By Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief
The Student Senate Committee on Greek Life (SCOGL) released a 15-page report in June—more than 60 days past the deadline—and had one overarching recommendation: continue the committee. The report concluded that more students ought to be interviewed and a systematic survey ought to be conducted in order to get a better read on the pulse of the campus. Despite the committee’s charge to “combine the voices of the Greek and Non-Greek student populations of Gettysburg College in order to better address issues of community that affect both,” the report conceded such representation may not have been achieved during SCOGL’s work.
Over the summer, new Student Senate President Patrick McKenna ‘20 said he would “look forward to reinstating the ad hoc SCOGL committee in the fall.”
Upon reflection, however, McKenna said he is not convinced that would be as good an investment of people’s time as he initially thought.
“At this time, I do not plan to reconstitute the committee,” he said. “However, I am open and willing to engage in discussions around student life in the future.”
View an annotated copy of the SCOGL report below
Report oversights and administrative reaction
The report highlighted concerns about the exclusivity of Greek organizations, their dominance over the weekend social scene, and relationships between Greek organizations and student organizations such as Student Senate, the Campus Activities Board, and identity-based clubs.
However, the report made no mention of sexual assault, which the college’s 2016 Campus Climate Study found to be a prevalent issue particularly in fraternity houses, nor did it mention the guiding principles the Board of Trustees adopted in 2017 to chart its path forward with respect to Greek Life.
“The concern is that you have a relatively small group of students who interviewed a relatively small group of students.” – Julie Ramsey
Vice President of College Life and Dean of Students Julie Ramsey said that, while she appreciated the committee’s work (and was among the five college staff members the committee interviewed), the report had significant oversights and probably would not be a game-changer in terms of how the college approaches Greek Life.
“The concern is that you have a relatively small group of students who interviewed a relatively small group of students,” she said, adding, on the omission of a discussion about sexual assault, “I think it’s a fairly significant oversight, and I’m positive I brought it up as an issue they should pay attention to.”
Director of Student Activities & Greek Life Jon Allen, whom SCOGL also interviewed, concurred that the report contained little new information.
“The concerns and recommendations in the report are mostly in line with the work we have been doing over the past several years,” he said.
Reaction within the Greek community
In addition to Ramsey and Allen, The Gettysburgian spoke to the presidents of the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Council, Sigma Chi, the largest fraternity, and Tri Sigma, which had the most new members in 2018.
None of the four were interviewed by the committee, and each had a different perception of the work the committee did.
Panhellenic Council President Callie Fucarino ‘20 said that her organization is already paying attention to many of the issues the report raised.
“Panhellenic has always been open to cooperate and contribute to conversations about the campus social climate,” she said. “Internally, many of our meeting discussions have been centered around expanding our reach and inclusivity on campus.”
Becky Montross ‘20, President of Tri Sigma, said that no one in her sorority was interviewed and that the pool of interviewees was clearly too small. She took issue, in particular, with the lack of discussion about sexual assault, which, she contends, is a systemic issue within the Greek community.
“There is a total lack of education amongst fraternity men around sexual assault,” she said. “In the last few years, it seems that only sorority women have received training regarding the prevention of sexual misconduct, which reveals an unhealthy double standard. This aspect of Greek life needs to be investigated.”
Kevin Cosgrave ‘20, Chair of the Interfraternity Council (IFC), was more positive about the report and, like Fucarino, expressed support for the idea of College Houses, the Campus Activities Board (CAB), and other campus organizations sponsoring their own social events and co-sponsoring events with Greek organizations.
“I do think these conversations are beneficial and help to stir the pot,” Cosgrave said, adding, on the social climate, “I encourage every student in the college community to look to CAB, College Houses, and other venues across campus as social outlets, as well.”
Fucarino noted that non-Greek organizations should be held to the same standards for hosting social events with alcohol including Green Dot training and Training for Intervention Procedures (TIPS).
“The reality is that we are exclusive. We don’t have to explain why we hand out bids and not everyone meets our standard for membership.” – High Garst, President of Sigma Chi
Sigma Chi President High Garst ‘20 took issue with the report framing some qualities inherent to Greek Life in a negative light.
