Culture is changing for fraternity/sorority lifeTweet
Over 400 participants raised more than $10,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network in October at Binghamton University’s first-ever dance marathon. The Interfraternity Council has completely rewritten its constitution and bylaws to better address membership numbers, grade point requirements and philanthropy and service requirements. New member education meetings and new member meetings have become the norm. And these are just a few of the ways that the fraternity and sorority culture is changing at Binghamton University.
It’s been barely 11 months since L.C. Coghill joined the staff at Binghamton University as director of Greek Life, but he’s been working to develop a sense of community from the moment he arrived. “We had Greek weekend in the spring and Greek Week in the fall, which included Dance Marathon and was part of Homecoming,” he said. “Both were good first efforts and provide a great foundation to work from.”
Training and education play a key role in the changes Coghill is spearheading. Education covers what it means to be a member, anti-hazing and how to report. “We conduct training each semester with presidents and new member educators. As an example, this semester we partnered with Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority to bring Travis Apgar from Cornell, a nationally known hazing prevention speaker.
“We’re also working on policies and procedures strengthening standards governing the use of alcohol,” Coghill said. “There’s more training and information and we’re working on the Relationship Agreement [formerly known as the governance document] that says ‘We expect the chapter to do these things, and in turn we [the University] will do these things on the other side.’”
Everything is done with student input, and the Relationship Agreement is currently out to students for their review and feedback, with the expectation that it will be approved and passed by everyone by the end of the semester and operational in the spring semester. “It will need discussion and refinement,” Coghill said. “The fraternity and sorority leadership board, made up of the council presidents, meets every Friday, and the expectation is that those presidents will bring the feedback from their chapters to those meetings before a vote is held.”
Coghill believes the draft agreement gives the students what they were asking for – the benefits of a fraternity or sorority being recognized by Binghamton University. There are also clear standards each chapter will be expected to maintain. “There is a minimum 2.5 GPA for each group as a whole and if they fall below that for a certain number of semesters, they will no longer be recognized on our campus,” he said. “It’s similar with membership numbers. If you fall below the standard, you will have that semester to recruit enough members, or your recognition will be in jeopardy.”
There’s an overnight leadership retreat in the works for all chapter presidents and council officers in the spring, Coghill said. “We’ll talk about moving the community forward and have a chance to get to know each other.”
Coghill hopes to hold the retreat in Lowell, Mass. on Jan. 31, and have the group attend a basketball game there the next day. “They’re pretty excited about it,” he said.
An added benefit to the changes that are under way is a stronger engagement with the professional council fraternities, said Coghill. “The Professional Fraternity Council has also redone its bylaws and has started to be more a part of our community. They participated heavily in Greek Week and we are very proud of their programming efforts so far this semester.”
In addition to community building activities and education, a gathering place has been created for fraternity and sorority members. “We’ve renovated the Greek lounge downstairs in the Union to provide desk space for every council, with dry erase boards, chapter mailboxes, and a TV,” said Coghill. “Our graduate students will work from there as well. We’re still working on promoting it. Some of the small councils have their meeting there. It’s another community building piece.”
There are currently 52 groups across the seven councils and there has only been one hazing concern reported this semester,” Coghill said. The deadline for initiation of new members is midnight Nov. 22, a non-weekend night. “We’ve done that specifically to avoid the assumption that initiations are all about partying. This counteracts it a bit.”
The process for inducting members has changed some as well. Groups provide a list of those who receive membership bids to the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life and the individuals physically come to the office to sign in. “We go a little old school with rosters in that regard,” said Coghill. “The signing in allows us to verify that they understand and agree to the anti-hazing policy, that we charge a fee and that we monitor academic performance. It’s all another chance for us to cross check everything. We used part of our marketing budget to purchase T-shirts for those signing in. The shirts, for new members only, have a saying that being Greek ‘doesn’t make me better than you, it makes me better than who I used to be.’”
Once the new member period ends and the new members are initiated, the group sends Coghill an initiation roster that is used that to update the official chapter roster for billing purposes.
Coghill also sends information on ineligible members to the groups’ national headquarters when necessary. “Part of this plan for these new standards is that we’ll be able to hold groups more accountable for failure to provide accurate information or follow policies.”
Last fall, 1,156 students were billed as returners, and this fall that number jumped to 1,360. “We will cross the 1,400 threshold this semester, so we’re growing,” Coghill said. “We’re working to uphold high standards and change our image. Students are looking at this option that wouldn’t have before.”
One positive, said Coghill, is grade point average. In the spring the average student overall GPA was 3.20, but it was 3.25 for fraternity and sorority members.
Another positive is Coghill himself. Building trust, communicating and having an open-door policy is helping with the cultural change. “It’s not uncommon for students to talk about ideas they have for significant change. And if my door is open, a student has at least 15 minutes [Coghill has a 15-minute hour glass on his table for such occasions.] They can also schedule directly to my Google calendar for anytime from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. with 24 hours notice. It all helps, students can book my time.
“Students know that I’m receptive, my cell phone is shared with every chapter and council president,” he said. “They’re coming in and talking, all the people are here to make their experience better and help them be the best they can be.”
This semester, Coghill is focusing on reconnecting the chapters with their national offices and making that connection for what can they do for the groups. There are resources they’re not taking advantage of.
He’s also responding to student needs.”Our Greek grant program is starting to kick up and is getting a lot of applications. I have a giant planning matrix that we use for planning,” he said. “We’ve matched our goals to the Road Map and the coalition report and we’re picking off the pieces we can and moving forward.”
“It’s relationship building. Build with the students and get them to go back to the values they’re supposed to be espousing.”