Speak Greek: An overview of fraternity and sorority life at Pitt

J ELIZABETH STROHM News Editor | May 14, 2004    

Pitt’s Greek system has been through a number of changes in the past three years — changes… Pitt’s Greek system has been through a number of changes in the past three years — changes that have involved two Greek advisers, an interim Greek adviser, an extensive review of the Greek system and the associate dean of student affairs, who has most recently taken “direct responsibility for leadership of Greek affairs” in the absence of a current Greek adviser.

Despite the changes, however, about one in 10 people at Pitt are members of fraternities or sororities.

Though the Greek — fraternity and sorority — population at schools in rural areas can reach 50 percent, a 10 percent Greek population is not small for an urban campus, and Pitt’s Greek community is extremely active. Seven of the nine Student Government Board members this year are Greek, including SGB President Brian Kelly, and Greek organizations organize some of Pitt’s largest undergraduate charitable fundraisers. Each year, the Greeks attract enough new members to keep their population at about 1,500, and these members gather about $100,000 for charity annually through actions, talent shows, events and other fundraisers.

Pitt’s Greek system is composed of three governing bodies: the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Association and the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Sixteen fraternities fall under the Interfraternity Council and range in size from less than a dozen to more than a hundred members. One more fraternity is going through the process of seeking a charter. A number of these fraternities have University houses in Pitt’s Upper Campus, while some others have official or unofficial houses in the surrounding neighborhoods. The Panhellenic Association manages 11 sororities, nine of which are housed in the sorority suites in Amos Hall. The National Pan-Hellenic Council governs seven historically, but not exclusively, black fraternities and sororities, with membership ranging from two to 15 students in each of the fraternities and sororities.

Pitt’s most recent Greek adviser, Anita Triggs, resigned from her position in the beginning of March, after little more than six months in the position. Before Triggs, the Greeks had lacked a permanent adviser for 10 months, and four-time Interim Greek Advisor Terry Milani, who also works full-time in Student Life, filled the position.

This time around, the Greeks have no interim adviser. Associate Dean of Student Affairs Birney Harrigan has taken up the responsibilities of Greek adviser, in addition to her job as an associate dean, pledging to bear “direct responsibility for leadership of Greek affairs.”

“I haven’t been as immediately involved with the student organizations as the fraternity and sorority coordinator has been, obviously,” Harrigan said the day Triggs resignation was announced. “But I expect to get to know them as I work closely with them in the months ahead.”

Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jack Daniel has also borne some of the burdens of Greek adviser, taking over the responsibilities of the position when Harrigan is unavailable.

While Pitt has struggled to maintain normalcy during transitions between advisers, Pitt’s fraternities have met with some trouble. While Milani was still filling the interim adviser position, Sigma Chi, Pitt’s largest fraternity, was suspended for a year, after being charged with institutional vandalism stemming from a mess allegedly made in their University fraternity house.

In January 2004, Sigma Chi returned to regular, active status, but several other fraternities ran into problems. On Sept. 19, 2003, shortly after the beginning of last fall semester, Pitt made a decision to no longer recognize Pitt’s Omega chapter of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. The fraternity, which had been on interim probation since a complaint detailing a hazing incident was filed in April 2003 with Pitt’s Office of Judicial Affairs, lost its national organization’s charter five days later and was forced to close the chapter immediately.

Tau Kappa Epsilon, one of Pitt’s smallest IFC fraternities, was suspended in February 2004 for the rest of the calendar year after a mother complained that her underage son had quickly consumed a large amount of alcohol at a fraternity gathering during the Fall 2003 pledge period. Citing violations to the Student Code of Conduct, Daniel ruled against the judicial board’s recommendation that the fraternity be allowed to participate in recruitment activities in the following year. The decision sparked some complaints about the IFC’s lack of power in such decision, as well as about Daniel’s power to overturn all judicial board recommendations.

At the same time, the Zeta Beta Tau brothers found themselves in a whole lot of trouble after one brother sawed out a piece of plywood covering a hole in their custodial supply closet. The fraternity insisted that the brother was trying to get into the supply closet to borrow the supplies and clean up a mess in their University house. Daniel again suspended the group against the judicial board’s recommendation, in addition to the board’s charge of $417.40 in restitution for the cost of a door, which the brothers said they never damaged. ZBT had been on social probation since May 1, 2003, after an incident involving an underage person drinking at one of their parties. After the door incident, the fraternity received a six-month extension to their probation, which would have ended in April 2004.

The National Pan-Hellenic Council has not been without some controversy, either. As part of the University’s move to create new standards of excellence for Pitt’s Greek community, the National Pan-Hellenic Council’s organizations have been asked to get bigger or potentially face losing recognition. NPHC President Ron Coursey expressed doubts that the organizations could maintain a 10-person minimum membership each year, and he voiced concern that such a rule might cause some NPHC organizations to close. University administrators explained that all student organizations must have at least 10 members to be recognized by the University, and as a result, NPHC organizations have been told to grow to at least five members by the fall and possibly 10 members in the spring.

Within days of the departure of Sharon Malazich, Triggs’ full-time predecessor, the University announced its intentions to conduct a rigorous evaluation of Pitt’s Greek system. The report aimed to diagnose the “best practices” for Pitt’s Greek system, according to Daniel. Four months later, and after almost two months of delays, parts of the report discussing best practices for Pitt’s Greek system were unveiled at a meeting between administrators and leaders of the Greek community.

Included within the Greek report were a number of recommendations. One portion outlined a plan — which would include screening committees with student representatives — for selecting a new Greek adviser. Triggs got the job about eight months later, though Greek leaders involved the screening process said they did not view Triggs’ application.

A large segment of the released report focused on the issue of Greek housing, targeting the University housing provided for fraternities and sororities and recommending the appointment of a live-in housing director for the fraternities to “assist with addressing behavioral, social and community living issues that arise.” On October 1, 2003, Deborah Furka, who had compiled the report, was named Pitt’s newest director of residence life.

Daniel referenced a memo he sent to the Student Affairs staff when he began working in the office, saying that he hoped the Greek report could bring about “the dawn of a new era” for Pitt’s Greek system.

Many people involved with the Greek system are still waiting for the new era to dawn, and the future of the Greek system at Pitt will greatly rely on the student and administrative leadership offered to the system in the coming years.

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