The Stigma Surrounding Greek Life: Combating Negativity with Positivity

The Word on the Street

Philanthropy.  Friendship.  Partying.  Ask anybody on a college campus what they think about Greek life, and you will generate a wide array of responses.

“It’s just a bunch of guys who party, isn’t it?” questioned one University of Wyoming student.

“I always thought it was kind of like the movie ‘Animal House,'” said another student.

There were some more positive answers, however.  One freshman stated, “I think they do a lot for the community.  Just coming to Laramie from Nebraska, I saw several Adopt-a-Highway signs that were sponsored by Greek organizations.  They want to help out.”

The general view of Greek life was relatively mixed.  To understand why people thought this way, one must travel back to the year 1978.

The Stigma

The “Animal House” stigma, as it is known, stems from the 1978 film “Animal House.”  This movie was designed to be a satire of Greek life, but the legacy of the film has shown a negative light.  Examples of binge drinking, hazing, and drug use were sprinkled throughout the movie.  Indeed, there are many people who believe that this behavior occurs in Greek life.

John Belushi of the movie "Animal House" (picture courtesy of IMDb).

John Belushi of the movie “Animal House” (picture courtesy of IMDb).

In addition, news stories tend to highlight the negative aspects of Greek life instead of the positives.  Time after time, media outlets across the country have picked up stories relating to mishaps in the Greek community.  Whether it be incidents of hazing, extreme alcohol consumption, or unbrotherly-like conduct, the perception of Greek life has been negatively affected.

Confronting the Stigma in the Greek Community

This view of Greek life is troubling to Tristan Hilpert.

Hilpert is the Coordinator of Fraternity and Sorority Life for the University of Wyoming, a position that he has held for the past five weeks.  In his position, he is an advocate and mentor for fraternities and sororities on campus.  His involvement in Greek life stems back to his college years as a member of Phi Kappa Tau.  Since graduating, he has held several Greek leadership positions across the country.  One of his many roles as a Greek life coordinator includes combating this stigma.

“Just like all the other stereotypes out there, Greek life has its own, and in some cases, we do fall into that stereotype,” states Hilpert.  “A lot of times, unfortunately, we get misrepresented under that stereotype.  These stereotypes exist because something happened at some point to facilitate the stereotype.”

In addition, he states that rumors and other perceptions of Greek life further the stereotype.

Mitch Nedved is the President of Sigma Chi Fraternity on campus, as well as a former Interfraternity Council president.  He offers his own take on the stigma of Greek life.

“There is the national stigma of Greek life that is always hard to overcome, [that] we are nothing but party boy elitists.  It is easy to think when the media always shows the scandals that happen.”

This stigma is often asked about during open recruitment for fraternities, according to Cameron Sloan, Vice President of Recruitment for Sigma Phi Epsilon.

“I think a lot of people tend to think about Greek life in the sense that Hollywood portrays, along the lines of ‘Animal House’ or any other show that portrays fraternities as social drinking type atmosphere, rather than a more professional atmosphere,” Sloan commented.

Turning Negatives into Positives

Greek life has had its share of negativity in the news recently, both close to home and far away.  But through the muckraking of Greek life, leaders both locally and nationally are turning negatives into positives.  National leaders of Greek life are combating alleged alcohol and drug use, as well as hazing by instituting guidelines in their constituions.  The North-American Interfraternity Council (NIC) reflects these guidelines in their constitution, instituting punishments for excessive alcohol and drug use.  Likewise, the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) institutes risk management policies in their policy manual.

Fraternities nationwide are taking proactive measures to combat the stigma.  Sigma Nu promotes their Helping Hand Initiative, aimed at promoting philanthropy in the community.  Sigma Phi Epsilon takes pride in their Balanced Man Program to bring academics and leadership to the forefront.  Here on campus, fraternities and sororities are turning to Facebook as a marketing tool for philanthropic events and successful group activities.  Instagram has been another helpful medium of getting the word out.  Several chapters on campus and nationwide have taken to this social media platform to document members’ good deeds.

Transforming the Image at a Local Level

Getting back to basics is key, noted Hilpert.  It’s the same sentiment that is echoed by other leaders in the Greek community.

“During recruitment, are we recruiting as a values-based organization should?  Or are we recruiting based on the fun stuff we do?  All of our Greek organizations are founded on a set of values and creeds, and we need to be exemplifying said values during the year, all year long,” said Hilpert.

He also highlights how important education is.  The presentation of information is key to the positive image of Greek life.  When asked if it was “bragging” when Greek organizations talk about their successful philanthropic events, he responded no, and added that it’s “highlighting the good things that [Greek organizations] are doing because it’s part of their values.”  One of Hilpert’s other objectives is to curb inappropriate behavior, either through the actions of his office or through judicial boards of individual chapters.

Sloan wants to make sure that his cabinet members, as well as all other Greek community members, know how to respond to the questions that are brought up.  He wants people to “douse the rumors before they start to spread.”

Nedved, in response to a Branding Iron article published last November, stated that fraternalism “is not partying, binge drinking, and chasing disgusting numbers of young girls. It is inheriting responsibilities, selflessness, and [a] collegiate family away from home.”

Members of the Order of Omega (picture courtesy of Fraternity and Sorority Life).

Members of the Order of Omega (picture courtesy of Fraternity and Sorority Life).

Greek life members continue to push academic excellence and philanthropy through the Order of Omega.  In this organization, the top 3% of students are recognized because of their academic excellence.  These members have also done quite a bit in the community to improve the view of Greek life.  Last November, members collected over 50 backpacks and several non-perishable food items in response to National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week.

Members of the Greek community both locally and nationally have helped transform the image of Greek life into a more positive one through marketing, education, and myth-busting.  Indeed, there has been a rocky past for they way fraternities and sorority have been portrayed.  However, they have demonstrated the positives by highlighting their community service, their love for philanthropy, and passion for academic success.  For more information about Greek life on the University of Wyoming campus, click here, or stop by the Fraternity and Sorority Life office at 1502 Sorority Row.

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