The Colgate Scene
Adjustment, cooperation, leadership
Student leaders discuss Greek life on campus
Members and friends enjoy a sunny afternoon on the Delta Upsilon lawn during Spring Party Weekend 2006. [Photo by Jimmy Maritz '05]
Last summer, two years after Colgate's trustees adopted a new residential education plan requiring that all students live in university-owned housing (except for 250 seniors traditionally granted permission to live off campus), Colgate took ownership of eight Greek-letter houses, completing many months of discussion and negotiation between Colgate and Greek-letter alumni leaders. Seven active Greek-letter organizations -- Beta Theta Pi, Delta Upsilon, Gamma Phi Beta, Kappa Alpha Theta, Phi Delta Theta, Sigma Chi, and Theta Chi -- transferred full ownership of their houses to Colgate. One inactive organization, Phi Gamma Delta, graciously donated its property to the university. In addition to the active Greek-letter organizations listed above, three others not based in houses, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Delta Delta Delta, and Phi Kappa Tau, received university housing for the fall of 2005, bringing the number of active Greek-letter organizations on campus to 10.
No one assumed it would be an easy transition. The Scene recently talked with student members of the Greek-letter organizations (and the staff with whom they work most closely, Tim Mansfield, newly appointed assistant dean of student affairs and director of Greek-letter operations, and Dave Reiner and Casie Sullivan, Broad Street residential education coordinators) about the first year under Colgate ownership, and their views of Greek life and its future on campus.
What has it been like to live in the houses now that Colgate owns them?
Kevan Hayat '07 (president, Theta Chi): At the beginning, it was awkward, but by this point, we're all pretty much used to it.
It seemed like sometimes the school would have different priorities than we would have [on house improvements]. A lot of times, the way that we got things done was to go directly to the B&G [buildings and grounds] guy sitting in our common room and just ask them to do it. Most of the time they were really helpful.
Sara Duffy '07 (Kappa Alpha Theta, Panhellenic Council president): It created a lot of gray areas. We've had storage issues, laundry issues. They are trying to iron all of that out. It's difficult being the transition group.
Aaron Tannenbaum '07 (president, Phi Kappa Tau): We had a big benefit of the acquisitions: the opportunity to be in a house, which has been great. We had some problems, specifically with working out the food issue, which is somewhat to be expected. The biggest problem was that no one knew who to turn to. It didn't seem like there was communication between [residential life and the dining service]. It looks like things are going to be better for next year.
Did you expect the adjustments to be about house maintenance? Or did you have other expectations about how life would be different?
Sara (KAT): We didn't know whether [staff members] were coming into our houses in a residential life capacity, a buildings and grounds capacity, or a Greek-letter operations capacity. Having Tim, Casie, and Dave be really clear on things has been great.
Martha Rose '07 (community coordinator, Kappa Alpha Theta): I came in expecting a problem integrating our hierarchy with the school's organizational system. We ran into ambiguity in who was reporting to whom at the school level, versus to our national, and how the priorities differed in terms of what goes on in our house. Nailing down how we fit into Colgate and then how Colgate fits into our national's goals will be a big help.
Overall, was it a good change, and in terms of administrative response, how is it different now?
Aaron (PKT): Not only are we trying to figure out how to deal with transition, but the school and administration are trying, too. In theory it's a good idea and it will make things easier. Being able to go to one organization and take care of all maintenance makes sense.
Kyle Levenick '07 (president, Phi Delta Theta): I think a lot of good things have come out of it. It's great that a lot of people have houses that didn't have houses before. That helps Greek life in a strong way. But there's really been nothing to make us be like, "man, I'm really glad we sold the house" -- yet. We're still waiting to see the real benefit.
Tim Mansfield (assistant dean director of Greek-letter operations): I think you're absolutely right. That clarity you're looking for on staffing and operational needs is what we are looking at addressing in a better way.
Martha (KAT): The best thing that happened this year was Tim and Jim Terhune and Sue Smith [dean and associate dean of student affairs], came down to our house, sat in our kitchen, and answered questions from our entire chapter. That sorted out so many problems, answered so many questions, stopped so many rumors, it really brought back a lot of credibility in terms of our interaction with the school.
What was social life in your houses like this year? Did you have parties? What was the registration process like?
Kevan (TC): Last semester we were able to have a catered party with a band in our back yard. The school was really helpful; it was something that in our situation wouldn't have been possible before.
Aaron (PKT): We didn't have a house where we could all party at the same place before. It's been awesome. We file the appropriate paperwork, and no one comes to check up. Campus Safety doesn't just stroll through to see what's going on. That's a good principle because the school is saying, we want you to have more self-governance.
Ryan Drumm '07 (VP, external relations, Beta Theta Pi): My first year at my house was completely dry -- we were on probation. My sophomore year, we got off probation and had our first [catered] party, had a band. As the social chair this semester, our president said to me that if we don't register a party, there is not going to be any alcohol in our house. Every time I brought a form up here, I wasn't concerned that somebody was going to sneak in our back door to see what we were doing. I feel like you guys are giving us the opportunity to be responsible. That is a huge vote of confidence compared to where we came from.
