When the average person thinks of Greek life on a college campus, images of togas, beer pong tables and raging house parties often come to mind. These stigmas and stereotypes can be hard to break, but Greek leaders on campus strive to show that their work is more than just one big party.
“You always have the typical fraternity and sorority stereotypes — like drinking, too much partying and sexual assault,” said Austin Horton, vice president of communications for the USC Interfraternity Council. “But I think they’re very much overgeneralizations over things that happen so few times that it’s unfair for people to generalize [Greek life] that way.”
Sometimes, however, it can be hard to separate myth from reality. In the past academic year, the reputation of USC Greek life has suffered some major setbacks. Last October, a non-USC student sustained life-threatening injuries at a Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity party after falling off a table, and that same weekend four people were medically transported for alcohol-related reasons from The Row.
Following what Student Affairs characterized as “the worst weekend of the semester,” campus administrators put SAE on social probation and placed harsh sanctions on all of campus Greek life.
Since then, fraternity and sorority leaders have worked hard to patch up their damaged image, hoping to squash any negative stereotypes that could thrive in such an environment.
“[The Interfraternity Council] has been working to have it never be an issue where it needs to go to [campus administration],” said Aaron Goldwyn, president of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. “We can handle our own business. I think a lot of times in the past IFC houses have turned a blind eye, and we realized now it’s not a sustainable strategy.”
Horton and Goldwyn noted that IFC is currently working on developing an updated risk management manual, as well as implementing student emergency medical technicians to respond to Row-related medical emergencies instead of the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Katherine Grabar, president of the Panhellenic Council, declined to comment on the matter.
Kimberly Ostiller, president of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, told the Daily Trojan that the Panhellenic Council has also been working to institute updated, precautionary measures in light of the recent setbacks.
“[The sororities are] working together [with campus administration,] talking to DPS, seeing how we can better improve the situation on 28th Street, making it safer for our Trojans as well as making it safer for any visitors who might be coming to campus,” Ostiller said.
Their mission, however, is often made difficult by the outside community’s preconceived notions about Greek life.
“[Stereotypes] absolutely hinder the Greek community,” Goldwyn said. “I think the Greek community is a great opportunity for anyone that gets involved in it. I have never met a person that has regretted joining a fraternity or sorority, and it sucks when people are turned off by, ‘Oh, I don’t fit that stereotype, so I won’t do it.’”
Ostiller asserted that negative portrayals of the Greek community are often based off false opinions from those outside of the Greek system, as well as media coverage that only highlights the negative.
“I think a lot of the stories that have been published recently … have not been the most positive involving incidents on 28th Street,” Ostiller said. “That’s an outside agency that’s viewing the Greek system differently. There are some not-supported rumors that are circulating, and I think some of the stereotypes — if you were to look into them — do not have a backing.”
Greek leaders on campus hope to stress the benefits of their organizations that many who are independent of Greek life don’t recognize, such as fundraising and philanthropic efforts.
“No one realizes what good the Greek community does because they dwell on the bad things,” Horton said. “Some of the biggest philanthropies are donated from Greek organizations and a lot of volunteers come from Greeks.”
Ostiller agreed, stressing that the prevalence of fundraising in the USC Greek system is one of its biggest assets.
“I think that the amount of philanthropies and philanthropic work and fundraising for all these several charities is phenomenal,” Ostiller said. “The work of philanthropy is very prevalent … There are several philanthropic events every single week.”
The fundraising claims are not without merit. According to the USC office of Fraternity and Sorority Leadership Development, USC Greek life raises more than $300,000 a year for local and national causes, as well as hosts multiple fundraising and community service opportunities occurring every month.
But not everyone within in the Greek system is on the same page when it comes to The Row’s philanthropic efforts. Brendan Dugan, vice president of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity, noted Greek philanthropies, specifically among fraternities, often lack the community service aspect.
“The whole philanthropy idea at USC with fraternities is everyone pays a certain amount of money to a house who then gives it to their [respective] philanthropy, but [fraternity members] don’t go out and really help anyone,” Dugan said. “They have these [fundraising] events where there is usually drinking involved, and they’re sort of just competitive events.”
Goldwyn agreed that this idea of philanthropies as a front for alcohol-related events is not completely false. He stressed, however, that one should take fraternities on a case-by-case basis rather than lumping them into a single mindset.
“The USC jargon of philanthropy is kind of like a bad disguise for a day party — ‘We’re giving money but let’s all get hammered,’” Goldwyn said. “I think that maybe some houses do that, but I think a lot of houses also go out into the community and do service.”
This sense of disunity on The Row has contributed to the prevalence of another common Greek stereotype — house rankings.
“There is definitely an air about [ranking],” Dugan said. “People know there is supposedly a hierarchy.”
The idea of comparing houses is, for the most part, an unofficial phenomenon, but its hold over people’s mentalities can be strong. Goldwyn mentioned for some within the Greek system, the perceived prestigiousness of a house — or its “rank” — can be its main allure.
“Some people really buy into [house rankings] and they thrive in it and love it,” Goldwyn said. “When I was a freshman, that was the be-all, end-all.”
Nevertheless, others within the Greek community stress it isn’t an issue and hope to disprove this mentality entirely.
“Individual people definitely consider [house rankings] because I think everyone obviously has their favorite house, or maybe a house that they dislike, but overall I don’t think it plays a big part,” Horton said.
Ostiller said house ranking among sororities is a subject she rarely hears about — something that came as a surprise to her.
“I personally haven’t been aware of much discussion of ranking,” Ostiller said. “From my experience, it has not been as much of a discussion as I thought it might be.”
As is common with all stereotypes, it is tough to say which aspects are fact and which are myth. But one thing is clear: Greek members are not simply a homogenous set of affluent partygoers, but rather a diverse array of students who represent multiple walks of life. If this notion were better understood, stereotypes would soon crumble.
“The biggest misconception I would try to address is that Greek life is for a very specific kind of person … I could not disagree with that more,” Goldwyn said. “The best part of my Greek experience has been how diverse the people that I’ve met are. I think that if you’re interested in Greek life, check it out, because immediately you’re going to see it’s different from what Animal House makes it out to be.”