By Dean Stattmann
In the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house, 24 cherry wood paddles hang beside one another. Marked consecutively with letters of the Greek alphabet, each one represents a “pledge class” and bears the names of the brothers that joined that semester. From the founding 12-man Alpha class, they show the steady growth of the New York University chapter over the years, a growth that accelerated last year with the recruitment of a 21-man Psi class. And now, one year later, with the successful initiation of a 25-man Alpha Alpha class, the chapter’s explosive growth is showing no signs of slowing down.
Located in the heart of Manhattan, NYU has never been a popular destination for Greek life. With neither a traditional campus nor the kind of athletic clout that go hand in hand with college Greek life, the university instead offers students the opportunity to live independently in one of the most metropolitan cities in the world. Consequently, the university’s Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) community has come to reside comfortably in just one percent of NYU’s total student population.
“Greek life at NYU provides students with a unique type of experience,” says Christianne Bassoul, president of NYU’s Inter-Greek Council, the student-run body that governs NYU’s 26 fraternities and sororities. “We get the best of both worlds in terms of having the traditions, rituals, housing and structure of traditional Greek organizations, in addition to many opportunities and benefits granted to us at NYU that we get to take advantage of.”
But in the fall 2008 semester, following the introduction of several new public relations campaigns aimed at expanding the university’s FSL community, Greek organizations at NYU recruited more students than ever before. Now, with Greeks accounting for almost five percent of NYU’s student body, the university’s FSL community is at a historic peak.
Between fall 2005 and spring 2008, Greek organizations at NYU recruited an average of 88 students per semester. Having grown by 190 members after graduations, the university’s FSL community stood at 787 members. In the fall 2008 semester, an unprecedented 228 students joined Greek organizations, followed by 139 in the spring and then 219 this fall, averaging 195 per semester. Today, 956 NYU students belong to Greek organizations.
“We started a couple of new PR campaigns,” says FSL coordinator Allison Harris, who came to NYU in November 2007 to serve as staff advisor to the Greek community. Since her arrival, and the initiation of several publicity efforts under her leadership, the university’s Greek community is receiving more attention, and members, than ever before.
To promote NYU’s Greek community, Harris kicked off her role as FSL coordinator with “Meet The Greeks,” an event held the week before FSL recruitment each semester in NYU’s Kimmel Center for Student Life. Based off NYU’s bi-annual Club Fest, ‘Meet The Greeks” aims to introduce students to Greek life at NYU and showcase the diverse selection of organizations it offers. “It is a fun atmosphere where every fraternity and sorority registered and in good standing with NYU has a table and is allowed to recruit new members to their organization,” says Harris. “There is also a DJ, stroll performances and give-aways.”
Harris is also the brains behind “We Are NYU Greeks,” a poster campaign that spotlights individual members of the Greek community. “One of the elements of our community is that we are more diverse than any other Greek community in the nation,” says Harris. “We are comprised of gay students, Latino, African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American, disabled, immigrant, first generation college students… the list goes on.”
In addition to the increasing amount of students joining NYU’s existing fraternities and sororities, the FSL community has also expanded in the number of organizations it houses. Through the IGC, national fraternities and sororities are able to petition for colony status, which allows for the establishment of a mini chapter, or “colony.” Contingent on the completion of various requirements, colonies can then achieve chapter status and begin on-campus recruitment. Among the last organizations to establish colonies at NYU were the Pi Beta Phi sorority and, most recently, the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity, which came to NYU in August. Also preparing for expansion are Zeta Beta Tau and Lambda Upsilon Lambda, two fraternities that graduated to chapter status earlier this semester.
As a result of the FSL community’s sudden growth, the IGC opted earlier this semester to temporarily hold out on recognizing new colonies in order to focus on maintaining the thriving community it has amassed over the past year.
A message on the IGC website reads, “Due to the recent exponential growth of the Fraternity and Sorority Life community at New York University, as of the Fall of 2009, the Inter-Greek Council and Fraternity and Sorority Life has placed a MORATORIUM on any expansion efforts for at least the Fall of 2009.”
“I think Greeks have done an excellent job marketing and publicizing their experiences in Greek life,” says Bassoul, who is also a member of the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority. But the publicity efforts of Harris and the FSL community have only highlighted what has been there all along.
“There is a lot more to being Greek at NYU then being social,” says Ben Steele, president of NYU’s Inter-Fraternity Council. “For instance, Zeta Psi and FIJI (two NYU fraternities) have put on a reading improvement workshop in past years where a service specializing in ‘speed reading’ will come in and teach a lesson. Also, there have been resume workshops, LSAT preparation, and other academic related programs put on by many of the Greek organizations.”
Programming is an area that Steele feels NYU Greeks have excelled in, citing that Greek organizations at many other schools typically organize just one philanthropy event per semester. “Here at NYU, most organizations have one per week,” he says. “NYU Greek Life is a great way to grow academically and this is being publicized even more by IGC and IFC.”
NYU is not without its own share of national Greek life history. Zeta Psi, Alpha Epsilon Pi and Delta Sigma Pi, three national fraternities, were all founded at NYU, as was national sorority Delta Phi Epsilon. Greek life first came to NYU in 1837 with the chartering of the Psi Upsilon fraternity.
Image courtesy of NYU Center for Student Activities, Leadership and Service