The Past, Present & Future of Greek Life


Merritt Dismuke: The past, present & future of Greek life


Greek life: once a staple of North American universities. The concept of Greek life consists of numerous parts; one component contains its philanthropic intent, benefitting community members and selected non-profits. Another aspect encompasses ritual events, allowing members to bond on the premise of sharing private ceremonies where passwords are exchanged between chapter members. But the most important factor of all? The ability to meet others, build your social portfolio and make lifelong friendships. Now, Greek Life can function like a well-oiled machine. But depending on university standards, fractions of Greek Life can be taken away, compelling these historic organizations to run on fumes. 


“I love Greek life,” said an anonymous sophomore. “I moved here from Cincinnati Ohio not knowing a single soul and Greek life is what turned that around. I was struggling finding friends since I am pretty much the only person from out of state. But once I joined a fraternity my college experience turned around. I made tons of new friends and new connections in my community.”


So how exactly did Greek life start? In 1776, John Heath, a student at The College of William & Mary, found himself rejected by the two Latin secret societies on campus. As a Greek scholar, Heath created the first collegiate Greek-letter society, Phi Beta Kappa, and began a tradition of naming college organizations after the initials of their secret Greek motto. Nearly 50 years later, Kappa Alpha Order was established at Union College, thus becoming the model for modern fraternities. The first sororities were founded down the road in Macon at Wesleyan College: Alpha Delta Pi, established in 1851, followed by Phi Mu in 1852. 


Students highlight Greek life as their main attraction to GC. Aside from being fulfilled by helping the Milledgeville community through Greek philanthropy, meeting others and creating dedicated friendships have deterred many from transferring. 


“Greek life is a great way for networking to better your career once graduated,” said John Clay Atwater, senior public health major. “Because of my affiliation with Kappa Sigma I have landed a great job for when I leave. I made several friends and brothers who will stand beside me on my wedding day.”


“Greek life is the only reason I stayed at Georgia College instead of transferring,” said Charlie Haug, president of Kappa Alpha Order. “I found my group of friends and have had experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. As president, we raised over $3,000 in one week pre-pandemic and $2,500 completely virtually over the past year for local philanthropies.”


“It’s a huge attraction to this school and it seems like the school administration has forgotten that,” said Trent Holley, senior. “Greek life organizations at GCSU draw kids in that want to be a part of something instead of being a needle in a haystack at large campuses like UGA. Greek life does great things for this school.”


With the influx of COVID-19 hitting college campuses nationwide, GC put their foot down on Greek organizations throwing events, socializing in-person and recruiting potential new members. Last semester, Greek affiliates understood the cancellation of social gatherings. But with COVID-19 cases dwindling, chapter members are confused as to why other Greek institutions in the Southeast, especially at large universities, are hosting events. While many non-Greek clubs and student-led organizations host events here at GC, a multitude of those in Greek life feel biased against. 


“While other non-Greek organizations are allowed to host events every single week, we’re not allowed to do anything,” said Pearce Tye, senior criminal justice major. “They’ve even gone as far as to tell us that if we don’t live with our fraternity brothers, we’re not allowed to hang out with them. We have the highest restrictions out of any organization on campus. They were even unreasonable before COVID.”


“UGA has 25k more students then GC and each fraternity or sorority there has at least one date night a week,” said Ryan Dunbar, freshman undecided. “While fraternities here get punished for having a party outside in a big backyard.”


Recently, GC banned Kappa Sigma from taking a spring class due to hosting a large outdoor gathering, breaking GC’s COVID-19 guidelines and forcing those in attendance to get COVID tested. Sorority members who participated were threatened to be sent to honors hearings if left untested. With packed bars and restaurants filled to 100% capacity every weekend in downtown Milledgeville, chapter members are questioning the school’s involvement. With GC’s highest spike of COVID-19 considered a ‘thing of the past’ by many, the school’s intervention is disturbing those who seek to enjoy their college experience. The general consensus: Don’t come to parties if you feel sick or unsafe. 


“I don’t think that outdoor parties have done anything to hurt GC’s safety reputation,” said Cameron Conglose, junior marketing major. “It makes no difference if someone is having a party at a house or when the bars are packed full on Thursday and Saturday nights. I think certain fraternities are being targeted, even though there are more people in smaller spaces within bars at night time.”


A large portion of collegiate members believe GC is too harsh on its Greek organizations. With the threat of increased punishment due to COVID-19, affiliated-students are quick to perceive GC’s position on Greek life, both now and then. Many agree that there is 0 trust between GC and Greek organizations. 


“Everyone parties but only Greek life gets called out and punished for it,” said Chyane Scoggins, junior education major. “Any wide gathering is automatically blamed on Greek life and I don’t think that is always fair. They can’t expect us to pay thousands a year and not be able to meet in person for events.”


“I have already heard many seniors in high school are hesitant to apply to GC due to Greek life regulations being so tight,” said an anonymous junior. “They think they’ll have a better college experience elsewhere due to these restrictions. The school will lose not only potential students that are still in high school, but alumni support as well.”


Based on current Greek life limitations, chapter members continue to lose interest in engaging with their organization. While some believe GC’s Interfraternity Council and Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life are working their hardest, others believe the administration is against them and are doubtful that Greek life will be an entity of GC in the future. 


“Ever since COVID, Greek life has gone down hill and practically forced to be non-existent,” Holley said. “The school is forcing students to become uninterested with their fraternity. I mean, what are we paying for if we have no choice but to sit at home? You would think the school would want their students to be involved with each other and active in the community.”


“I don’t think the college realizes how big of an impact Greek life puts on when it comes to recruiting students to come here,” said Catherine Mitchell, senior nursing major. “Without Greek life I think the school won’t grow as much as it has in the past. If they continue on this path, Greek life will be done in a few years.”


Pre-COVID Greek life encouraged safe social engagement, whether sanctioned by GC or not. But with the potential threat of hazing, abuse of alcohol and reckless accidents occurring within fraternities and sororities across the nation, GC tightened its safety measures the past few years. Events (pre-COVID) are registered within a timeframe containing a list of all members attending and their guests. Additionally, the possibility of having liquor at events is now prohibited. Created with students’ safety in mind, these precautions are aimed to prevent harm to those in attendance alongside liability issues. Despite some understanding of the school’s position in limiting the spread of COVID-19, most members of Greek life do not feel appreciated by GC. Many affiliated-students agree that Greek life’s history at GC is deteriorating with every new limitation added. 


“We are not embraced into the GCSU family and I think it’s an absolute travesty considering how many students stay here and pay the university money because they get involved with Greek life and love it,” said Nathan Rich, student. “It’s not just bad business, but also a form of prejudice, which is something I wouldn’t expect to experience at a liberal arts college.”