By Deborah J. Sergeant
Movies portray sororities and fraternities as collegiate groups game for rowdy parties, brutal hazing rituals and a general disregard for campus rules. But that’s certainly not the case at SUNY Oswego, according to Nicole R. Morse, student involvement adviser at the college. She shared a few benefits to joining sororities and fraternities and how they benefit both the campus and the neighborhood. SUNY Oswego’s sororities and fraternities are known as “communities” on campus.
Morse listed four “pillars of excellence” among the campus communities: academic excellence, civic engagement, leadership in organizations and positive relationships (see sidebar).
Morse said that at the national level, the four pillars are similar, and the local communities are assessed annually through the accreditation process. At SUNY Oswego, five governing counsels oversee the communities. The communities include ethnically-based organizations, service-oriented groups and honors organizations.
Students may join in their second semester as long as they have a minimum 2.25 or higher GPA (some communities set the bar a little higher).
“The number one reason people join is friendship, belonging and camaraderie,” Morse said.
She believes that students enjoy both gaining respect and expressing their voice in the community through their affiliation. Students like to feel like they’re useful and belong.
“That sense of home is very powerful,” Morse said. “That same sense of community is often seen in our sports teams. Students still trying to find that sense of identity of where they belong and a group of people where they’re heard. Greek life is a place where they can grow as professionals and citizens.”
She added that learning about and developing a sense of philanthropy can help students become better citizens as they start their careers.
About 10 to 11 percent of SUNY Oswego students are part of a sorority or fraternity, amounting to about 770.
Though hazing appears in national headlines, Morse said those are “extreme exceptions to what an ordered community is like.
“There are hundreds of thousands of active members in any semester nationwide. If you take the hazing cases that lead to injury, that is a very small percentage of the numbers we see.”
She added that most communities that have Greek members include hazing education and intervention to make the group’s leaders are ethical. Because of news stories, Morse doesn’t dismiss parents’ concerns, but assures them that her office screens the pledging process to ensure students are safe and that the leaders of the communities demonstrate good judgment.
Talking with members of different communities can help freshmen determine where they best fit in and the integrity of its student leaders.
Sororities & Fraternities: Pillars of Excellence
1. Academic excellence.
“They use self-governance and relationships to make sure all of their members not only have good GPAs, but also are connected to networks of alumni; that they understand how to have an interview, write and review a resume, and connect with each other so people are set up and prepared for interviews and are ready.”
2. Civic Engagement.
“Each member of a fraternal organization has to volunteer at least five hours each semester. We see a lot of people that pick up trash, help with a fund drive, maintain trails, walk and groom animals at an animal shelter, or visit a nursing home to offer a beauty day, have a dance, or write cards. They’ve done backpack drives, book drives, volunteer reading at an elementary school. The neighborhood where they live is changed by them. They take the mission seriously and go above and beyond what our community deems the minimum. They raise money for St. Baldrick’s or multiple sclerosis or a national fund. One raised $20,000 as a community to go to different organizations. They also raise awareness and provide educational events.”
3. Leadership in organizations.
“They learn leadership skills participating in planning leadership events. It focuses on developing leadership abilities and on what will make you a more participatory citizen in the world.”
4. Positive relationships.
“We foster friendships and inter-connectivity in our community. They have to learn how to work with other entities, building a social circle of understanding.”