“The reality is that we are exclusive,” Garst said. “We don’t have to explain why we hand out bids and not everyone meets our standard for membership … I’m okay with this, and I appreciate the time and information I was given during rush week to think about if I was willing to attempt to join an organization which demanded secrecy and financial contribution.”
Ramsey said in an interview that she views the exclusivity of the Greek system as “a fundamental contradiction to what the college is trying to encourage and the environment we’re trying to create for students.” Not speaking specifically about Sigma Chi, she noted that, while lots of organizations allow some members and not others, it is the way she sees Greek organizations treat others that concerns her.
“They can decide who their members are going to be,” she said, “but that doesn’t give them the right to mistreat other people.”
Garst argued that the report also misses a large part of what fraternities do. In Sigma Chi, Garst says that the fraternity includes three components: a secret ritual that “binds us together and makes us feel as if we are part of a greater organization which is called to more than is expected of others,” an “intimate brotherhood,” and a broader social and philanthropic organization.
“I think this committee fails to recognize that there is so much more to a Greek organization than just the social aspect,” he said.
As for the social divide on campus between Greek and non-Greek students, Garst believes that, insofar as people believe such a divide exists, such a divide is a problem.
“I would like it to be fixed because I want all of my fellow students to feel comfortable being involved with our chapter through philanthropic participation, social functions, and community service events,” he said. “They also deserve to feel comfortable on campus and for there to be options for social functions and greater campus involvement outside of those offered by Greek organizations.”
SCOGL, Garst believes, did not contribute towards bridging that divide and misses a large part of what he sees as the point of Greek Life.
“I feel that continuing the committee without a close connection with IFC or Panhellenic Council would neglect the reality that the Greek system is built on a secrecy that we value, and it would fail to paint a holistic and positive picture of Greek Life,” he said.
“They can decide who their members are going to be, but that doesn’t give them the right to mistreat other people.” – Julie Ramsey
Montross concurred that the report overlooks important aspects of why students participate in Greek Life.
“I feel they failed to truly capture the incredibly special alumni network Greek organizations expose its members to,” she said. “It’s a part of Greek life that doesn’t get talked about enough.”
“I would have really liked to have seen some positive, specific stories from both sororities and fraternities,” she added. “I know personally—without the support of my sisters—I would have never thought to take on a leadership position, and therefore, not known how rewarding and how much I would grow as a person because of it.”
McKenna, who is also a member of Sigma Chi, said that Senate has a role to play in facilitating conversations about student life, including Greek Life, but that this committee’s effort was not particularly successful in that regard.
“I believe that the Student Senate can and should serve an important role in discussion surrounding student life on campus,” he said. “The SCOGL report was conceived last year to attempt to deal with student life. However, I feel that the report was written without the input of many important campus leaders, both Greek and non-Greek, and therefore missed an opportunity to add constructive discourse on campus with regards to student life.”
The path forward
For her part, Ramsey said that she will continue to emphasize creating social opportunities for non-Greek students so that all students can enjoy a “rich social experience.” One manifestation of this will be enhancing opportunities for College Houses to host social functions, which, she noted, tend not to have as many conduct problems as functions in Greek organizations.
“There have been virtually no alcohol violations at College Houses that we have pursued,” she said. “There is a difference—and maybe the committee can help us dig into the details of this—with house events, I think, in that the individuals who are sponsoring these events feel more accountable, whereas, in fraternities, the organization is accountable. That is a difference that I don’t quite know how to work through.”
In the long term, the Board of Trustees plans to continue to support a Greek system at Gettysburg College, though their 2017 review notes that the system “must continue to evolve in alignment with the College’s mission, values, and new Strategic Plan.”
Ramsey said that, as the college grows more diverse, there may be less interest in Greek participation, noting that, since the 1980s, when more than 80 percent of students were members of a Greek organization, the Greek population has gradually diminished.
“I think it has reached an equilibrium for now, but that could change as the student population changes,” she said. “The College should provide an environment that the students are responsive to, and as the students change, that may also change.”
This article appeared on pages 10 and 11 of the September 26, 2019 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.