Greek Life: Independence and community

Charlie Hunter, Campus Life Reporter

For many students, exactly what goes on in the big houses along East Issacs Avenue and downstairs in Prentiss Hall is a mystery. Greek life has been a part of Whitman’s campus for years, but with a minority of students involved in these organizations, one can wonder what it is they really do. How does Greek life work at Whitman?

Whether you are a part of Greek life or have friends involved in the Greek system here at Whitman, one cannot deny that Greek life is very much a part of the Whitman campus and operates in a unique way. As these Greek chapters are autonomous, their relationship to the college is a little different than other student organizations on campus. Beta President Ravi Narayan spoke on fraternities’ independence from Whitman. 

“Greek life, especially in the context of Whitman College, has a sense of quasi-independence,” Narayan said. “A lot of decisions with regards to parties, recruitment, etc., are made autonomously by the Greek leaders as a collective, and topics such as philanthropy may be partially or entirely influenced by the national Greek organization.”

Acknowledging the chapter’s position within its respective national organization, Narayan went on to explain how this independence takes shape here on campus. 

“Some fraternity houses are owned by the college and leased out to the chapters, whereas others are owned by groups of alumni advisors. However, at the end of the day, Greek life is still very much a part of the campus life,” Narayan said. “As a result, the administration has influence on matters such as working with Greek members to work out methods of better integrating Greek life into campus life.”

This sense of independence also occurs on an individual level within the members of fraternities. TKE President Ben Daume explained how this independence from the college can catalyze growth in the individual member.

“It gives students a second sense of home and gives students in fraternities a sense of responsibility. You take on another level of independence and responsibility in living with up to twenty people who all have standards and expectations that you may not get in the dorms,” Daume said. “I can say this is a big part of my self-development, both as a person and [academically].”

Theta President Katie Duncan viewed the relationship between sororities on campus and the administration as solidly connected.

“The Greek leaders work to make decisions that align with Whitman’s values,” Duncan said. “At least to my understanding, Whitman has the ‘final say’ on things (regardless of if the decision they make harms or helps Greek life).”

She also described how while many aspects of college require independence, Greek life can serve as a source of community.

“Being in Greek life gives students a support system throughout college [and] opportunities for leadership and the development of real life skills,” Duncan said.

When one looks at the relationships developed by working with national organizations and Whitman, the dynamic created is what draws people into Greek life. Although Greek life does come with bureaucratic complications, leaders of these organizations look at these speed bumps as a learning process.

In order to ensure harmony between the college and chapters, the college hired Stace Sievert as the new Associate Director of Student Activities: Sorority & Fraternity Life and Student Leadership to facilitate communication and navigate challenges.

“I am the face of [the] administration for Greek life under the supervision of Juli Dunn. I am the one who’s the most, on a day-to-day basis, involved with organizations. [This includes] the officers and the individuals who are in Greek life and connected to it,” Sievert said. 

Sievert went on to mention her weekly meeting with members of Greek life at Whitman, the administration and national members of Greek chapters.

Greek life can seem distant and a bit confusing for many students on campus. Despite this, as college life in America changes, so does Greek life. Although they might not always see eye-to-eye, discussion between Greek chapters and colleges will continue for the promotion of a healthy college campus and beneficial Greek organizations.