Sara (KAT): People don't realize how much is at stake if something goes wrong. And with the guys, they fill in the paperwork and they're good to go, but for the women it is different. Whose rules are we subject to? Colgate rules, our national's? I'm 21 years old. I think I should be able to have a glass of wine in my room, but am I going to get in trouble? Sorting that out has been hard.
Tim: To explain, Gamma Phi, Kappa Alpha Theta, and Tri Delta are answering to their nationals in terms of dry standards. But as university-owned properties, we do not police or manage those facilities differently than any of the others.
How do you feel about the future of your organizations?
Kevan (TC): As far as lines of communication being opened, it's been great. If the future of our organizations were being decided by the people in this room, I think we would all be at ease. As far as the investment made on our houses, that doesn't mean that we have to be fraternities in 15 years. Our greatest fear is that selling the house could be the first step in getting rid of fraternities at Colgate.
Martha (KAT): I think we all still feel that.
Todd Bigley '07 (president, Sigma Chi): That is still a concern with my fraternity. We're on probation, so we can't have social functions, and are not allowed to have alcohol in the house. We're concerned that if something were to happen, one slip-up, our fraternity could be gone. I don't know if that is a real concern or not, and I don't know if there is any way to alleviate that feeling.
Tim: I appreciate your honesty, but if folks are feeling that: No. It's clear that Greek organizations bring a whole lot to the campus that we value and appreciate, look forward to, and count on.
Aaron (PKT): When the acquisition first came about, there was a step back in trust between certain organizations and the administration. Things have progressed this year in a positive way that are starting to rebuild that trust, but there's still a long way to go. To give the school credit, we're going to be chartered next semester -- they gave us a house as a colony even though we're not even a full chapter, because they see potential for us to grow and to sustain the house. That's a credit to them, saying that they're not trying to shut out Greek life, because they're giving us this opportunity to establish a new organization.
How did recruitment go this year?
Kevan (TC): Fraternity numbers were down a little bit, but I definitely wouldn't attribute that to selling the houses. I don't think it had a huge effect.
Aaron (PKT): We had a house for the first time, which actually helped us in attracting more people. We took in the biggest class in three years and the ideal number we wanted.
Sara (KAT): Women's recruitment was up this year. We upped the campus average chapter size from 100 to 105, which really shows a healthy Greek life. I think each house took in 37 to 40 new members.
Kelly Dolan '08 (community coordinator, Gamma Phi Beta): As a sophomore who went through recruitment in the fall, I felt it was very positive. We were able to engage in the continued open bidding process for chapters who weren't up to their quota and had a great response. Everyone had a great outlook on it and the houses were very welcoming and excited.
Todd (Sigma Chi): We were on probation, so we couldn't recruit until we did certain things with our national fraternity. We rushed six weeks ago and took on 16, doubling our size. There is an interest still in the fraternities.
What are relationships like between the houses?
Jake Seip '07 (Phi Delta Theta, Inter-Fraternity Council president): The Inter-Fraternity Council was in a bit of decline, but it's coming back. When it comes to issues like recruitment for next fall, IFC is starting to play a role, addressing administration and representing common interests. And this Spring Party Weekend, a lot of events have been coordinated between the houses, through discussions that have happened here [in biweekly Greek leaders meetings].
Kevan (TC): Probably now more than ever, there is a spirit of cooperation between the houses. We want to see every house be as healthy as possible because we have a stake in Greek life overall.
Sara (KAT): In Panhellenic, we are working on a `Go Greek' mentality. We've done so much this semester, doing philanthropy and social events together, and getting chapter members to recognize who their peers in the same positions are in the other houses and to work together. Our houses get along well.
What do you feel Greek life means on campus?
Sara (KAT): I think people underestimate the amount of philanthropy the Greek organizations do. We raised almost $55,000 this past year for St. Jude's, and I would say that 95 percent of that was because of the Greek houses, the alumni lists they brought in, and all the hard work they did. I think people perceive us to be partiers and are missing out on a whole other side. People do care about that. We also overall have higher GPAs.
Martha (KAT): I didn't participate in leadership on campus until I joined a Greek organization. Then, suddenly there were these connections that I had never had, to things I was really interested in. It opens a lot of doors.
Aaron (PKT): We want to be perceived as leaders on this campus, people who are willing to put themselves out there to make the life of this school better. At our elections on Sunday, we were talking about being more regularly involved and making it more visible that we care about this community.
I think that the Greek students are some of the most devoted to Colgate and to preserving tradition. I love this school. As much as could have been taken away from that by the acquisition, it hasn't happened, and it hasn't tainted my view of the school. You see all these alums who are so tied to the school, and it's because of the relationships they've had in the organizations they were involved in. Greek students are an asset, because we're the people who are going to be some of the most devoted to Colgate in the future.
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