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Fraternity and Sorority Life


Throughout the history of American higher education, institutions have strived to create a learning environment that develops a student as a whole. The effort to create the balance between academics and student development has led to the creation of many campus organizations and offices. One of the oldest forms of student organization within the walls of American higher education are fraternity and sorority organizations and the Office of Greek Life that supports them.

Greek societies were initially formed under the creation of Phi Beta Kappa, a literary club on the campus of William and Mary in 1776 (Phi Gamma Delta, 1998). Since their inception, Greek organizations have grown to become diverse national student organizations. Currently, fraternity organizations support 5,500 chapters at over 800 college campuses (North-American Interfraternity Conference, 2010). Concurrently, sorority organizations account for nearly 3,000 chapters at over 650 college campuses (National Panhellenic Conference, 2010). Demographic makeup of fraternities and sororities has historically been comprised of Caucasian and African-American groups; more recently there has been growth in the Latino population and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender segments (Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors, 2009).

Greek organization membership hit its peak in 1990 with over 400,000 members involved in fraternities and sororities. In recent decades, however, membership has declined (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2000). The Center for the Study of the College Fraternity released a longitudinal study which covered fraternity and sorority membership on college campuses from 1982 through 2000. Survey questionnaires were sent to more than 700 campuses nine times over the course of 18 years. Responses to the study varied over the year. In the year 2000, 324 schools responded to the survey. Fraternity and sorority membership in that year - including pledges or associates - numbered 328,785, an average of 1,014 students per campus. The study showed, however, a downward trend in Greek and pledge membership. Average campus membership topped 1,200 in 1990 and only 1,100 in 1997 (Center for the Study of the College Fraternity, 2009).

Reasons for the decline in Greek societies vary, but the Chronicle of Higher Education points out that it may be due in part to problems regarding hazing and alcohol consumption. Other reasons for the decrease stem from factors outside of the control of the Greek community. Increased enrollment of minority populations, the rising cost of college tuition, and the amount of on-campus organizations dilute underclassmen freshmen populations who are traditionally recruits for the Greek system. The article points out larger universities like Purdue have more than 600 other clubs and organization represented on campus which Greek organizations must compete with (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2000).

The Center for the Study of the College Fraternity study revealed that of the responding schools in 2000, the fraternity and sorority population made up on average 12 percent of the student body. Today, Greek life offices continue to report similar numbers. Public institutions like The University of Missouri’s Office of Greek Life state that nine percent of men and 13 percent of women on campus were involved in Greek organizations in 2009 (University of Missouri Office of Greek Life, 2010). The University of California at Irvine also reported similar numbers with 9.53 percent of men and 10.83 percent of women of the campus population were involved in Greek life (University of California at Irvine, 2010).


Presently, the roles of Greek organizations are focused on providing student members with a college experience that encompasses friendship, scholarship, community service, philanthropy, and diversity. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst states that fraternities and sororities were founded on the principles of friendship, love, service and scholarship and that these organizations offer their members the opportunity for leadership experiences that can enrich their lives on campus and beyond (University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 2010).
Campus populations of students involved in Greek organizations have also led to the development of Greek Affairs Offices and administrators. Greek life administrators work under the branch of Student Life and Development and are utilized to coordinate and maintain fraternity and sorority populations. The office is also in charge of making sure the members uphold the bylaws of their own organization, linking students to alumni, and providing educational materials on Greek-related topics such as binge drinking, time management, hazing, and drug use (Dungy, 2003, p. 348 – 349.)

Greek Affairs administrators also play the part of housing and facilities managers since many Greek organizations have designated dormitories or campus housing. Responsibility may lie within the office to ensure that housing is up to code and aligned with the rules and regulations of the institution. The responsibilities of Greek Affairs administrators must also play a duel role in regards to counseling and advising. Staff are advocates to the students involved in Greek life, but they do so in respect to the institution they represent largely in part to liability issues which may arise (Dungy, 2003, p. 348 – 349.)


Greek organizations began with the founding of Phi Beta Kappa in 1776, which was essentially a literary society. The first social fraternity, Kappa Alpha, was founded in 1825 and, in the following two decades, fraternities began spreading throughout New England. In the 1850s, sororities were established and both groups began providing housing for their members (Nuss, 2003, p. 68).

