Carthage fraternities and sororities evolve to meet contemporary needs
Hollywood has gotten plenty of laughs at the expense of fraternities and sororities.
There were the full-time partiers in “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” the overaged frat buddies in “Old School,” and the shallow villainesses in “Sydney White.”
“Coming into college, I had no intent to join a fraternity,” says the neuroscience major from Rio, Wisconsin. “I thought frats were full of guys that didn’t care much for classes and didn’t have respect for people. At least that is how I had seen them portrayed in movies.”
There might’ve been times and places where the reality warranted that reputation. But not now, Dante soon discovered, and definitely not here.
Drawn to the organization’s colorful, tight-knit membership, he joined Delta Omega Nu as a freshman. Three years later, Dante serves as its treasurer.
“Overall, through my experience with the DONs, I have learned that Greek life at Carthage is much more positive and beneficial than the common stigmas about fraternities would lead you to believe,” he says.
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If Bluto and Flounder wouldn’t cut it here, neither would their antagonist. Thankfully, Elizabeth Snider is no Dean Wormer.
Carthage’s new assistant dean of students and director of student involvement worked closely with Greek organizations during seven years at her alma mater, Lake Forest College in suburban Chicago, and she proudly maintains affiliate membership in international women’s fraternity Alpha Phi.
Since joining the Carthage staff in June, Ms. Snider has laid out a list of priorities to keep fraternities and sororities safe, healthy, and thriving. Points of emphasis include liability insurance (required by the Board of Trustees), hazing prevention training, parity in recruitment, financial transparency, and leadership succession planning.
“The commitment to robust Greek life at Carthage has been very clear to me, so we’re just making sure the experience we offer addresses the modern day challenges and opportunities for fraternities and sororities,” Ms. Snider says. “Chapter leaders’ willingness to examine current practices while maintaining meaningful traditions has been a great starting point.”
These policy updates come in response to changing student expectations. With the benefit of the long view, Ms. Snider has observed the evolution of Greek life’s role in the college experience.
More residential options
As the recruitment process introduced her to the various sororities at Carthage, Autumn Williams ’22 looked for one that could replicate the family feel of her high school theatre program.
“I managed to find that with the DOEs,” says the graphic design and marketing major from Union, Missouri.
Looking ahead to her junior year, she’s eager to return to the first-floor wing in Pat Tarble Residence Hall where Delta Theta Epsilon (nicknamed the “DOEs”) has a block of rooms reserved for members.
“I love living on the sorority floor,” Autumn says. “I’m surrounded by my sisters.”
“Years ago, it was common for a chapter to fully occupy its designated floor, but, as an institution, we’ve adjusted to students’ changing preferences,” says Ms. Snider. “It’s important to support the chapters that maintain those residential spaces and also provide a welcoming atmosphere for unaffiliated students who live on those floors.”
Sometimes other commitments dictate where a Greek member lives. Dante works as a resident assistant at Madrigrano Family Residence Hall, where he’s had residents from two other fraternities.
“One of my jobs as an RA is to help connect my residents to build a community, but fraternity floors pretty much do that for me,” he says. “Members from the fraternity on each floor already know each other and are personable people, so they have no issue talking to other residents and making them feel welcome.”
Since they aren’t next-door neighbors, he’s got to work a little harder to stay connected to his own brothers. The DONs hang out informally after weekly chapter meetings or meet for lunch at The Caf.
Accommodating diverse interests
In years past, Greek affiliation typically dominated students’ attention outside of class. Finding the shelves bulging with extracurricular options, today’s students are building more diverse identities at Carthage.
The menu of registered student organizations on campus now tops 130. This fall, the athletics lineup will expand to 27 NCAA Division III sports.
When he’s not making the rounds at Madrigrano, Dante might be supervising student researchers in the Neuroscience Laboratory. Or else sprinting around the track, looking to squeeze some extra speed out of the legs that contributed to a third-place finish in the 400-meter relay at the outdoor conference meet last May.
“Years ago, fraternity or sorority membership really served as the cornerstone of a student’s social and co-curricular experience,” says Ms. Snider. “Today’s students view Greek membership as a great supplement to the college experience. In fact, it provides a strong support network for their other activities.”
As vice president of Phi Kappa Sigma, Jackson Larson ’21 estimates his executive board duties take between 10 and 15 hours each week. He’s been fighting the tendency to overload his schedule since high school.
Of course, as students divvy up their waking hours, classes and homework still take precedence. Each Greek organization sets a strict minimum GPA for students to maintain active membership, and regular study sessions are common.
“We understand everyone’s a student first,” says Jackson, a marketing major from Monticello, Minnesota.
Even with supportive brothers in the same boat, he has a simple tip: Be disciplined. “You can’t be worried about ‘What will people think of me if I miss one meeting?’”
Collaboration over competition
Fourteen organizations are still categorized as “social fraternities and sororities,” and, certainly, the social aspect of Greek life is still a major draw.
Introverted when she first arrived, Autumn credits Delta Theta Epsilon for the push to “break out of my shell” and even plan chapter outings during a term as sisterhood chair. She’s also station manager for campus radio outlet WAVE, president of first-generation student group 1G, and membership director for the Carthage Activities Board.
The sorority’s emphasis on conservation aligned with Autumn’s own values, sealing the deal. The DOEs have held a series of Eco-Week activities the past couple of springs.
Carthage’s online calendar is filled with service projects organized by the fraternal chapters. And they’re increasingly joining forces to maximize the impact.
Heels for Hope Charity Drag Show. Women’s (Kappa Phi Eta), men’s (Phi Kappa Sigma), and co-ed (Tau Sigma Chi) organizations joined to put on the fundraiser for Courage MKE, a nonprofit that provides housing and services for displaced LGBTQ youths.A prime example of that collaboration came in December at the third annual
“We all initially wanted to be a part of something bigger than ourselves,” says Adalee Chapa ’21, social chair for Kappa Phi Eta. “That is why many people join Greek life to begin with.”
The social work major from Aurora, Illinois, also serves on the Panhellenic Council. Overseeing sorority activities at Carthage, that governing body is composed of two representatives from each chapter.
In the men’s counterpart, the Intrafraternity Council, Jackson holds one of Phi Kappa Sigma’s two seats. As chair of the Greek Week Committee, he’s aiming to incorporate a service project into each day of the weeklong celebration.
Whether he’s wearing his Skulls hat or his IFC hat, Jackson doesn’t think twice about teaming up with Tekes, Turtles, or whoever has a good idea. On such a small campus, he figures it’s impossible to avoid those interactions.
When he attended the fraternity’s national leadership institute, members from other campuses told a different story.
“It’s not the baseline everywhere,” Jackson learned. “At most universities, Greek life doesn’t get along.”
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With active chapters ranging from 6 to 67 years old, Greek life at Carthage collectively boasts thousands of graduates. In 2018, President John Swallow convened a small Greek Alumni Advisory Council to benefit from their perspective.
“The group has helped us to ensure good communication with chapter leadership and advisors,” he says, “as well as to consider ways to involve Greek alumni in the success of their chapters.”
Both for professional networking and personal growth, the chance to connect with like-minded people across the miles — and the years — remains another strong selling point for Carthage’s fraternities and sororities.
“Whether you graduate in 1962 or 2025,” Jackson says, “you’re all part of the same brotherhood.”
Learn more about Greek life at Carthage.