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Fraternities, sororities project successful rush, despite troubled history
STANFORD -- Springtime - time for running in the campus foothills, reading in the sun and, for many undergraduates, that three-week marathon of parties and pledging known as spring rush.
"All the parties I've been to have been really well attended," said Steve Jarrett, president of Stanford's Interfraternity Council. "There's been a healthy turnout."
While they continue to face concerns ranging from housing to alcohol and liability (see box), greek organizations have many things to celebrate these days.
Eighteen percent of undergrads are in fraternities and sororities, and unhoused greek organizations are growing at the rate of two every three years. Increased greek self-governance has proved quite successful this year, and alcohol-related disturbances are down.
Minority student representation in fraternities and sororities is increasing, and the public service contributions of many groups have been impressive.
Fraternity and sorority leaders also have been working to revive the campus Order of Omega, a greek honor society that recognizes academic achievement and service to the campus community. Recently, 15 Stanford women and 25 men were selected for membership.
Next year, greek leaders will be working to obtain funding for a new "Greek Lodge" that would provide unhoused groups with a place to host parties and conduct their affairs.
"Politically speaking, I've seen a big shift in attitudes toward fraternities and sororities," said Jarrett, a member of the unhoused fraternity - Sigma Nu. "The atmosphere has improved tenfold since I've been here."
Dean of Students Michael Jackson also has seen improvements over the past two years.
"Basically, the system is good and stable," he said. "The development of unhoused groups on campus has been a very pleasant development, and I have every confidence in the world that the fraternity houses that are there will be there for a long, long time.
"Unfortunately, we still do experience behavioral problems with the housed groups. It's not as bad as 10 years ago, but we still have to have judicial hearings on a more regular basis than I would like. For the most part, though, these groups operate pretty well within the university community."
Though less visible than at most colleges, Greek letter organizations have been a part of Stanford ever since the university opened its doors to students in 1891. The number of student pledges dipped during the Vietnam era, then doubled during the early 1980s.
There are now 18 fraternities and 10 sororities recognized on campus - including five historically African American groups - with a total of 1,170 members.
Eight of the fraternities are housed on campus; the rest are unhoused groups that have been granted permission to use university facilities for their meetings and social functions. All are required to exercise a great deal of autonomy from their national organizations.
Over the years, Stanford's relationship with greek organizations has not been a smooth one. In 1944, University trustees closed all nine campus sorority houses, after female students voted to support the move. The trustees said that excessive competition between sorority women and "hall" women had led to "serious disunity" on the campus.
In 1977, the ban on unhoused sororities was lifted, but the trustees imposed a freeze on assigning university residences to "subjectively selected" groups.
In 1986, a university task force effectively recommended that housed fraternities be abolished altogether, by asking them to come up with "non-subjective" methods of admitting new members.
Although then Dean of Student Affairs Jim Lyons decided not to follow that recommendation, he did state clearly that "the notion of students excluding others from access to certain university housing is one which the university does not seek to foster."
"Stanford sets no limit to the expansion of greek organizations," he said, "but a higher priority is placed on residences characterized by openness and the principle of equal access."
For several housed fraternities, the years since have been fatal ones. Delta Upsilon was closed in 1986 after a series of disciplinary problems, including members' throwing a burning couch off their balcony. Alpha Delta Phi closed three years ago, after a troublesome record of drug abuse, debt and academic deficiency.
Theta Delta Chi, a fraternity known for its athletic members, voluntarily gave up its house this year because of difficulties in attracting a sufficient number of pledges, and because of a large outstanding debt to the university. If neither issue is resolved in the next five years, the fraternity will lose its house permanently.
Delta Kappa Epsilon could be forced to vacate its house because of a bizarre series of potentially fatal acts directed at the fraternity. The Dekes are keeping night watches to prevent recurrences of fires, a gas leak and poisoned drinks there in the last year.
Fortunately, according to Jarrett of the Interfraternity Council, the remainder of the housed fraternities appear to be stable.
Even Delta Tau Delta, which had to relocate to 353 Campus Drive after its historic house was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, has more members now than it did before the quake.
"We are seeing more and more students interested in living in all-male houses," Jarrett said. "Even with new coed dorms and four years of guaranteed housing on campus, the interest is there."
Perhaps the main reason more students are joining greek organizations is to improve their social calendars. Stanford dormitories are hosting fewer parties this year - a reflection of liability concerns and Stanford's tougher stance against alcohol use.
But parties aren't the only reason. Most Stanford fraternities and sororities have been working hard to improve their "Animal House" image and to connect with the broader community through educational workshops and public service initiatives.
"We're trying to reach out more to dorms and resident assistants to let them know the good things we do," said junior Rip Waters, a member of Sigma Chi and president-elect of the Interfraternity Council.
Greek Week - an annual effort to highlight awareness of fraternities and sororities on campus - used to be one big, nonstop party, Waters said.
This year, though, activities included a faculty night, with lectures at each house; a program on multicultural awareness led by Stanford multicultural educator Greg Ricks; and a community service day with Friends for Youth, a big-brother, big-sister organization for underprivileged children.
The greeks fed the children pizza, played sports with them and led workshops designed to teach the children about leadership, environmental awareness and study habits.
Nor is greek public service a once-a-year event. Senior Adrianna Duffy, president of the Intersorority Council and a member of Gamma Phi Beta, can recite a list of public service contributions that sororities have made this year.
The Pi Phis and Phi Delts have tutored underprivileged children; Chi Omega members work with the Young Women's Consortium in Palo Alto; Gamma Phi Beta members spend time at a battered women's shelter in San Mateo; and the Tri Delts volunteer at Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford.
Stanford's greeks also have been working harder to bring discipline problems under group control. One of the most positive developments in recent years has been the creation of the Greek Judicial Board, a group of four student representatives who work with Nanci Howe, sorority adviser in the Office of Student Activities.
Problems within the greek system are referred to the board, which interviews participants and determines whether and what sanctions should be recommended to the dean of students.
The board passed its first major test this year, after some party decorations got out of hand at the Sigma Chi fraternity. (To create a "Robin Hood" theme, the house interior was decked out with a forest of branches and small trees, blocking stairwells and creating a serious fire hazard.)
Members of the house were required to do some fire safety training and to share that information with other housed fraternities, in addition to performing public service work.
"The board really has been successful so far," said Heather Dunn, fraternity adviser in the Office of Student Activities. "I think the entire system benefits when students are involved in regulating themselves."
Agrees Waters of the Interfraternity Council: "I feel that the university is not as much against us it as it used to be. When I first joined the greek system, it was a battle. It seemed like everything we did, the university wanted to find something wrong.
"Now we're starting to work more with administrators for a common goal. It's improving everybody's image of the system in general."
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