Expansion of college enrollment also led to increased numbers of fraternity and sorority members during the beginning of the 20th century. This century saw a downturn in membership during the financial crisis of the 1930s, but numbers spiked again following World War II with an aggregate membership of nearly one million (Phi Gamma Delta, 1998).

The influx of student enrollment and interest in Greek organizations following World War II also led to the first fraternity and sorority advisors, and in 1976 the Association of Fraternity Advisors (AFA) was founded with just a few dozen members. Over the next two decades America saw one more boom in Greek organization growth in the 1980s, followed by a decrease in subsequent decades. Diversification of fraternities and sororities ruled in the 1990s with the founding of culturally-based Greek organizations and by 2006 AFA membership grew to over 1,400 (Dean, 2009, 188).

Prominent Professionals

Two standout pioneers in the field of Greek affairs are Floyd W. Fields and Robert H. Shaffer. Fields began his career in Student Affairs as the first Dean of Men at Georgia Technical Institute. Throughout his career he worked to promote Greek life on Georgia Tech’s campus. Fields set up monthly scholastic comparisons of Greek and non-Greek member and eventually founded a minimum scholastic requirement to maintain membership in a Greek organization (Theta Chi Fraternity, 2009).

Robert H. Shaffer served as the Dean of Students at the University of Indiana during the enrollment boom following World War II and worked as a student advocate in the turbulent era of the 1960s and 1970s. Shaffer also chaired the Department of Higher Education at the University of Indiana, which has now become one of the more prominent programs in the country (Indiana University School of Education, 2010). One of the more distinguished awards of the AFA, the Robert H. Shaffer Award, is handed out annually to a member of the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors who demonstrates a commitment to the field of Greek Affairs and Student Development (Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors, 2009).

Today, the field is led by Steven Veldkamp, the executive director of the Center for the Study of the College Fraternity. He recently completed work on the Call for Values Congruence , a guide to improve Greek life on college campuses (Indiana University Office of Student Organizations and Leadership Development, 2010). Another current researcher in the field, Nicholas Syrett, a professor at the University of Northern Colorado, specializes in sexuality and masculinity in college fraternities and has written a book on the topic: The company he keeps: A history of white college fraternities (University of Northern Colorado, 2009).

Laws and Publications

Institutions and organizations governing the activities of fraternities and sororities all have specific rules and bylaws to manage their respective memberships. For example, the North-American Interfraternity Council created a specific set of bylaws and standards which detail the mission of the organization, disciplinary action and process, member decorum, policies on hazing and the use of drugs. These rules were created to protect the parent organization or institution of higher education from any legal repercussions (North-American Interfraternity Council, 2010).

Greek-focused educational materials and administrative forms are available to students through the Office of Greek Affairs or the offices of Student Development or Student Affairs. Vanderbilt University’s Office of Greek Life, for example, keeps a list of all administrative forms, Greek life policies, regulations and information on hazing readily available on their website (Vanderbilt University Office of Greek Life, 2010). The AFA also maintains a list of resources available for Greek advisors to expand their knowledge of areas including risk management, creating a diverse Greek community, developing communication plans, and disseminating material on Greek issues like drinking, hazing, and drug use (Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors, 2009).


In addition to hosting ritualistic events which are executed within the confines of individual fraternities and sororities, many Offices of Greek Life also host traditional campus events (Buffalo State Student Life Office, 2004). Offices of Greek Life host year-round recruitment, fraternity and sorority competitions, community events and awards and recognition ceremonies (Rider University Office of Greek Life, 2010). The Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education supports and advises this practice. They uphold that one of the main responsibilities of the Greek advisor is to instill the values of the Greek community and respect student interests (Dean, 2009, 188).

Associated Professional Organizations

There are several professional organizations which exist to train and educate Greek advisors and leaders. The AFA is the primary organization specific to fraternity and sorority advisors. Professionals can utilize tools from the AFA to increase their skills with their specific Greek populations. The AFA also provides several publications and links to specific Greek associated websites to keep members abreast of trends within the Greek community (Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors, 2009).

NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education is an organization which encompasses the profession of student affairs. Although not as specific in focus as the AFA, NASPA offers professional publications, research and student affairs trends which can help Greek advisors in their roles on campus. NASPA also hosts external workshops and conferences for professionals to discuss the field of student affairs (Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, 2009).

Current Issues

Hazing is considered to be a major issue throughout many facets of higher education, the military and in high schools (Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors, 2009). Hazing, by definition, is any action or situation which creates harassment, harm or embarrassment to a person or persons and although every institution of higher education, national governing body, Greek organization and 44 states have provisions against hazing nearly 55 percent of all college students experience hazing (, 2009).

High-risk alcohol abuse is also considered to be a serious issue among the Greek community (Dean, 2009, 188). The Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Violence states that 75 percent of fraternity members engage in heavy drinking versus 49 percent of their peers. Sorority statistics support the same variance. 62 percent of females in sororities engaged in heavy drinking compared to 41 percent of their peers. This issue is staggering. Nearly 50 percent of students living in fraternity and sorority houses performed poorly on tests or projects versus 25 percent of non-Greek students (The Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Violence). The issue of high-risk drinking is also cause for concern among Greek advisors. A shocking majority of deaths, 82 percent, caused from hazing came from the consumption of alcohol (, 2009).


One of the main publications of the AFA is Perspectives , a forum for new research, and trends within the area, advisement and best practices. Professionals have the opportunity to submit their experiences and share ideas on how to handle situations within Greek life. The purpose of this publication is to provide Greek advisors the opportunity to better understand and support the field (Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors, 2009).

The AFA also publishes an electronic journal devoted to fraternity and sorority research, Oracle . Oracle is a peer reviewed journal that is available biannually and explores the many facets of fraternities and sororities through scholarly research. Topics within the publication cover a wide variety of issues within the profession including spirituality and homosexuality to leadership standards and racial integration (Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors, 2009).

Mission Statement and Essential Outcomes

Fraternity and sorority advising is designed to uphold the academic integrity and goals of the institution which governs the area. Offices of Greek life focuses on providing a sound educational learning environment, promoting intellectual growth, upholding student wellness and civic pride while fostering an environment of community outreach and philanthropy. Professionals within the field also work to develop students in the Greek community to become stewards of diversity within their specific organization, the institution they represent, and the community in which they live.

Aside the from the area’s mission statement, key educational functions and outcomes are available with the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) to help maintain the educational goals of fraternity and sorority advising offices and to support students involved in Greek life. Key outcomes include: mission, program, leadership, organization and management, human and financial resources, facilities, technology and equipment, legal responsibilities, equity and access, campus and external relations, diversity, ethics, and assessment and evaluation (Dean, 2009, 190 – 198).

Outcomes of fraternity and sorority advising (FSA) are an integral part of maintaining and building offices of Greek life around the country and every aspect of CAS standards is important to follow and uphold. However, there are four essential areas which standout as integral functions of FSA: effective and ethical leadership, promotion of diversity germane to the mission of the institution, campus and external relations, and equitable and accessible services (Dean et al., 2009).


Leadership is a quality essential to organizational success. Within the confines of FSA, leadership is a multifunctional process. Leaders at all levels of fraternity and sorority advising must be selected based off of formal education, training, relevant work experience and interpersonal skills with faculty, staff and students in support of directing the functional area. Institutions must also set guidelines for responsibility, accountability, and performance of Greek advisors to ensure success of the institution (Dean et al., 2009).

FSA leaders need the abilities to effectively communicate and govern essential functions of Greek life including articulating a vision for their organization, promote student learning and development, coordinate human resources, and apply effective practices to educational and administrative processes. Aside from implementation of policy and procedures, effective fraternity and sorority advisors have the key responsibility to evaluate and improve programs, policies and services to match the demographic outlook of the specific student population (Dean et al., 2009).

A breakdown in leadership not only tampers with the integrity of aforementioned functions of leadership in FSA, congruence with the institutional mission becomes deviated. Non-participation or lack of moral in campus activities, chapter initiations, and designated recruitment events, conflict between members, development of cliques, breakdown in accountability, and attrition through academic drop outs – also arise in the place of weak leadership (Elon University, 16 - 18).

