(Opinions) Greek life good

The Beta Theta Pi house on Turner Street, Feb. 16, 2020.

When you hear the word “fraternity,” what are your initial thoughts? Do you jump to quick conclusions about social habits or a lack of academic discipline? It’s okay if you do –– you’re not alone. Around the country, a growing movement has one message: Greek life has no place on a modern college campus.

Here’s why they’re wrong.

Ro Settle is the director of fraternity and sorority life at Virginia Tech. Appointed to the position this past summer, he has been at Virginia Tech for about 20 years in various positions, most of which relate to Greek life. 

He said that his main job is “advancing the missions of fraternity and sorority life through our external campus and community partners, as well as internal partners like chapter presidents, volunteers that work with organizations and council leaders.”

During our conversation, Settle used a word that struck a chord with me. Each chapter on campus is assigned a “coach,” who is an adult faculty member whose job is to guide the chapter through the semester. This term serves to represent something more –– a true commitment by the university toward the success of Greek life. Virginia Tech is emerging as a leader in a number of areas, and it is proving its concrete commitment to fostering a truly healthy Greek environment.

Greek life contributes to Virginia Tech in a number of meaningful ways. According to information shared by Settle's office, men and women in Greek life on campus completed over 48,000 hours of community service in the last academic year. They raised $943,000 for causes like domestic violence awareness, childhood literacy and breast cancer awareness. Their community-wide 3.29 GPA average was higher than the average GPA for all undergraduates at Virginia Tech in the spring of 2019. Personally, my time at Virginia Tech has exposed me to many new groups and types of people, including Alpha Tau Omega, a social and leadership development fraternity on campus. 

Much of the negative media toward Greek life is often written and created by those not associated with the Greek community itself. I felt it important to convey a genuine narrative, realized through experience, of Greek life at Virginia Tech.

On the other hand, it is certainly true that at times, individual members of the Greek community have abused their privileges and made a mockery of what Greek life ought to be. This behavior is unacceptable. It serves as a reminder of what we shouldn’t be, and inspiration to reach for what we should be –– a beacon of academic, social and lifelong service and success.

Kevin Foust is the newly appointed associate vice president of safety and security at Virginia Tech. He previously served as chief of the Virginia Tech Police Department and spent extensive time working in the FBI. His presence and experience is invaluable to the Blacksburg community.

Officer Foust’s time as chief of police led to some keen insights on the Greek life community at Virginia Tech. 

“There’s a lot of wrong ideas out there about Greek life,” Foust said. “There’s a lot of prejudging … the danger becomes when people who don’t bother to do their own research, who don’t bother to find out the real story, assume, many times wrongly, that that’s the way it is everywhere and that’s the way it is with every fraternity and sorority –– it is not; I have seen the exact opposite here at Virginia Tech.” 

Officer Foust and I also discussed his recent transition back to suit and tie, as he did while serving as director of the FBI office for Western Virginia. One of his observations about his time in uniform at Virginia Tech was running into general misconceptions and negative feelings toward law enforcement, and being on the receiving end of a myriad of hurtful and offensive comments. We discussed an interesting parallel between law enforcement and the fraternity scene. In many cases, the actions of few control the perception of many. There is no doubt that around the country, and even around Virginia Tech’s campus, there are self-absorbed actors who selfishly tarnish the reputation of fraternities and sororities. Allowing these actions to dominate dialogue around the subject is not only a shame, but is an affront to the overwhelming majority of fraternity and sorority members who spend these four years investing in organizations that strive to benefit so many around them.

And that, in essence, is the core of my argument. Fraternities and sororities do real work to stand as a symbol of what we can do together, a testament to the value of brotherhood and sisterhood. This fact must not be overshadowed by acts of cowardice. As members of the Greek community work closely with Settle and Vice President Foust, these underappreciated aspects of Greek life at Virginia Tech will become more visible.

I call on anyone associated with a college community, especially ours in Blacksburg, to analyze your past conceptions and biases and consider whether they are really telling the true story. With full community support, imagine the steps Greek life can take to better the lives of each member of these organizations, and more importantly, our wider Blacksburg community.

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