Greek life at Villanova

Cheryl McEvoy

No college career is complete without a crash course in the alphabet: ??, ?AE, X?. The letters may be Greek to some Villanovans, but to fraternity brothers and sorority sisters, the symbols mean much more.

“Joining a fraternity is joining a brotherhood,” said junior JC Stellakis, proconsul of Sigma Chi. “I know that my brothers and I share a common belief in an ideal which we always strive for. We support each other and are always there to help each other out.”

Villanova established its first fraternal chapter in 1902. In recent years, Villanova has witnessed increased interest in Greek life. Approximately 23 percent of the student body belongs to a sorority or fraternity, a generally high percentage compared to other Catholic universities. More female students than male students are involved in Villanova’s Greek life – in spring 2006, the average men’s chapter size was 38, while the average women’s chapter size was 103.

“There’s so much more to college than what goes on inside the classroom,” said Fraternity and Sorority Life Coordinator John Osborne. A Tau Epsilon Phi member, Osborne, along with Molly Martin, advises Villanova’s 19 fraternities and sororities, ensuring that each chapter maintains a positive social environment and remains devoted to its mission.

Despite what some people envision, Villanova’s Greek life is not like a scene from “Animal House.” Fraternities and sororities are involved on campus, contributing to the community. Each chapter hosts fundraising events and awareness-building activities in support of a charitable organization, often providing entertainment and sweet treats for the cause. Alpha Delta Pi hosts the annual “Puttin’ on the Hits” lip sync competition in support of the Ronald McDonald House, while Chi Omega’s “Bake-a-Wish” supports the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

“I think [Greek life is] outstanding in terms of philanthropy,” Osborne said, pointing to the fact that Kappa Kappa Gamma netted $29,000 for the Susan G. Koleman Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, while Sigma Alpha Epsilon sent a check to the Children’s Miracle Network totaling an impressive $34,000.

Stellakis said one of his fondest memories occurred at Sigma Chi’s annual Derby Days, a week-long competition in which sororities and fraternities participate to win prizes. Proceeds support the Huntsman Cancer Institute, a cancer research facility founded by a Sig Chi.

“My favorite memory was Pie-a-Sig because there was an elderly woman in the Oreo, and one of our brothers, Chris Galante, convinced her to pie him in the face,” Stellakis said. “I’m sure she had a blast doing it.”

Sophomore Kristen Schumacher, a new member of Pi Beta Phi, said she’s looking forward to her sorority’s events.

“We have Sink or Swim as part of our philanthropy to support literacy,” she said. “That we do in the Fall with a dunk tank.”

In addition to their active philanthropy, sororities and fraternities are responsible for upholding the values of their organization and must meet criteria prescribed by both the University and each national chapter. Fraternities and sororities are required to attend meetings, retreats and programs throughout the year, as well as maintain open communication with the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and respective national headquarters. Each chapter must fulfill administrative and financial duties, such as filling out forms and completing reports and must be recognized by their national organization. On an individual basis, each Greek member must maintain a 2.25 GPA and meet standards determined by the college in which he or she is enrolled.

In celebration of the values promoted by Greek life, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life also sponsors several activities throughout the year. Greek Week provides friendly competition among the organizations and allows members to show off their spirit. The office also hosts New Member 101, which encourages newly-initiated brothers and sisters to make connections across chapters. The office also teams up with other organizations to co-sponsor on-campus events that everyone can enjoy, including the Health and Wellness department’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun Night” and the upcoming “Muscle Bound,” which addresses male body image disorders. Fraternity and sorority members are encouraged to participate in such events to gain Wildcat points, which keep track of who attends. The chapters with the highest attendance rates win prizes. The office also rewards leadership and scholarship, sponsoring trips to national conferences, recognizing academics at the annual awards banquet and inducting members into the Order of Omega, a prestigious honor society composed of the top 3 percent of Greeks.

While Villanova Greeks are usually devoted to the values set forth in their chapters, Osborne recognizes that mistakes are inevitable, especially at such a stage in the students’ lives. Unfortunately, these errors often overshadow positive contributions and perpetuate negative generalizations about sorority and fraternity life.

“Stereotypes are partially based in fact and partially unfair,” Osborne said, but emphasized the value of lessons learned from mistakes. Initiation into a Greek organization means that students must not only answer to themselves, but also to their respective brotherhood or sisterhood and the larger Greek community as well. The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life wants members to think, “What I do is a reflection on more than me,” Osborne said, because it teaches a lesson in integrity that can be applied long after leaving Villanova’s grounds.

“Sure there may be a story here or there about something that happened, but nothing is perfect or ideal,” Stellakis said. “It is in striving for the ideal and the perfect that the Greek community truly exists.”

He added that Sigma Chi is a non-hazing fraternity. In fact, the University has a strict policy against hazing of any form.

Schumacher remains positive when responding to stereotypes.

“I think through our philanthropy and our presence on campus we show that we really are just a group of girls who like to hang around,” she said.

Although involvement in Greek life presents additional responsibilities and expectations, it also provides numerous opportunities to establish new social connections and build leadership skills.

Osborne applauds the positive relations among the fraternities and sororities on campus, as the organizations attend each others’ philanthropic activities. He attributes the supportive atmosphere partially to the absence of official Greek housing, enabling cohabitation among members of different chapters as opposed to isolation.

“You’re not necessarily confined to the friends in your sorority,” said junior Lindsay Ehrlich, a member of Delta Gamma. “It actually opens you up to more people.” She values the connections that can be made without exclusive housing.

“Opportunities are open to you because of the network you have,” she later added.

Members benefit from the strong ties in the brotherhood or sisterhood that extend across campus and between chapters.

“Greek organizations respect each other and support each other,” said Stellakis, quoting Greek Week’s motto “No matter the letter, we’re all Greek together.”

“It’s important for every student to find a connection,” Osborne said, but recognized that fraternities and sororities have the unique advantage of the additional source of stability provided by national affiliation. These large-scale support systems also give sorority and fraternity members a claim to fame.

Condoleezza Rice is an Alpha Chi, while Julia Louis Dreyfus of “Seinfeld” fame is a Delta Gamma. Sigma Chi members share a brotherhood with Brad Pitt and David Letterman, while Delta Tau Delta boys include John Elway and Matthew McConaughey. Now those are some connections Villanovans would love to make.