Equity and Access

Fraternity and sorority advisors are also responsible for developing a plan to ensure that all programs and services of the office are fair and balanced and represent the changing demographics of the Greek community. FSA leaders must be up to date on campus trends, underrepresented populations, and savvy of federal mandates on discrimination and equal rights. Equitability and accessibility to all fraternity and sorority members is such an integral part of CAS standards because it must fairly represent the core mission and values of the institution as a whole (Dean et al., 2009)

Although there is great importance and value in maintaining the balancing act between student populations and institutional goals and outcomes, I feel this is the easiest of the four essential outcomes to attain. The ease of maintaining a fair and balanced functional area is primarily due to the amount of federal regulations, laws, supporting offices, and overall institutional commitments to “curriculum, programs, and services, [which] provides understanding and supportive interaction among diverse population groups and respects individuals' personal values and ideas,” (Washington State University Division of Student Affairs, Equity, and Diversity, 2010).

There are also several other offices and functions FSAs can work with to understand the “how” and “why” of equity and access. Offices of Affirmative Action, for example, are designed to regulate campus discrimination, ensure equality and diversity, and counsel campus offices on best practices (Kansas State University, 2007). Equity and access on college campus also maintains supportive federal regulations such as Title XI, and XII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which prohibit discriminatory policies in federally funded institutions (Gutierrez-Jones, 2003).

Campus and External Relations

The third part of maintaining an effective functional area is establishing, maintaining, and promoting relationships between campus offices, chapter headquarters, fraternity and sorority alumni, faculty, and community leaders. Designated personnel and volunteers should be utilized as chapter representatives to communicate with the institution to develop learning experiences, improve academic success, understand educational goals, and maintain a strong relationship with the community - especially in cases of off campus housing involving Greek organizations (Dean et al., 2009).

Maintaining a strong network of individuals to support the Greek community is a key component to the success of fraternities and sororities. The faculty, staff, student and community connection creates a web of communication between all involved parties. Utilizing Listservs, text messages, and other forms of mass communication allow fraternity advisors to disseminate educational information, notify fraternity members about community and campus events, create discussion around Greek life related topics, and working through a campus crisis involving a
member of the Greek community (Minnesota State University, 2010).

The last outcome is diversity. While almost every institution has a mission statement which includes a tenet of diversity, some institutions create specific statements of diversity which outline how diverse groups and message are integrated into curriculum, educational advancement, academic outreach, and modeling for other institutions in higher education (Wright State University, 2010).

Fraternity and sorority advisors must work within the boundaries of their institutional approach to diversity in an effort to recognize commonalities and differences within the Greek community. Professionals within the field need to address the needs of specific populations, promote diverse educational experiences which celebrate groups of different cultures, religions and sexual orientations, and maintain an open level of communication between all Greek students in an effort to bring understanding between organizations who do not share a cultural middle ground (Dean et al., 2009).

However, promoting diversity within the Greek community is the hardest essential outcome to attain. The dichotomy of diversity is that it is inherently close to equity and access, an easily attained outcome due in part to access to institutional resources. However, the problem of diversity in Greek life goes deeper than access to cultural related offices:

In a longitudinal study of college students attending institutions with varying degrees of racial diversity, Chang and DeAngelo (2002) found that white students attending an institution with fewer students of color (less than 10 percent of the total population) were 72 percent more likely to participate in the Greek system than white students at an institution where students of color made up more than 17 percent of the population. These effects were demonstrated even after controlling for relevant student background and institutional characteristics. Chang and DeAngelo attribute this finding to the influence of institutional norms on students. They reason that white students may find membership in a social fraternity or sorority on a more diverse campus to be less appealing because of conflict with the overall sensibility and values of the institution and the general student body (Milem, Chang, & Antonio, 2005, p. 11, 12).

Difficulty in promoting diversity in the Greek community is tied closely with homogeneity of the traditional fraternity and sorority layout, which in turn is a two-fold problem. First, Greek organizations are traditionally more homogenous than the overall student body. Second, traditional freshmen students who rush a Greek organization tend to cut themselves off from frequent contact with non-Greek student populations (Milem et al., 2005). Therefore, it is key for Greek advisors to encourage and develop events with a diverse focus.


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