The Commission on Residential Environment report, which was presented to the Lehigh community in July, addressed social issues on Lehigh’s campus and proposed solutions to those issues. The goal of the report was to address and find solutions to issues on campus and start conversations about creating a more inclusive environment. To fix the perceived problems, both large- and small-scale recommendations were proposed in the report.
“The conversations I’m interested in having with students are more along the lines of, in a simplistic way, ‘Why do you think that suggestion was made?'” Lehigh President John Simon said. “Why is this proposal on the table, and how does it lead to actually solving some of the issues that CORE was asked to address?”
While the 148-page report focused on strengthening the bonds between members of the Lehigh community as a whole, it also addressed the divide between Greek and non-Greek members of the campus community.
According to the CORE report, between 38 percent and 45 percent of male students are involved in a Greek organization at Lehigh, and nearly half of female students are involved in a Greek organization. Such a high percentage of a sub-population has the ability to “significantly influence a community,” according to the report.
In an online survey available to all undergraduate students, 101 of 106 respondents — or 95 percent of students who took the survey — said there was a divide between Greek and non-Greek students at Lehigh. Seventy students who took the survey were in a Greek house or planned to join one, and 36 students were not affiliated with a Greek organization and had no plans to join one.
Students are often divided along Greek or non-Greek lines, according to Interfraternity Council President Matthew Bay, ’16.
“There are some positives and there are some negatives to it, but there’s definitely a difference in the two groups of students because (Greek students) are organized under an umbrella, and the rest of the campus usually isn’t,” Bay said.
The Panhellenic Council, Interfraternity Council and Multicultural Greek Council represent students who are involved in Greek life. These three organizations work together to represent the interests of the Greek community as a whole, Bay said. There is no group, however, to represent the voices of those who are not affiliated with Greek life, and the lack of this sort of organization can create a silent majority.
Simon and Vice President for Academic Affairs Pat V. Farrell have spoken with the leaders of Greek groups about the CORE report and the social divisions that exist on campus. Because there is no central organization for some interests on campus, such as those who are not involved in a Greek organization, Simon and Farrell have sought to discuss the CORE report with a wide range of students who may not be represented by a structure such as IFC, Panhel or MGC.
“Across all these meetings, we’re not really looking for a vote, or the loudest voice wins or the most persuasive argument,” Farrell said. “It’s about gathering a lot of input, and one of the advantages you get of the long experience of doing these kind of things is you know that sometimes the loudest (voice) is not the most right or even the most thought-provoking.”
One talking point in these meetings has been about the suggestion that sophomores should be required to live in on-campus residence halls. Sophomores and juniors who are Greek typically live in the chapter houses, while non-Greek students live in residence halls. This requirement would force Greek and non-Greek students to live together and would remove the physical barrier that segregates the two groups.
Twenty-eight percent of students who participated in the survey said the social divide between Greek and non-Greek students could be mended if sophomores were required to live in residence halls. Sam Shorris, ’18, is not a member of a Greek organization and has had difficulty maintaining contact with her friends in Greek houses in part because of the physical distance between their homes on campus.
“I think because we’re living in separate houses, you literally have walls that divide you,” Shorris said. “Living in a dorm kind of forces you to be friends with the people on your hall, so maybe it would integrate different sororities and students.”
There are no plans to build a dorm to house these sophomore students, according to Simon, but it is an option that is being discussed. Some members of the Greek community would be open to living outside of chapter houses, but others would prefer to live with members of their Greek organization in a house if they have one, according to Bay.
“We’re all interested to see how it would work because right now we don’t have that dynamic, so we don’t know what it would be like,” Bay said. “We have had many people who have said in the community that it would be nice to have that experience in the dorm — still getting to know people, still getting to be a part of the bigger Lehigh community. But then again, some people also like living in chapter houses if they have one their sophomore year.”
Divisive pressure to go Greek
The difference between living locations of Greek and non-Greek students is a physical representation of the divide that splits the two groups. Because of the large group of students who are members of Greek organizations, there is often pressure to join, according to Shorris and Erin Akins, ’18.
