The number of women joining sororities rose this academic year during the first deferred recruitment.
Following last month’s formal recruitment period, 481 women joined a Panhellenic chapter – an increase from the 467 women the last time bids were formally handed out in fall 2016, according to Panhellenic leaders. The nearly 3 percent increase allayed some Greek leaders’ initial fearsthat the deferred recruitment policy would diminish interest in Greek life.
The number of women participating in formal recruitment, held Jan. 19 through Jan. 22, also grew to 619 – up from 572 during the last rush process in 2016.
The University announced in 2016 that it would switch to a deferred recruitment policy, mandating that all freshmen complete a semester on campus before joining a fraternity or sorority. The move frustrated some Greek life leaders and national organizations at the time, who said they were excluded from the decision and felt the policy unfairly targeted sororities and fraternities over other student organizations.
Despite the uptick in bids, participation remained below the record in 2014, when nearly 600 women received and accepted bids.
Panhellenic Association President Elizabeth Jessup said she was “impressed” by the efforts each chapter made to maintain student interest in the Greek community leading up to the spring, which contributed to a higher turnout at recruitment events.
Greek leaders planned events to retain interest throughout the fall, including a “Meet the Greeks” night and a series of new member sessions. The trainings allowed potential new members to be introduced to Greek leaders and get a better sense of what it meant to be a part of a fraternity or sorority on campus.
“The input and insight of other Greek leaders was invaluable in making deferred recruitment such a success,” Jessup said. “It was really wonderful over the past year to get to work with the recruitment officers from each chapter in my capacity.”
The Panhel executive board also decreased the maximum number of women who could accept sorority bids from 45 per chapter in 2016 to 41 in 2018 after Panhel added a new sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, in fall 2016.
Jessup said deferred recruitment will hopefully help sororities better retain their members as women will have more time to explore which is best fit for them – a benefit she said other universities saw when they switched the recruitment process until spring.
“Deferred recruitment will contribute to building an even stronger and more resilient GW Greek community in the years to come because members will be more prepared for – and committed to – their organizations when they join,” she said.
A top Panhellenic board member, who asked to speak under the condition of anonymity, said the main difference between fall and spring recruitment was a Bid Day location switch from the National Mall to Kogan Plaza for the celebration on Jan. 22. Bid Day is traditionally on the Mall but was relocated due to lack of lighting and frigid January temperatures, she said.
The board member said the deferred process notably clouded potential new members’ minds with “ideas” about each sorority prior to recruitment, given that potential new members had four months to meet members before committing to an organization.
“You’re supposed to go through recruitment with an open mind and trust the process because the process does work when you go through with an open mind,” she said. “But when you’re on campus, you can form biases towards different chapters.”
She said that overall students were content with a deferred process because it gave them more time to become acquainted with the Greek community and University life in general.
Greek life experts said an increase in potential new members and recruits for deferred recruitment could indicate that students are still looking to find their niche even after a semester on campus.
Hank Nuwer, the author of “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives,” a book about issues pertaining to excessive drinking and sexual abuse among college students in Greek life and professor at Franklin College in Indiana, said deferred recruitment may decrease the risk of an “alcohol-related catastrophe.”
“The bulk of hazing deaths related to alcohol come the first few weeks of freshman year,” he said. “No question it saves lives.”
Heather Kirk, the chief communications officer at the North-American Interfraternity Conference, said first-semester college students’ stress is often the result of loneliness, which Greek life remedies by offering a “place in the campus community.”
She said deferred recruitment pents up these feelings and leads more first-year students to enter the recruitment process.
“Students should have the opportunity to associate with others to pursue noble causes,” she said, referring to Greek life involvement. “Sororities offer a sense of community and strong support system – specifically at GW, where students arrive from all over the country and all over the world.”
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Fraternity brothers apparently like to sing: Two decades after its publication, a songbook belonging to the Austrian fraternity “Germania zu Wiener Neustadt” has emerged, complete with anti-Semitic and xenophobic references.
