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Go Greek!
by Ray Lutzky ’02

Rensselaer's Greeks redefine fraternity and sorority life as leadership and service take center stage.

Before Drew Thompson ’06 began his freshman year at Rensselaer, he was certain that he did not want to join a fraternity.

“I had already convinced myself that fraternities were bad, and not worth my time,

Jennifer Spear ’03
Photo by Mark McCarty
before I even gave them a shot,” he says. “I bought into the stereotypes.”

But then Thompson attended the annual “Meet the Greeks” event held after Freshman Convocation, during which he became interested in joining Pi Kappa Alpha, the largest fraternity on campus. Thompson enjoyed the chapter’s rush events, which included volleyball and movies at the house, and adventure experiences such as whitewater rafting and cliff jumping. Thompson says that after experiencing Rensselaer’s Greek community firsthand, his opinion of fraternities and sororities changed.

“I think the Greek community is a great idea,” he says. “There are definitely fraternities at Rensselaer that have it right, and I wish people at other colleges could have that experience.” Thompson believes “a fraternity is a wonderful place to grow,” and that his future brothers helped him adapt during his first semester at Rensselaer.

Thompson’s change of heart is indicative of the way fraternities and sororities at Rensselaer are attracting students who thought Greek life wasn’t for them. Greek chapters at Rensselaer are drawing new members by redefining the meaning and purpose of membership in these sometimes centuries-old organizations.

With the growing diversity of college students and an abundance of campus organizations to join, fraternity life especially has proved less popular over the last decade. Fraternity membership declined as much as 30 percent in the 1990s, forcing many chapters across the country to close down. Further crippling the tradition, some major colleges and universities questioned the viability of their Greek systems, with some, including Williams College and Union College, even going as far as banning fraternities and sororities from their campuses. Meanwhile, Rensselaer’s Greek community is going strong—reinventing itself to meet the challenges of the system’s third century of existence at the Institute.

The 34 fraternities and sororities of Rensselaer in 2003 bear little resemblance to those portrayed in National Lampoon’s Animal House or in the media. Today’s Greeks run chapters like businesses, assessing risk management, dealing with budgets amounting to tens of thousands of dollars, and providing academic assistance programs, leadership development programs, and community service opportunities. With so many campus organizations at Rensselaer these days, fraternities and sororities must prove to students that they will enhance the university experience. The more than 1,300 undergraduates at Rensselaer who belong to fraternities and sororities agree it’s a dynamic way of college life that creates leaders who care.

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Rensselaer Magazine: June 2003
President's View Your Mail From the Archives Hawk Talk Class Notes Features
Front Page At Rensselaer Milestones
In Memoriam Making a Difference Staying Connected
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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in March, June, September, and December by the Office of Communications.

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