Shorris and Akins both rushed with the intention of joining a chapter, both received bids and both were not initiated to officially become members of a Greek organization. They originally decided to join the Greek community because of social pressures.
Michael Airo, ’16, did not rush but was conscious of the influence of and pressure to join Greek life. Airo thought about joining a fraternity after talking to multiple upperclassmen in a Greek organization.
“It’s an over-saturation of Greek stuff,” Airo said. “They’re kind of doing their own PR blitz, if you will, in the beginning of freshman year. It drowns out the other things you could be doing.”
First-year students often join Greek life in an effort to quickly secure a friend group, according to Airo and Shorris. Akins, Airo and Shorris said they do not regret opting not to go Greek, but Akins and Shorris said they do not regret rushing.
Akins and Shorris decided to “drop” their chapters after receiving a bid to join, which meant they were no longer enrolled in new member education for the chapter and would not become official members. Students who rush and receive a bid are typically initiated into their house, and Akins said her peers were “shocked” by her decision to drop.
One of the biggest challenges Lehigh students face is maintaining friendships with peers who do not join the same Greek chapter, according to the report. Those who decide to join a Greek house spend the majority of their time at the chapter houses, Shorris said, and it makes it difficult to maintain relationships with friends who become a member of a Greek organization.
Shorris said her two best friends joined a Greek chapter and she doesn’t speak to them anymore.
“They don’t mean to do that,” Shorris said. “I just think that if you’re in a house of girls it is hard to reach out to friends outside of the house.”
Greek organizations host events such as tailgates to encourage members of the Greek community to mingle with non-Greek students and maintain friendly relationships, but these events are often only attended by members of the Greek community. The tailgate that was held by Greek organizations before a home football game this semester was an attempt to move the social scene before games from MoCos to an area where the entire student body would feel comfortable. MoCos are usually exclusively between a sorority and a fraternity at an off-campus house, but a tailgate was held outside of the stadium. All students were invited, but the event mostly was attended by members of the Greek community.
“We put on programming, and we try to advertise it to the entire campus as much as possible,” Bay said. “If five Greek chapters are organizing an event, we don’t control who signs up or not.”
Social policy and Greek life
The CORE report has sparked conversations about programming to create a more inclusive environment, and IFC is working to present a plan about changing the social policy. One of the six major recommendations of the CORE report is to “rewrite the social policy,” and IFC is seeking to define the vague goal and work toward concrete ways to achieve it, such as hosting tailgates, according to Bay.
Creating a more inclusive environment is a “complex task,” and the risk of unintended consequences is significant, according to the report. About 70 percent of students who were surveyed said the Greek versus non-Greek divide contributed to social issues at Lehigh.
Rewriting the social policy would create a more open social scene, and the report notes this would require an examination of Greek life because of the tie between Greek life and social policy. At the moment, fraternities and sororities typically join together for parties or events, and the members of those Greek organizations mainly populate those parties or events. Because of this, students who are not in Greek life can be excluded or restricted socially, according to Akins.
“Even at parties, when you meet someone they always ask what house you’re in, and when you tell them that you’re not in a house they are kind of shocked by that,” Akins said.
Chris Dallao, ’18, is not a member of a Greek organization but has friends who are. He has had difficulty getting into closed Greek parties, but he said he feels comfortable with his social circle and is not hindered on a daily basis by the divide.
“I really found my community outside of Greek life,” Dallao said. “I still have plenty of friends who are in Greek houses, my girlfriend is in a Greek house, but for me I didn’t really think about it.”
The goal is to create an inclusive environment for all students at Lehigh, according to Simon. Some students who have found a place in Greek life may not see a social divide, but those outside of it are aware of the exclusive nature of the system, according to Akins.
“I think (Greek life) brings certain people together,” Akins said. “But I don’t think it brings the Lehigh community as a whole together.”