The Colgate Scene
November 2004

Alumni-student conference addresses Greek issues

[Photo by James Leach]

Twenty-five fraternity and sorority alumni returned to campus the last weekend in August to meet with undergraduate Greek leaders in a first-ever conference organized by the Colgate Alumni Corporation and the Alumni Interfraternity/Sorority Council, and supported by President Rebecca Chopp.

A vote by the university's Board of Trustees in summer 2003 requires that all students live in university-owned housing beginning in fall 2005 (save 250 seniors who are traditionally granted permission to live off campus). At press time, most fraternity and sorority alumni corporations were in negotiations to sell their houses to the university, with the understanding that undergraduate fraternities and sororities in good standing would continue to operate from those properties in the fall of 2005. Fraternities and sororities that do not reach agreement on the sale of their properties will not be allowed to house students next fall, and will consequently forfeit university recognition.

In this transition year, all Greek-letter organizations in good standing were allowed to enroll new members, regardless of the status of sale negotiations. At the August conference, the Alumni Corporation and Alumni Interfraternity/Sorority Council combined efforts to provide advice and counsel to the undergraduate leaders of the houses at the outset of the year.

Help for undergraduates
Addressing the undergraduates and alumni gathered at Donovan's Pub in the Student Union, Alumni Corporation President Scott Meiklejohn '77 said the session was meant "to get us all on one page about the Greek-letter system. Not one person here wants to see the Greek-letter system fail or become less than it is right now. Our presence here, on the last Saturday of the summer, reflects our commitment to making this work. One of the most important things you can know as a leader," Meiklejohn told the undergraduates, "is `Where's my help?' We're here to help."

Representing the AIFSC, Mark Lawrence '88 told the students, "We are committed to making this work, to continuing a system for you that we knew as students and that means even more to us as alumni."

President Chopp urged the students to consider Colgate's Greek-letter system from a national perspective, and to be leaders of change that would transform and strengthen their organizations for the 21st century.

She asked the students to consider the founding values and mission of their houses, and to distinguish between form and substance as they move through a transition year. The president equated the change in residential life to the trustees' decision in 1968 to make Colgate coeducational: "Being all-male wasn't tied to Colgate's fundamental mission. We need to understand the mission of Greek-letter organizations and determine what we need to do to move forward." She encouraged the students to become experts at building inclusive communities, and to take responsibility for themselves and their members, "as brothers and sisters would."

Student choices
Lori Mele '05, president of the Panhellenic Council, said: "The Greek system is in a state of change, and we are the students who have been afforded the opportunity to guide the system through that change." Mele spoke of the need for mutual trust between students and administrators, and the importance of perspective, and concluded, "We must recognize that the choices we make as Greek students will determine the quality of Greek life in years to come."

Interfraternity Council President Michael Aphibal '05 said the houses have "an unprecedented opportunity to resolve some of the issues that have come up in past years."

Leading into an afternoon of small-group discussions, a panel of Greek-letter alumni addressed the gathering.

Delta Upsilon alumni treasurer Lee Woltman '65 called the conference "perhaps the most important meeting I've attended for DU over the years." Woltman said there has been "a cloud over fraternities" in the 40-plus years that he has been associated with Colgate, but that this is "an optimistic time for DU as we are in the midst of selling our house. This administration wants to see fraternities and sororities survive," he said. "There can be a better system in five to ten years than you know now."

Lasting bonds
Bob Tyburski '74, vice president for university relations and a member of Delta Upsilon, told the students that the administration is eager to help and to provide support for the organizations that want to be successful as they recruit and welcome new members. Citing his own experience as a member of a pledge class in 1970 that was not hazed and still developed strong bonds, he encouraged the undergraduates to treat their new members properly as they move through their respective member education programs.

Gamma Phi Beta alumna Laura Hoag '97 recalled joining her house in spring 1994, the last year that first-years were allowed to rush. "We were sure it was the end, that they were trying to change `our' Colgate, but we gave it a shot. Now, 10 years later - you're still here and Colgate's better than ever."

Leslie Anglada '87, a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, said that the real threat to the Greek-letter system comes from inside. "The drinking age changed twice while I was a student," Anglada said. "We learned that we had to change to make the system stronger," she said, adding that her best friends are still her sorority sisters. "That's what's important."

Panel moderator Gus Coldebella '91, a member of Alpha Tau Omega, said, "The risk for today's fraternity and sorority members is higher than it was for any of us. I urge you to think about how to use this opportunity, with 25 alumni here today and hundreds more willing to help."

After the on-campus session, Alumni Corporation Vice President Joanne Spigner '76 said, "We heard from participating students, alumni, and administrators that this was a positive first step in expanded, more consistent alumni involvement with Greek-letter students across all chapters, and we are continuing to explore ways to make that happen."

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