For many students, Greek life is something that transcends the traditionally-defined limits of the college experience. Those embarking on the journey that is Greek life do so with different motivations; some are seeking new friends, while others seek academic and professional success. No matter what one is looking for, it’s likely there is a fraternity or sorority on campus that offers it, and that’s part of the reason why the Greek experience is so appealing. The University of Maine is a shining example of the good that a strong Greek community can do, but recent events nationally have thrown the practices of these institutions into question.
At schools whose reputations precede them, students anticipate starting the process of joining a Greek organization with the notion that it could bring them harm or pain. None, however, foresee death as a part of their journey, including second-year Penn State student Timothy Piazza almost one year ago. In the process of joining a fraternity, Piazza took part in hazing rituals that involved excessive consumption of alcohol and complete irresponsibility. The incident was caught on camera, and Piazza later died from severe injuries sustained while intoxicated.
Following Piazza’s death, the question of the place of Greek life on campuses was brought to the national stage. Specifically, the often institutionalized practice of hazing was put under the microscope.
As is often the case with incidents in which a student was harmed, the fraternity was immediately suspended from the university. Wider-ranging reforms took place, including the suspension of eight other Greek organizations. On other campuses around the nation where similar incidents involving fraternities or sororities have occured, the resulting effect is largely the same — bans for the affiliated groups, and occasionally arrests.
Compared to the image that people hold of Greek life right now, UMaine is a campus on a hill above the rest. While it’s undeniable that Greek life here faces some issues, the overall state of our community is strong and healthy. Certain fraternities maintain good relationships with the Orono law enforcement, occasionally hosting joint events; the Greek life GPA is above the school average; many campus leaders are affiliated with a lettered organization —the list goes on.
Most important to the success of UMaine’s Greek community is a commitment to standards and philanthropy. Numerous Greek organization on campus have embraced the spirit of service and taken a strong stance on issues like mental health and sexual harassment. These are people whose obligation to serve has taken root in the very fabric of the organization, and whose presence has made a tangible difference in the Orono community.
Nevertheless, there is room for improvement. As our nation begins to ask the big questions about Greek life in its colleges and universities, we at UMaine need to continuously work on ourselves to eliminate hazing, destigmatize mental health, combat sexual harassment and rape, and proliferate selfless philanthropy. We should do this not just among fraternities and sororities, but on the UMaine campus as a whole. The best way to lead as exemplaries of Greek life and standards is by attempting to eliminate our own flaws, regardless of how much they deviate from the national standard.