An Exploratory Study of Greek Life at Rhodes College
Wiley, Paul Gray
This exploratory study of Greek life was conducted in response to a request by Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, where administrators are interested in learning more about fraternity and sorority life at the College. Our initial discussions with College administrators suggested that opinions about Greek life at Rhodes were decidedly mixed, and mirrored those commonly-held both in the academy and in broader society. Many indicated that fraternities and sororities play a positive role by developing student leaders, providing social bonding opportunities for members, and by offering a significant amount of student life programming to the entire student body. Others suggested that these organizations, through their behaviors, customs, and values, have detrimental effects on the academic and social development of their members, as well as harmful side-effects on non-members. Given the diversity of thought about Greek life, it was determined that student affairs administrators and the Greek organizations themselves could benefit from a better understanding of how various campus constituencies perceive Greek students and organizations and what they perceive the effects of Greek membership to be. The study specifically examines whether membership in a Greek organization enhances or diminishes student engagement and various desirable outcomes of college, and is organized around the following study questions: 1) Do perceptions differ among students, faculty, administrators, Interfraternity Council fraternities, and Panhellenic Council sororities about a) the effects of fraternity and sorority life on Greeks? b) Greek organizations and their members? 2) Do Greeks differ from Independents in a) their pre-college and demographic characteristics? b) their levels of student engagement and engagement-related behaviors? c) their college outcomes, including grade point average, graduation, educational and personal growth, and development of practical and interpersonal competencies? 3) Are there differences among Interfraternity Council fraternities or among Panhellenic Council sororities in a) their levels of student engagement and engagement-related behaviors? b) their college outcomes, including grade point average, graduation, educational and personal growth, and development of practical and interpersonal competencies? After analyzing a wealth of data provided by the College and augmented by surveys of full-time degree-seeking students, full-time faculty members, and full-time administrators in academic and student affairs, we identified several key findings. Greek students were found to be no less engaged overall than Independent students. Greek students consume alcohol with greater frequency and in larger amounts than Independents. Community service is extolled as a hallmark of Rhodes' fraternities and sororities, but we found no differences between Greeks and Independents in the amount of time they devote to it. Greeks report higher levels of growth in interpersonal and practical competencies than do Independents. Greeks relatively lower college grade point averages are not related to their membership in a fraternity or sorority. Finally, Greeks graduate at a strikingly higher rate than do Independents, even though Independents are academically better prepared upon entering College. As a result of these findings, we make several recommendations: 1. Administrators at Rhodes should sponsor a thorough qualitative investigation into the effects of Greek life at the College. 2. Administrators at Rhodes should undertake further study to better understand the extent to which Greek life pervades student life on the Rhodes campus. 3. Administrators at Rhodes should conduct a careful and thorough examination of the social engagement possibilities for Independent students. 4. Administrators at Rhodes should implement a system to monitor the unplanned departure of Independent students from the institution. 5. If it is determined that Greek life at Rhodes exerts too much institutional press or severely limits the possibilities for social engagement of Independents, administrators should consider structural mechanisms to reduce at least the appearance of Greek domination of campus culture. 6. Administrators at Rhodes should implement a system to ensure that complete and accurate information about the Greek rush and pledge process is collected, maintained, and that it can be integrated with data from the College's student information system. 7. Administrators at Rhodes should consider deferring Greek rush until the second semester. 8. Administrators at Rhodes should study carefully specific fraternities and sororities both to address troublesome findings and to better understand and propagate positive ones.