July 19, 2009

One-Third of the Big Red: The Greek System

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With a third of Cornell students in one of 60 Greek chapters on campus, the Greek system is a major part of Cornell’s social life.
From the very start of their Cornell career, students encounter members of Cornell’s Greek society, who help freshman move into their dorms, volunteering as “movers and shakers.” Throughout orientation week, Greeks volunteer as Orientation Leaders, helping students get acclimated to their new surroundings.
To protect incoming freshmen from bias, Greeks cannot promote their houses to incoming freshmen. Rush for males, however, starts immediately as fraternity members in particular encourage the new students to come to parties at their Collegetown annexes — houses where many of the brothers of the same fraternity live — in order to recruit new members (hopefully bringing some freshman girls with them).
Based on Greeks’ participation in Orientation Week, freshmen may perceive them as a group of community volunteers who hold parties with free alcohol. This perception holds some truth. Community service is a major aspect of Greek life. Many of Cornell’s Greek chapters participate in Ithaca-based projects, such as the Tompkins County Task Force for Battered Women, as well as national organizations like the American Cancer Society and Prevent Child Abuse America.
Social events are also a large part of the Greek experience, with chapters planning their own parties, formals and football tailgates.
Cornell’s Greek system also allows students to emerge as leaders within their respective chapters. Elected officers must run meetings, organize events and handle finances. Chapter presidents must learn to motivate their members, treasurers must handle complex budgets and recruitment chairs must carry out strategic recruitment campaigns.
Despite the leadership skills that the Greek system fosters, some incoming freshman may worry about how their academic performance will be affected if they decide to join a fraternity or sorority. The average GPA for all sororities last spring was 3.3 and the average GPA for all fraternities was 3.2.
In addition, many chapters hold study hours and give out awards or scholarships to members for outstanding academic achievement. Each spring, individual chapters are honored for academic excellence by the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs.
Many freshmen will have their first experience with the Greek system through an open party. While commonly perceived as rowdy and dangerous, fraternity parties at Cornell are strictly regulated.
The Interfraternity Council mandates that security guards check Cornell I.D. cards and mark underage students with X’s on their hands at each party. IFC rules prohibit the consumption of hard alcohol during registered events, so all alcohol is in the form of beer or wine.
To get a true sense of Greek life, freshmen can choose to take part in Spring Rush 2010. All fraternities and sororities take part in spring recruitment, in which freshmen can talk with Greeks about their ideas of Greek life in a more relaxed and intimate setting.
Rush differs for men and women. Sorority rush follows a strict schedule in which potential new members visit every sorority. For men, rush is more casual, as freshmen can choose the houses they want to visit and interact with brothers in a much more relaxed setting than sorority rush.