Greek Life: Small numbers but vibrant

Holly Farris

Holly Farris

South Dakota State University’s men’s and women’s fraternities will hold Greek Week activities Sept.18-22. But compared to other schools, the percentage of students participating in those events at SDSU is small.

Members of SDSU’s nine international and national fraternities comprise around three percent of the student body, compared to North Dakota State University’s five percent and the University of South Dakota’s 15 to 20 percent, according to last year’s figures.

USD Greek Life adviser Cody Siewert attributes USD’s sizeable fraternity system to aggressive recruitment and Greek leaders networking with other students in campus organizations. Joshua Boschee, Greek Life coordinator at NDSU, said NDSU and SDSU actually have very comparable fraternity systems in terms of size and involvement. Trisha Nordaune, program adviser for Greek life at SDSU, said State’s Greek population is smaller than similar-sized schools but has unbelievable potential to go from good to great.

Why, then, do few SDSU students choose to ‘go Greek?’

“The Midwest typically has smaller Greek systems than the South and Northeast,” said Elizabeth Overmoe, an education leadership consultant for Alpha Xi Delta. She travels the United States, assisting chapters with problems ranging from recruitment problems to hazing violations.

Rachel Lewis, a junior pre-med major and president of SDSU’s chapter of Alpha Xi Delta, said she thinks State’s Greek life may be smaller is because its program has only existed for around 40 years. This differs from Greek programs like USD’s, where Siewert said fraternities began in the late 1800s.

Drawbacks of being Greek may also stop some students from joining. But members of several SDSU men’s and women’s fraternities dismiss many of those reasons.

“The only drawback that I’ve found so far it that we’re constantly forced to defend ourselves,” said senior Stephanie Erschens, president of Chi Omega at SDSU. “Movies like ‘Animal House,’ ‘Road Trip’ and ‘PCU’ have created negative, false stereotypes. I love those movies, but I know they don’t represent real fraternity life at all.”

“One of the hardest things that I and other Greeks encounter is stereotyping,” Lewis said. “The sorority life shown on television portrays women’s fraternities as party houses filled with cutthroat bimbos. It becomes difficult for non-Greeks to see past the movie facade.”

Carson Dinger, the social chair of SDSU’s Delta Chi chapter, said being Greek sometimes creates the perception of paying for friends. “This is so far off, because I was friends with all the guys before I even joined, and I’d still be friends with them even if I had not decided to go through with it,” he said.

Fifth-year history major Brian Baskerville, president of Delta Chi, said belonging does take some time and money, but payback depends on the individual.

“There are members who live, eat and breathe the fraternity, and there are members who pay dues and come to meetings,” he said. “It all depends on how much you want out of it.”

Although Greek life at SDSU isn’t very large, the community has produced many of the leaders on the SDSU campus. The current SA president, as well as at least three before him, all Greek, and many SA senators are as well. However, SDSU provides a good mix of Greek and non-Greek leaders. The University Program Council, for example, has a very low number of fraternity members.

Overmoe said this mix is typical of schools in the Midwest, but at schools with large Greek communities, campus leadership tends to remain within fraternity ranks.

“Sure, the university could survive without Greeks, but if you look at all the Greeks who have basically agreed to hold themselves to a higher standard, they are the ones serving on the student senate, acting as club and organization officers and taking part in all the activities that keep the Jackrabbit spirit alive,” Baskerville said.

The small number of Greek members doesn’t stop those students from taking full advantage of the benefits fraternities offer, including friendship, community service and campus involvement.

“The high points of my involvement are all of the people I have met through the Greek system and all the doors it has opened for me,” Dinger said.

Greek members help SDSU and the community of Brookings. Students can volunteer with programs like the March of Dimes or the Children’s Miracle Network Dance Marathon.

“The Greek system works really hard for the school,” said Dinger. Programs Greeks sponsor or assist with include campus clean up, the adopt-a-parking-lot program, volunteering at the Art Museum and supporting Jacks athletics.

Having a small Greek population does have other advantages, too, Erschens said.

“A part of me would love to have so many people involved in the Greek community,” she said. “But I also know that if there were hundreds of more members, I couldn’t be as close with all of them.”

Recruitment weeks for the governing bodies of men’s and women’s fraternities wrapped up Sept. 11.

Students interested in more information about SDSU’s Greek life can check out its Web site at

#1.884367:3411873462.jpg:Greek Life 2.jpg:Jim Harriman of Farmhouse, Senior Britta Dahl of Alpha Xi Delta and Andy Truve of Sigma Phi Epsilon meet to plan Greek Life events.:Christy Wey