The scandal has led to the resignation from all offices of Udo Landbauer, the fraternity’s vice president and member of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), the junior partner in Austria’s current government.
The fraternity itself is under fire as well. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz wants it dissolved.
“There’s no place in our country for associations in which something this repugnant occurs,” he said on Wednesday in Vienna.
These are welcome words to critics across the border in Germany, who say that Germania’s attitudes are the norm among fraternities in both countries.
Landbauer was forced to step down from all positions over the songbook scandal
Fraternities are student organizations that meticulously uphold traditions and a particular understanding of manhood. These are men-only groups with a ritualistic pledging process. Those who pass the trial period can become lifelong members, potentially affording them valuable career contacts.
As members of a closed, sworn society, there is a sense among fraternity brothers that they belong to an elite circle. During university, they mostly enjoy low-rent living in opulent housing in their cities’ choicest areas.
Fencing among fraternity brothers is also a tradition. During these duels with sharp blades, most parts of the body are protected, with the deliberate exception of cheeks and the rest of the head. If someone is hit, there is mostly some bleeding and a scar is left. However, these dueling scars are not seen as a sign of defeat. Instead, they are worn with pride as a demonstration of someone’s readiness to fight.
Official events, which are mostly beery affairs, are attended in a uniform unique to the fraternity. Older fraternity brothers attend as guests whom younger classes look to for advice and career stewardship. They can significant wield influence.
Fraternities as organizations do not look kindly on outsiders interested in revealing what goes on behind their closed doors. Michael Gehler, a history professor at the University of Hildesheim, is one such outsider. In the late 1990s, the first edition of a book he and some colleagues wrote taking a critical look at the history of fraternities quickly sold out.
“We found out that these organizations had bought up the books,” Gehler told DW. “They didn’t want it reaching wider audiences.”
Germany is home to more than 1,000 student societies, of which about 120 are fraternities. Most are in university cities with a long tradition, such as Marburg, Heidelberg and Tübingen. They came into being during Napoleon’s occupation of Germany in the 19th century, when Germany was still a collection of independent states.
Students back then were particularly interested in forging a sense of national identity and thus founded the first fraternity in Jena in 1815. Its founders adopted the colors of a Prussian volunteer military unit: black, red and gold – today the national colors of modern Germany.
Criticism of fraternities
Fraternities have long been viewed as anachronistic and often criticized for extreme right-wing views. The criticism is not entirely disputed by some in fraternal circles, depending on how the term is defined.
“Fraternities stand for achievement and uphold a rather different image of manhood with their fencing,” said Philipp Stein, spokesperson for the “German Fraternity” (Deutsche Burschenschaft), by far the largest and oldest umbrella organization, with 70 fraternities and 8,000 members.
If a traditional view of family and manhood is classified as “right-wing,” serving as a “counterweight to a left-wing zeitgeist,” he told DW, “then it is not an incorrect label.” But right-wing was not the same as right-wing extremist, he said.
Stein: ‘A counterweight to the left-wing zeitgeist’
Membership in fraternities within Stein’s umbrella group is offered only to those with one German parent. The other parent must then be at least European. Members are also required to have done their military service.
Such requirements led to a split in the umbrella group, first in 1996 and then again in 2016. Withdrawal from the “German Fraternity” was due to “particular behaviors clearly seen as falling along the right-wing, far-right and radical-right spectrum,” said Michael Schmidt, a spokesperson for 27 fraternities that withdrew in 2016 to form one of the two other umbrella groups. “This has nothing to do with fraternal values,” he said.
The numbers and significance of fraternities have declined since the time of the German Empire and the Weimar Republic, when more than half of students were members. Nowadays, the membership rate has fallen to 2 percent or less, said Dietrich Heither, a social scientist and fraternity expert.
Fraternities are a thing of the past, he said, because “dueling and hard-drinking academics don’t fit with the social and soft skills that more modern, international companies demand.”
However, he added, that was no reason to write off their influence altogether. Above all, the “old guard” of fraternities retained good contacts in politics and business, Heither said.