Fraternities and sororities have played a role on college campuses since their inception as debate and literary societies in 1776. Originally founded so students could discuss topics of the day outside of the classroom, the organizations are now commonplace worldwide and enrich the college experience by providing academic, community, and social opportunities.
Having been accepted on campus four decades ago, Illinois State’s Greek life is in its infancy compared to many other universities, but it is rapidly growing. More than 32 Greek-letter organizations have an established presence. The number continues to increase over time, as more diverse interests surface with the changing study body.
While many Illinois State fraternities and sororities are social in nature, day-to-day life in the houses is far from Hollywood depictions in movies such as National Lampoon’s Animal House and Van Wilder. ISU’s organizations instead provide students opportunities to support the organization’s selected charity, mature as leaders, enhance their studies, serve the community, and have fun.
“Hollywood has not done any favors to fraternities and sororities, just as Hollywood has not done any favors to deans of students,” said Art Munin, who has that very title at ISU. “They tend to paint both in a stereotypical action, not reflective of the lived experience of fraternity and sorority life.”
Munin, who has more than 15 years of experience in student affairs, sees fraternities and sororities as providing ISU students with strong on-campus leadership and civic engagement opportunities. He notes that such experiences can provide life skills, give experience in mediation, and create a sense of belonging.
“Students are looking for community,” Munin said. “We know that a sense of community and sense of identity are very strong predictors of how successful students will be in college. Students are creating new families. They’re creating new networks that are going to support them throughout their academic career and beyond.”
Today’s student leaders
Meet some of the students who guide fraternity and sorority life at Illinois State.
Alexandra Di Domenico
College Panhellenic Council (CPC) president
A leader in high school, Di Domenico put a high priority on finding not only leadership opportunities, but also a group of like-minded friends with similar values. In her sorority, she found a sisterhood where she could focus on philanthropy, community service, and leadership—all while forging bonds she will carry for the rest of her life.
“Being a Greek, you gain so much from your college experience. I benefit from the close community, sisterhood/brotherhood, strong focus on academics and philanthropy, and of course leadership. Without Greek life, I would have not been able to meet as many wonderful people who have impacted my life more than they ever know.”
Multicultural Greek Council (MGC) president
Solorzano was one of the founders of her sorority. She worked to bring it to campus because she and her peers identified with the sorority’s values. During her time on MGC, she has collaborated with other organizations to promote shared values. Solorzano is certain Greek life has a profound impact.
“A lot of MGC organizations are pretty small. With having organizations ranging from five to a max of 25, there are a bunch of roles that can be taken such as president, vice president, academic chair, business chair, risk management chair. There are so many positions that nobody in the organization can get away with just attending chapter. Everyone is responsible for something. Everyone has a position. Everyone will be utilizing skills that they’re best at or if not, discovering new skills. It’s a good way to start utilizing your skills and really putting yourself out there to see what your limits are and what you can do.”
Interfraternity Council (IFC) vice president
Birlingmair knew that assuming leadership roles as president of his fraternity and IFC’s vice president of programming would require shouldering a great deal of responsibility. The experience has helped him hone his leadership, time management, delegation skills; and communicate with his constituents and peers.
“Being in a fraternity and sorority is so much more than the stereotype of ‘paying for your friends.’ It teaches lifelong values that you carry with you every single day. It teaches you that people come from all sorts of backgrounds and you learn how to understand and respect those not like you. It gets you more involved with those around campus as well. If I hadn’t joined a fraternity, I wouldn’t know a fraction of the people I do now. Greek life also gives you a chance to give back to the community through philanthropy and community service work.”
Greek history: From foes to friends
While fraternities and sororities are welcome on campus today, the original official stance was that such organizations were unneeded and unwanted. By the 1960s, this perspective was relaxed.
1942: ISU issued its first formal statement against the formation of fraternities/sororities after a group of African-American women—unaware of the unwritten “understanding” regarding the formation of fraternities and sororities—applied for and received a charter from Sigma Beta Kappa.
1968: ISU was vehemently against the formation of fraternities and sororities. The 1968–1969 course catalog stated: “Since the founding of Illinois State University, social fraternities and sororities, even of a local nature, have not been a part of student life. The University maintains that, without these organizations, it can better achieve its main purpose and that students can participate more effectively in the life of the whole University.”
1969: A more neutral stance was adopted. The 1969–1970 course catalog stated: “Acting upon the Student Senate recommendation, the University Council concurred that the University adopt a policy of neutrality toward social fraternities and sororities. Consequently, hereafter the University will neither oppose nor encourage its students to join or form such social fraternities or sororities as may be established in the town of Normal.” This cold statement was removed by the 1971–1972 catalog and organizations were formally listed.
1969: Lambda Chi Alpha and Tau Kappa Epsilon founded as the first Greek-lettered organizations on campus. Alpha Gamma Rho and Delta Chi chartered and remain the oldest fraternities.
1971: Delta Sigma Phi chartered and re-mains the oldest IFC. Delta Sigma Theta chartered and remains the oldest NPHC (women).
1972: Phi Beta Sigma and Alpha Phi Alpha chartered and remain the oldest NPHC (men).
1973: Delta Zeta chartered and remains the oldest sorority.
1986: Sigma Lambda Beta chartered and remains the oldest MGC. The Gamma chapter is the third-ever chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta.
A place to call home
Big houses adorned with Greek letters are more than places to sleep. Within these walls, lifelong bonds are made and networks are established that affect students on personal and professional levels.
Most Panhellenic sorority houses are owned by alumni or a house corporation of the national office. One-third of fraternity houses at Illinois State are owned in the same manner.
Not all organizations own their house. Some rent houses from local property managers.
Delta Chi has the most students living in a house—approximately 50.
Phi Psi has the fewest students living in a house—approximately 10.
Every IFC fraternity will be housed for the first time this fall.
Cost to live in a house each semester varies, but is typically between $1,500 and $2,000. Room, meals, dues, cleaning and maintenance fees are included in the total.
Occupants of Greek houses are primarily sophomores.
IFC and CPC organizations hold an average of three to four registered parties per semester. They are only required to register parties if alcohol will be served.
Service and philanthropy
Community service and philanthropy are a priority of every chapter on campus. The effort members pour into raising funds and improving the community makes a real impact.
Making the grades
Academics are a significant part of the fraternity/sorority experience. Being attached to a community of peers drives students to learn and achieve more.
Average required GPA to join a fraternity/sorority organization is 2.5. The average of ISU’s undergraduate degree-seeking students in fraternities/sororities for fall 2014 was 3.01. Average overall university GPA for undergraduate degree-seeking students in fall 2014 was 2.98.
ISU’s fraternal community was recognized in the spring semester by Gamma Sigma Alpha honor society for GPA Honor Roll at the Association of Fraternal Leadership and Values. The honor recognizes above average undergraduate GPA.
Tell your story
Did fraternity/sorority life change you? Did you serve as a leader? Engage in philanthropy? Did you meet lifelong friends or a significant other through chapter activities? Share your story at Alumni.IllinoisState.edu/Greek.
Illinois State staff will pick favorites to be shared in a future STATEside post.