Bad Publicity Threatens Greek Life Nationwide

By Chloe Bankson, contributor
Some college students view media coverage of controversies surrounding Greek life as inaccurate. Sororities and fraternities around the country have been accused of misconduct including racism, sexual assault and hazing.
UNC Asheville Senior Ross Adams said the stigma attached to Greek life is different between schools because of a lack of diversity at some institutions.
“At Chapel Hill, there is a problem with racism because almost 75 percent of the students are white,” Adams said. “When that happens it almost becomes a cultural norm. The diversity and stigma attached to Greek Life depends on the school.”
UNCA has four Greek life chapters, two fraternities, and two sororities, compared to a UNC Chapel Hill report of 3,300 students involved in the campus’ 56 chapters. Chapel Hill officials said 18 percent of the undergraduate class is involved in Greek life on the campus.
Adams said the stigma surrounding Greek life has become worse because of the advance in social media.
“I think with social media we are getting more of an inside look at what happens in some Greek life, and so it is easier for news stories to gain traction when everyone has a phone in their hand. I do think things are getting worse,” he said. “Although, I think our school is getting more progressive, tolerant and racially aware.”
Sigma Nu President Timothy Daniel said Greek life receives negative attention because it makes a good story and sells papers.
“I think the problem is they use a small sample size to generalize a large population, he said. “It’s generalizing a very large group of people.”
Jay Cutspec, the academic adviser for Alpha Sigma Phi, said Greek life makes the news because of the media focus on sexual assault.
“There is a national focus on sexual assault on college campuses, and I think many times the fraternity folks are involved in that,” Cutspec said.
Cutspec said sexually suggestive signs hung by the Sigma Nu chapter at Old Dominion University in Virginia hurt the public opinion of Greek life.
“I think generally there is a negative perception of fraternities, even before all this happened,” Cutspec said,  “so I think that the more of these negative stories that come out, the more that is perpetuated.”
Cutspec said news outlets are only telling people about the negatives of Greek life.
“Looking at The Blue Banner yesterday, there was a comment that promotes a bunch of stereotypes,” Daniel said. “It essentially shows these fraternity members drinking and having fun, and it basically says, ‘Gah, there are a lot of assholes at college.’”
Daniel said they realized the Greek symbols used in the comic resembled closely to Sigma Nu’s.
”We took offense because it looks like us,” Daniel said.
Daniel said much of what his fraternity does goes unnoticed because it is behind the scenes.
“A lot of people do not realize this, but Greek life as a whole across the United States is the largest chain of volunteers,” Daniel said. “We board at least 10 hours a person a year of community service here, and across 20 members that is 200 hours easily.”
Daniel said the lack of issues with Greek life at UNCA is linked to the lack of on-campus housing for fraternities and sororities.
“We do not have housing, which eliminates a lot of the issues you would see in the media, because we do not rage or throw any big parties or anything like that,” Daniel said. “We are mostly service-based and fundraising.”
Cutspec said the fraternities focus on philanthropy within the community.
“We focus on community service projects, going into the community and doing river cleanup, as well as doing ‘Walk in her shoes,’ which is a walk against sexual assault,” Cutspec said.
Daniel said the guilty Sigma Nu students at Old Dominion were promoting rape culture.
“At Old Dominion the investigation is still ongoing. There were four members doing it at an unofficial off-campus house. That is representing Sigma Nu, and they obviously should not have a chapter right now,” he said.
Daniel said the media fail to highlight the fact Greek life members attend required trainings to combat sexual assault.
“The media are perpetuating the stigma that Greek culture is this big sexual assault machine, when in fact we go through multiple trainings a semester,” Daniel said.
Daniel said the survey reporting fraternity members are 300 percent more likely to commit a sexual assault presented inaccuracies.
“It was in 2007 at one college not using any actual instances. They surveyed one college freshmen class,” Daniel said,  “and they gave them a questionnaire, and used their answers to make patterns out of that.”
Daniel said developing a judgment about Greek life based on that survey is unfair, and does not believe recent events have affected recruiting at UNCA.
“The type of people that take those to heart, that would not realize it was not this chapter and not what we stand for, and not realize the community service we do,” Daniel said. “We do not want those type of people.”
Daniel said he disagrees with people who think Greek life should cease to exist.
“There are always going to be bad apples, and it is unfortunate. But I do not think the actions of a few are reason to kill the whole,” he said. “There are so many good things fraternities and sororities do every year.”
Adams said UNCA is leading with a good example.
“Greek life should not be done away with. It should just continue to become more progressive,” Adams said. “I think UNCA is doing a great job at that.”