A response to Greek Life
I wanted to take a moment to respond to the March 20 issue’s Sound Off titled, “Greek Life Does Not Belong at CU Denver.” The article expressed concern that “Greek letter organizations are founded upon elitism, both social and economic.” As perhaps the single student most responsible for Greek Life coming to campus, I couldn’t agree with this sentiment more. Because of this, it needs to be known that from the very beginning of discussions to bring Greek Life to this school, questions of dismantling elitism have always led every decision we’ve made in constructing our model.
Over the past three years that I have worked in student leadership, my work chairing the Non-Traditional Greek Life initiative out of CU Denver’s Student Government Association (SGA) has been integral to bringing Greek Life to campus. I began in this position as an outright critic of the traditional model of Greek Life expounded by schools like University of Wisconsin, Boulder, and most insidiously at the time, Penn State. I read stories every couple of weeks about another fraternity controversy somewhere in the country and felt that I was potentially opening up a can of worms that our student body wasn’t deserving of in any capacity. Yet, both SGA and University data showed that the commuter nature of the campus pigeonholed students into feeling a genuine lack of community on campus. I realized that there was room for this initiative to build itself in a critique of Greek Life I read about across the country. This is because I believe that the model that we are building here will not only provide students the opportunity to create meaningful relationships, engage in a customizable leadership development curriculum, increase connection to school spirit, and receive academic support, the program will align with the positioning of the University as a community asset and institution grounded in innovation.
The model we have built and will implement in the coming months is grounded in a need to connect students here at CU Denver. Community on college campuses has been shown to be the number one means of retaining students from the first year to graduation. In 2010, CU Denver’s retention rate was an abysmal 48 percent. This number has not shifted much in recent years. Feasibility studies from universities, such as Auburn, measure Greek members as being retained at 82.8 percent while male non-Greek colleagues retained at 70.8 percent and non-Greek females fell to 73.0 percent. The possibility to create a new community on campus is highly likely to directly impact student retention in a similar way. Imagine a program that upholds the social identities of our student body that also helps sustain them through their education here. This is the campus culture we are attempting to generate from this initiative.
It is true that there is a plethora of scandals related to Greek Life penetrating the media. However, there is a reason stories of racism, sexual harassment, or elitism end up in the news. News is in and of itself meant to be shocking and (hopefully) elicit charged responses that could lead to real change. What does not end up in the media are the hundreds of community service hours, thousands of dollars raised for philanthropy, and infinite social, career, and holistic development opportunities perpetuated by Greek organizations.
We at CU Denver have an opportunity to react to those shocking news stories, take the infrastructure of a program that inherently develops students, and become a national change agent. Additionally, Greek Life will intentionally invite organizations to campus that exhibit inclusive excellence, including financial access. Students should expect to invest in their development through dues in the $150 to $350 range that go toward chapter programs in the realm of community service, philanthropy, sisterhood/brotherhood/siblinghood events, or funds to send members to conferences, put on events for the campus community, or whatever initiatives the students involved in the chapter choose to invest in. The opportunity to lead a new model for Greek Life makes me deeply optimistic for the future of CU Denver.