Pitt tightens Greek life eligibility requirements

By Harrison Kaminsky and Dale Shoemaker / The Pitt News Staff

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Under new requirements, Pitt will now bar many first-semester freshmen from joining Greek life. 

With a focus on “academic excellence,” Pitt’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life said in a release Thursday that new course credit standards will tighten eligibility for new members. The office, the Interfraternity Council and the Collegiate Panhellenic Association made the changes after working together and meeting with members of Greek life for several months.

Fraternity and sorority pledges must be full-time students “in good standing” at Pitt, have earned at least 12 credits and have a 2.5 minimum cumulative GPA, according to new rules. Because first-semester freshmen may not meet all of these requirements, as they have not yet taken college classes, many “will no longer be eligible to receive a bid for membership,” the release said.

The office hopes the policy will ease students’ adjustment to college life before they join a fraternity or sorority, its coordinator Matthew Richardson said in an email.

The new requirements of at least 12 credits at an accredited college or university already applied to transfer students and prospective members of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, a third governing body for Greek life. The requirement excludes credits from Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and College in High School, Richardson said.

The policy does not change Greek life GPA requirements, as they have required a 2.5 minimum GPA for an unknown number of years, Richardson said.

The initiative is not related to the recent national controversies concerning Greek organizations, Richardson said, and will not retroactively impact students who are already full members of their organizations. In the past year, universities around the country, including Penn State, Syracuse and West Virginia, have suspended Greek organizations following a wave of hazing and alcohol-related incidents.

While students can join other time-consuming organizations during their first semester at Pitt, Richardson said the formal nature and length of the recruitment process makes Greek life different from other student organizations.

The Office benchmarked ACC schools and other major universities before implementing the new policy and found that institutions are split on the issue, Richardson said.

“The schools that have implemented deferred recruitment also believe that freshmen need time to adjust,” he said.

Pitt has the right to make this type of decision for students, because the University has the responsibility to implement policies and guidelines that are believed to be in the best interest of its students, Richardson said.

“In many instances, including this one, there is considerable dialogue with student leaders during the decision-making process,” he said. 

Karen Cohen, president of Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority, said she was a part of this dialogue earlier this semester. 

Greek life members met with Richardson, she said, and could voice their opinions. Many were in support of the changes, and the new rules didn’t surprise her, she said. 

Cohen joined her sorority as a second-semester freshman because she was initially unsure about joining Greek life. She said the changes will be beneficial because they will give new students more time to decide which campus activities they want to get involved with. 

The new rules will likely not affect AEP’s recruitment plans for next year, she said. 

“The people who are on the fence will be able to be acclimated [to Pitt] before they decide what they want to do.”

Matt Reilly, a ritual chair of Phi Delta Theta and an account executive at The Pitt News, said it’s important to hold people in Greek life to a high standard because there’s a spotlight on them.

“The policy gives freshmen time to acclimate to Pitt before joining,” he said.

Reilly pledged his first semester of freshman year because he wanted to find his niche and spend time with like-minded individuals.

“If I hadn’t been allowed to do that, maybe I would have been set in my ways and never would have joined [Greek life],” Reilly said.

Richardson said the decision will not have a significant impact on membership in Greek life. 

“We feel this decision is in the best interest of our students, and those students who decide to join will be making better decisions and have a great chance to thrive academically,” he said.

Danielle Murphy, a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma and an inside sales employee at The Pitt News, agreed with the new policy’s goals.

“Because pledging can be time-consuming, it makes sense for freshmen to focus on their grades when they first enter Pitt,” Murphy, a senior business psychology major, said.

Murphy said she pledged her sophomore year, so she had time to both focus on her classes and make better friends with her floormates.

“It wasn’t as stressful,” Murphy said.

According to Richardson, disparities in GPA between first-semester pledges and pledges who have been on campus for at least one semester have existed for several years.

“Oftentimes, students who were at the top of their class in high school and had a 3.8 or 3.9 GPA struggle to adjust to the intensity of college courses, as well as the challenges of living away from home for the first time,” Richardson said in the release.

The Pitt News reported in December 2013 that the Interfraternity Council had implemented a new policy according to which it would fine brothers whose GPA falls below the 2.5 requirement. 

Student Affairs administrators and leaders of fraternities and sororities at Pitt have discussed making this change for the past couple of years, according to Richardson. 

Richardson said academic excellence remains a guiding principle and value of the fraternity and sorority community.

“By waiting one semester to go through the new member process, students can become acclimated to Pitt and to college life, then join our ranks to enhance their collegiate experience,” Richardson said.

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