Special Report: Greek Life

“There’s just something very unique about the secret bonds that you share over the common ideals and really bringing a group of people together for that,” said Stephen Bollinger. 

Going Greek. For many college students, it isn’t just a part of going to college, it’s a part of life.

Whether they are used for finding friends or building a resume, Greek letters have popped up on the shirts of college students for a long time.

“Most Greek organizations, nationally, started in the early 1800’s,” said Tony Voisin. 

Tony Voisin is the assistant president of Student Affairs at Central Michigan University.

He says these groups help students make powerful connections.

“Fraternities and sororities, as any student organization, they pretty much serve a very important function for any university in connecting students, not only with each other and one another but also with the university, as a whole,” said Voisin. 

Lately, the talk of frats and sororities and their place on a university campus has turned in another direction.

“Unfortunately, recently, there have been a number of incidents that have occurred involving Greek organizations at other schools around the country,” said Voisin. 

On the weekend of January 17, the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity from the University of Michigan caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to Treetops resort in Gaylord.

The frat disbanded, and several students are charged with malicious destruction.

Damon Brown, director of Student Activities at C.M.U., says the incident put Greek life on the map, in the wrong way.

“It’s hard to speak on stuff that happens outside of C.M.U., but I will say it is unfortunate,” said Brown. “I think we were all kind of shocked about what happened up at Treetops or even some of the stuff that happens across the country.”

Like in March, in Oklahoma, members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon were caught on video, chanting racist remarks.

The incident created another uproar.

“To see that blatantly portrayed in a video, it was disgusting,” said Brad Kloha. 

Brad Kloha is the adviser for the C.M.U. chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

When news reached his group at Central, Brad says it not only re-ignited the talk about the presence of “Greek-dom” on a campus, it was against everything his fraternity stood for.

“I think every member that was on SAE that saw that video…they definitely had a very visceral reaction to that, you know?” said Brad. “That’s very antithetical to what we believe, as members of our organization, as SAE’s, and it’s very antithetical to the true gentleman and what we believe in terms of treating our fellow man equally and what we say in our creed.”

There’s more to life, Greek life that is, than partying and going out. The students of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia can even attest that their experience in Greek life, as an organization, is educational to a whole new level.

“Part of the object of our fraternity is about the advancement of music in America and that’s a huge thing we focus on, but we are not just a professional fraternity, which is a cool thing, too,” said Stephen Bollinger. “We don’t only focus on music. We still try to build bonds of brotherhood through the musical endeavors that we go on.”

Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia brothers sing for nursing homes and compete in competitions across the state.

“I’m kind of proud of being a part of C.M.U. Greek life because I think, in general, we have a lot of upstanding groups here that don’t follow some of those typical stereotypes,” said Bollinger. “The university has done a lot to make sure that kind of happens with the groups, but I think the groups are definitely living up to that standard.”

Bollinger’s group isn’t the only one.

C.M.U’s Pi Sigma Epsilon sales and marketing fraternity is the top PSE chapter in the country, having won three sales championships in a row.

“What we really pride ourselves on is being able to give students their real-world knowledge and skills and information they need to be as effective as they can once they graduate,” said Delaney Dillon. 

Their chapter has been at C.M.U. for nine years.

In that time, their success can be measured in the success of their alumni.

“We have had 100 percent job placement within six months of graduating and that’s since we have been on campus,” said Dillon.

So while shirts with Greek letters stitched onto them have been around for centuries, C.M.U. hopes they will be around for centuries to come.

“The values I had held onto my whole life, I found in that same Greek organization,” said Brad. “It’s not that it had changed me when I became a member of Greek life, my membership in my Greek organization enhanced everything that I had already been a part of and believed.”

Brown said, “They recognize that it isn’t just about the letters on their chest but, at the end of the day, they are all a part of the same community.”