise punished during the spring of 2015 following alleged offenses. This February, one private Florida college suspended all its fraternities due to “high-risk behaviors.”
As a university chancellor I believe there is no place for hazing, physical abuse, racial slurs or mistreatment of other students among our Greeks. But to call for abolition of the system is overkill.
Full disclosure: 50 years ago I was an active member of a fraternity, and I benefited greatly from the experience. I made lifelong friends, developed leadership skills, and learned the importance of civic engagement and service to others. Thus, when I became Chancellor of Troy University in 1989 I expected the best from our Greeks—and I have not been disappointed.
The collective grade point average of our Greeks has topped the all-student body average every term since I arrived at TROY. Over the last decade, our Greeks have logged far more than 275,000 service hours and raised almost $1 million for charity. Local agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club, Child Advocacy Center, and the American Cancer Society, and national charities such as the Wounded Warrior project, St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and Make-A-Wish Foundation, have benefited from our Greek System’s efforts. I am also proud that the vast majority of our Greek chapters practice diversity. Fourteen of our 20 fraternity and sorority chapters have integrated racially and initiated international students. This culture of inclusion evolved naturally—without the force or influence of university administration.
While we have imposed sanctions upon some chapters and banned one fraternity outright, the Greek System at TROY nonetheless remains a tremendous and growing asset. More than 20 percent of our Troy campus student body is Greek. These members hold about half of campus leadership positions, and account for a significant percentage of student government participants, admissions tour guides, and freshman orientation leaders. Additionally, Greeks are members of our marching band, athletic teams, newspaper and yearbook staffs, and special-interest clubs. This fall, as a result of increased membership in our sororities, we will welcome Alpha Omicron Pi to our campus.
Success with our Greeks is the result of high expectations and mature advisement from both our student services staff professionals and, even more importantly, the alumni leadership of our Greek chapters. Keeping the lines of communication open with the national offices of Greek organizations aids this effort. Most young men and women will rise to the standard expected of them—if these expectations and the consequences for noncompliance are clearly defined. In the U. S. Marine Corps we believed you must “inspect what you expect.”
The bottom line is clear: The responsibility for success or failure is shared. University administrators must share the blame with their students when high-profile negative incidents involving Greeks come to light.
The answer to the recent bad news involving college Greeks is not to ban a system that has produced leaders at all levels for almost 175 years. The administrative teams at each university, from the president’s office to the student leadership, hold the keys to success by demanding excellence and expecting nothing less.
At colleges and universities we shape futures. We shape minds. I hope we’re shaping value systems as well. Indeed, the Greek System plays a key role in this process. Our charge should be not to abolish our Greek organizations, but rather to further strengthen this system that serves universities well.