For many upperclassmen NSOP brings up a wide array of emotions. For some, it is remembered as a string of odd and forced experiences. I recall the awkward conversations and strained ice breakers with my OL group, the school game, when we constantly asked “CC or SEAS?” and especially the uncomfortable exercise during Under1Roof where we plastered the wall with our personal information among a group of strangers. However, I also remember staying up late talking with my floormates and fondly remember walking down to Times Square with the people whom I now know as some of my best friends. For many of us, NSOP is also our first exposure to Greek life.
As freshmen, we all remember leaving Southfield to enter Fraternity and Sorority Row on 114th and 113th. At the end of the long days of lectures and programs, many freshmen find their way to the brownstones, getting a preview of a part of Columbia’s social life. On what are normally quiet streets, large masses of people scrounge around front doors while someone yells at you to get off the stoop, and when the door opens and someone comes out, again they crowd, hoping to be the lucky ones to get in.
But there’s some false advertising there. In the few hours there, you get to see only a fraction, albeit an important part, of fraternity and sorority life. The people, the music, the lights can present an attractive lifestyle to many students. It can be an overwhelming, yet exhilarating experience. It’s not hard to see why a majority of students think that this is what Greek life is all about.
But if you look deeper, you find that these Greek-lettered organizations are about much more. Sure, there will be parties. But there will also be hours dedicated to philanthropy and community service, weekly meetings, and various events put on in support of different causes and in conjunction with other organizations. You will find that these fraternities and sororities are some of the oldest organizations in our country’s history, espousing tenets of brotherhood/sisterhood, scholarship, leadership, and service. And so, we really need to reframe the discussion on both sides of the equation.
For students interested in joining a fraternity or sorority, know that you’re making a big commitment. It means that at the end of the new member education process, you’re pledging to uphold the values of your fraternity or sorority, and are entering an organization rich in tradition and history. You understand that to others, you wear sweatshirts that are emblazoned with a random set of Greek letters, but in reality, you know that those letters stand for principled organizations that have come to mean more than just “party.” You’re joining a diverse group of men and women who make up 15 percent of Columbia’s campus, a group that leads various organizations on campus and will serve as leaders in their respective fields after graduation. Understand that “party” is just the tip of what it means to be Greek.
For the Greek community, this change of face in order to present a holistic view of Greek life won’t be easy. Parties and social gatherings are by far the easiest way to bring in prospective rushes and new members, and to get rid of them would be to get rid of an equally important aspect of Greek life. But as fraternity and sorority members, we need to take a look at our fraternal values and see whether the people we’re attracting at these functions are the same people we want wearing our letters and representing our organizations on campus every day. Because I know that almost all organizations also have those members that joined just for the social side—the ones who can only be found at parties but are nowhere to be found at chapter meetings, organized weekly community service trips, or when Alpha Standards need to be turned in.
I realize NSOP isn’t a very long time, and like the business world, you only have a few minutes to make a good first impression. Nevertheless, as Greeks, we need to ensure that we are giving a comprehensive view of our organizations. This takes more time and energy, but it is ultimately worth the investment. Remember that membership in fraternal organizations isn’t just for college: It’s for life. So, let’s start recruiting members who are in it for the long haul, able to live up to those values and represent those letters every day.
Perhaps, then, when we start presenting quality, we’ll get quality.
Ryan Cho is a Columbia College senior majoring in political science. He is president of the Multicultural Greek Council and a member of Lambda Phi Epsilon. Let's be real runs alternate Wednesdays.