Emory In Fall Colors

By Adrienne S. Harris, Contributing Writer

This is the first in a series of stories developed by Campus Life and the Emory Alumni Association to explore sorority and fraternity life at Emory University – past, present, and future.

Thanks to early recommendations from Emory’s Sorority and Fraternity Life Strategic Plan Initiative, the university has begun to implement changes designed to sustain a robust environment for sororities and fraternities, whose members account for nearly one-third of the undergraduate student body. The initiative aims to ensure a thriving living and learning environment for Greek letter organizations and their members. 

The recommendations, which focus on housing and shared-governance, include optimized financial and human resources to support sororities and fraternities, as well as strategies to improve communication and cooperation between sororities and fraternities and the larger university community, as well as among sorority and fraternity councils.

Meeting: Goldfein, Bush, Baumgartner, and Gibson.From left: Alumnae Kristan Goldfein 90C and Rosalyn Bush 65C meet with Emory student Tom Baumgartner 19C, chapter president for Sigma Chi, and OSFL director Marlon Gibson. One of Goldfein’s sons is graduating this month and another arrives at Emory this fall. Bush is the mother of two sons who are alumni. Photo by Tom Brodnax.

“Sororities and fraternities have been an integral part of the Emory community for almost 150 years, but the university’s relationship with them was based on what is today an outdated paradigm,” said Marlon Gibson, director of sorority and fraternity life for Campus Life. “We needed revitalization. So, our working groups of students, staff, and alumni took a closer look at the current needs of our diverse group of sororities and fraternities and developed a long-term plan to help ensure those needs are met.”

As one of the early strategic planning recommendations revealed, changes were critically needed in the staffing model. In March, Emory approved three new full-time positions to manage sorority and fraternity housing and advise one of the four sorority and fraternity councils. All three new staff members will begin work this summer and ultimately replace eleven part-time positions currently held by graduate students. The university is also accelerating plans to increase staff in housing operations to handle sorority and fraternity house maintenance and repairs.

“These changes will better align staffing for sorority and fraternity housing with that of the university’s other undergraduate residential housing,” according to Suzanne Onorato, Campus Life’s assistance vice president for Community. “Optimizing these resources is foundational in our commitment to sorority and fraternity life.”

Efforts to enhance sorority and fraternity life began in summer 2016 when the university engaged Plaid Inc., a management firm that works with colleges and universities, to conduct a study of Greek housing. In response to Plaid’s May 2017 report, the university formed two strategic planning working groups comprised of students, faculty, staff and alumni to dig deeper into the study’s findings.

The Housing, Finance, and Operations Working Group addressed the ownership, use, and maintenance of sorority and fraternity houses. One of the group’s key recommendations is a new financial and operational model that calls for the university to fund all infrastructure projects, major repairs, and renovations for sorority and fraternity housing, as happens with Emory’s other residential facilities. Houses that maintain a minimum occupancy rate during the academic year would be able to use an agreed-upon percentage of their room fees for house amenities and programming.

“This change would be a huge benefit for sororities and fraternities, because most cannot afford to pay for needed repairs, especially on the older houses,” said Ross Warshauer 19B, who serves as Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter president and representative to the Interfraternity Council.

“Now that these buildings are being considered the same as other university residence facilities, chapters can concentrate on more activities to benefit our members and more service projects to benefit the community,” he added.

The Shared Governance Working Group addressed communications, community building, governance and accountability, advisement, and academic engagement. The group explored ways to improve collaboration among students, faculty, staff, and alumni to affirm expected standards of behavior for sorority and fraternity members, handle allegations of misconduct, and ensure that students receive the guidance they need to develop as leaders.

Among the group’s recommendations is a marketing and communications campaign to dismantle myths and stereotypes about sorority and fraternity life and underscore the good works and contributions that sororities and fraternities make to Emory and the community.

“It’s all about trust, communication, and the appropriate sharing of responsibility,” said Kristan Goldfein 90C, who serves on one of the strategic planning working groups and is the mother of one son who graduates this month and another who will enter Emory this fall. “Ultimately, sororities and fraternities want the same thing Emory wants – to educate, empower, and encourage women and men to be outstanding citizens. We all have a necessary role to play in achieving that.”

Onorato, whose Community portfolio includes the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life, as well as Residence Life and a host of other core student services, is pleased with the progress she’s seen so far.

“The recommendations from the planning groups and the work already underway to implement them are examples of what can happen when smart, caring Emory people put their heads and hearts together to make a difference,” Onorato said. “All the changes won’t happen overnight. But, as a university, we are committed to investing in sororities and fraternities and creating an environment in which they can thrive.”

One of the exciting recommendations from the Sorority and Fraternity Life Strategic Plan Initiative proposes a yearlong celebration of two milestones that will occur in 2019: the 150th anniversary of fraternities and the 60th anniversary of sororities at Emory.

Gloria Grevas, senior director of campus and community engagement for the Emory Alumni Association, is spearheading the committee that will coordinate special sorority and fraternity events in conjunction with Founders Week, Dooley’s Week, Commencement, Homecoming, and other university activities. The events will be publicized via Emory’s online and print publications, video, and social media, as well as industry and general news media.

“Our goal is to showcase the many ways Emory sororities and fraternities have and continue to be engaged in the intellectual, cultural, and social life of the university,” said Grevas. “Their impact is evident in camaraderie, leadership, and service – not only on this campus, but also in the local, national, and international communities. That’s something we are all proud to celebrate.”