Can Greek Life at NYU Evolve With the Times?

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Can Greek Life at NYU Evolve With the Times?

The Greek life scene at NYU is taking steps to address past controversies and promote diversity and inclusion initiatives as it strives to create a more welcoming and inclusive community for all students.

(Illustration by Max Van Hosen)

Mellak Abduelal, Contributing Writer | Apr 30, 2023

From classic blockbusters like “Legally Blonde” to the blurry influx of Instagram photos from the club, Greek life is the cornerstone of college campuses across the country. And it’s not hard to see why — sororities and fraternities easily entice young undergrads seeking a sense of belonging. The allure of connection between your sisters and brothers, exciting trips and events, as well as the sense of community draw students. With NYU’s fragmented campus, one might assume students would be even more in search of a community than students on traditional campuses. But the illusory glamor of Greek life is not all that it’s chalked up to be.

It is undeniable that Greek life has a tainted reputation. Many chapters face serious allegations and charges of hazing, harassment, discrimination and sexual assault. Through generations, the issues seem endless.

For instance, at the University of Missouri, the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity was found guilty of hazing and pressuring a student to drink almost an entire bottle of vodka. The student was left with severe brain damage and paralysis. And though Greek life is not as forward-facing at NYU, the university isn’t immune to incidents like these.

Eight chapters have been suspended from operating on NYU grounds. The charges prompting their dismissals ranged from hazing to violations of non-discrimination policies. NYU denotes that suspended and banned chapters are not authorized to recruit or operate on campus. The specific rationale for suspension is also listed by NYU — notably, Delta Phi was permanently banned for hazing.

With the changing times, Greek life has increasingly begun to take steps toward inclusion. Luckily, NYU’s diverse student body has encouraged the creation of inclusive Greek life organizations, such as Delta Lambda Phi, NYU’s first LGBTQ+ fraternity. The current chapter president, Prior Okolovich, sees the fraternity as having created a space for queer students at NYU. 

“When Delta Lambda Phi was founded in the ’80s on a national level, we were a gay male fraternity for ‘progressive men,’” Okolovich said.“We’ve expanded on what the idea of what masculinity means. Now we welcome anyone who has any sort of masculine or nonbinary experience.”

Okolovich’s goal as president is to contribute to changing the traditional narrative of what a fraternity is supposed to be, and what it means to be a member.

“People look to us for a space where they can safely socialize and have a consistent friend group,” Okolovich said.

Alongside the anti-hazing training required by NYU, the fraternity employs chapter-specific guidelines.

“We have our own risk management policy presentations that acknowledge aspects of gay life that can cause risk that cis sex education can’t go into,” Okolovich said.

This positive evaluation is shared by those involved in sororities too. Ella Chapman, the president of Alpha Phi Epsilon, says her experience in a sorority helped her develop lasting friendships.

Like many of her peers, Chapman first experienced sorority life in the midst of the pandemic. As a result, Chapman found a need to develop intentional guidelines about what it means to be an active member.

In the climate of adjusting to change and finding ways to move forward, Chapman said she believes that racial bias training is vital when it comes to recruitment and leadership in the chapter.

“We train everybody on how to eliminate biases that aren’t even intentional, rather subconscious … we need to strengthen that even more, but it is a huge priority,” Chapman said.

One of the only critiques she has of NYU’s Greek life is that sometimes, it feels like there’s a lack of support from NYU’s administration. One challenge she faces as president is finding affordable space for gatherings — something she believes organizations located at colleges with enclosed campuses face less difficulty in doing.

Although many have found joy and fun by participating in Greek life, there are those who dealt with the opposite and felt like being part of a chapter wasn’t for them.

An NYU junior who was a former Greek life member and spoke on condition of anonymity, told WSN about how they dropped out of a chapter after just one year. The student initially joined after being admitted to NYU at the peak of COVID-19, hoping that it help them make friends. They even held an executive position within the organization they joined.

During their time, they found that they were put in positions where they needed to choose between school and social life. Though there was a designated academic advisor assigned to the chapter, it felt quite hypocritical. The organization has an academic chair position, where a member is tasked with promoting academic well-being. Typically, that involved reserving study rooms weekly, organizing study groups and providing resources to other members.

It seemed odd to the student that an organization seemingly dedicated to academic well-being would penalize her for prioritizing her studies. They described a time when they had to miss a chapter event for academic reasons. After having a chat with someone about social event programming, they were subsequently excluded from the benefits of membership. They said they were called “lazy” and described as someone who “didn’t have their priorities in check.” At this point, the student realized this wasn’t what they wanted, especially considering they were paying dues and trying their best to balance academics and Greek life. 

“My school life is everything, it takes priority,” the student said. 

When it came to inclusion, the student had mixed feelings about the effort made by their former Greek life chapter to foster diversity. They truly believed that in comparison to previous years, their chapter was inclusive.

However, they felt that the social media presence of the chapter showed otherwise. While the organization was a diverse group of women, its social media page showed the complete opposite, and played into the stereotypical narrative of what it looks like to be part of Greek life.

“On Instagram, it looks like that, but the sorority isn’t like that,” the student said. “It’s misleading.”

The Instagram page is covered with unrealistic photos of glamorized city life — photos of fabulous outfits, fancy dinners, no blemishes and a perfect blowout consume the page. This picturesque display of what it takes to be part of Greek life delineates a standard that may seem unattainable to prospective students.

While their experience wasn’t ideal, this student still believes they gained a lot of insight through their involvement in Greek life, and they remain friends with many people they met on their journey.

Greek life has a reputation for fostering a powerful sense of community among its members, providing them with opportunities for social and philanthropic events to connect with one another and give back to their communities. This is often particularly valuable for students who struggle to find a sense of belonging in an urban university setting. It can also provide valuable leadership opportunities that help students develop skills such as networking, event planning, team building, and finding people with intersecting interests.

While NYU’s Greek life chapters appear to be making concerted efforts toward genuine inclusion, there are still obstacles to overcome. Changes have been made to the workings of LGBTQ+ fraternities, and anti-hazing and racial bias training has been implemented. However, critics are not without merit — inclusive initiatives are long overdue and often garner labels of being performative.