College Clarifies Position on Greek Life

Drew Kaplan ‘20, Editor in Chief

Dickinson College clarified its position on Greek life and addressed shortcomings in Greek life on campus during a townhall style event hosted by Associate Director of Fraternity Life and Experiential Leadership Education, Sean Ryan and Associate Director of Sorority Life and Leadership Programs, Anna Baldasarre. 

Both Ryan and Baldasarre stressed the benefits which Greek life brings to students, noting that the average grade point average of those in Greek life is above the college average, and has been trending upwards since the fall 2016 semester. This is in contrast to the college average, which has stagnated since the spring 2017 semester.

Ryan explained that, as of the spring 2019 semester, roughly seven percent of campus men are members of fraternities, compared to roughly 36 percent of campus women. These percentages come from three fraternities and six sororities. Ryan addressed concerns from students stemming from the small size of male Greek life, noting “we recognize that there are limited options for men to go Greek,” but warning that expanding male Greek life must “be an intentional process.” Ryan explained that the number of men in fraternities had been comparable to women in sororities prior to the shuttering of the two largest fraternities on campus, Phi Delta Theta and Kappa Sigma, two years ago.

“When we’re looking at fraternity expansion, I think it’s the idea of understanding, as of right now, we really don’t know what we’re looking for. We have a set of criteria that we think will make a chapter successful at Dickinson [College’s] campus,” Ryan stated. Ryan laid out four criteria for judging whether a fraternity chapter is suitable to establish or reestablish a presence on campus; perceptions of the organization at the national level, whether the fraternity is a member of the North American Interfraternity Conference, what procedures the fraternity uses for its new member education, and whether the organization has a history with the college. 

In an interview, Ryan explained that part of the reason in the delay for expanding fraternity options on campus lies in the interest of the male student population. He explained that, due to cultural shifts occurring the college aged population, and a general decline of men entering college, fraternities in general have struggled. This has led the college to question whether, with three fraternities already on campus, are “there enough males to go Greek, but also […] enough to sustain that chapter.” Ryan added that students place a greater emphasis on academics, with a more narrowly tailored set of activities beyond classes. “Now it is students are only joining things they know is going to propel them academically,” he said. 

Ryan also noted that public perceptions of Greek life in general have played a role in the college’s approach to fraternity expansion. “It’s the idea that people don’t come with the intention of going Greek because they don’t see the benefits from the media or from their families because they just don’t know. Coming to campus, they’re thinking about joining other things.” He continued that, while fraternities have continued to thrive at larger colleges and universities, the culture surrounding smaller liberal arts colleges has moved away from an emphasis on Greek life. At “small private liberal arts schools, smaller community colleges, [and] smaller state schools, people don’t necessarily go with the mindset to join Greek organizations. They go more for the academic side.” Ryan added that the college has conducted focus groups with fraternity members and unaffiliated men to better ascertain interest, though Ryan noted that final approval for whether a new chapter will establish depends on the agreement of the national office of the fraternity and college administration, and that the college has not yet identified any fraternity which is suitable to establish. “As of right now there is no one in the queue because we still don’t know what students are looking for,” Ryan said, “so that’s why we’re trying to get that feedback so until we have that data from the students.”

Baldasarre noted during the townhall that “we are meeting the needs” of the college and female students with the current sororities, and that the college has no current plans to alter the sorority system.

Fraternity presidents echoed Ryan’s sentiments on the current state of male Greek life at Dickinson. Titus Clark ’22, President of Sigma Lambda Beta, said “I think the current state of Greek Life on Dickinson’s campus is somewhat ambiguous at the moment. It seems as though each semester new challenges are brought to the table. Greek Life is definitely here, but not as present as many of us would like it to be.” 

Preston MacLean ’20, President of Delta Sigma Phi, added “I think the number one thing we need is a stronger Greek presence, and more fraternities, on this campus. Not only will that stir up more interest in Greek Life, but the competition will make us all better and more vibrant for it.”

Ian Genao ’20, President of Kappa Alpha Psi, said “there’s not enough fraternities on campus.” However, “I think it’s in a good state, […] but there’s always things that need to be done better.”