Apgar gives Rensselaer Greeks high marks for community relationsalways a challenge when Greek chapters maintain houses in residential neighborhoods. Most chapters have developed very good relations with their neighbors over the years, he says. When misunderstandings arise, its usually very few of the chapters that are involved some have yearly meetings with their neighbors so that they know who the new officers are. Fraternities have raked lawns, helped manage property, cleaned out basements, assisted with spring cleaning and, especially this past winter, shoveled snow. Those are the underlying things that they rarely get attention for, says Apgar.
Rensselaers Interfraternity Council took neighborhood involvement a step further in February when its members unanimously approved a resolution to improve the relationship of Rensselaers fraternities with the neighborhoods surrounding campus. The Resolution on Community Relations calls for better interaction and communication with neighbors and reaffirms the Greeks dedication to community service and philanthropy in the City of Troy. We want more of a proactive approach on our part, IFC President Jeff Andritz told the Polytechnic after the vote.
Dean of Students Mark Smith praises the action. Passing this resolution is definitely a positive move for Rensselaers fraternities and for the community as well. It just reinforces the wish of both groups to peacefully co-exist and make living in Troy a pleasant experience.
The resolution had a more controversial beginning. A City of Troy noise ordinance passed last August created a buzz among Greek students who were worried that they would be targeted by police. When two fraternity chapter presidents were cited by Troy police in the fall for violations of the ordinance, student unhappiness over the citys actions led to an unprecedented open dialogue among all the parties involvedlocal neighborhood associations, Troy City Council, the mayors office, the Troy Police, Rensselaer Cabinet, Office of Student Life, student government, the Interfraternity Council, and the Panhellenic Association, among others.
This open channel of communication did more for communiversity than anything Ive seen in a while; it extended an olive branch to the neighbors, says John Muller 03, who was IFC president at the time. It said We understand your point of view, and wee going to change our ways. Rensselaers Greeks emerged from this process resolved to take responsibility for their actions and create better relations with neighbors and the city. I am very proud of the direction that our fraternities and sororities are going, Muller says. We have been faced with a challenge, and we have risen to meet it.
Now that the resolution is on the books, Greeks are taking action to put it into practice. In late April, the Interfraternity Council launched the first Greek Community Cleanup Day in neighborhoods surrounding the campus. About 120 Greek students spent a Sunday cleaning up the 12th Street approach to make the stairs more usable and clearing brush and trash from Prospect Park. The council partnered with Rensselaer Public Safety, the Troy Community Police Department, the mayor of Troy, and Sodhexo food service to organize what the council hopes to be an annual event.
While Greeks are taking the initiative to spearhead such projects, thinking of themselves as members of the greater community can be a change, says Roger Grice, Ph.D. 87, clinical associate professor of technical communication and adviser to Lambda Chi Alpha. If you compare what happened back when I was an undergraduate in the 60s, Greeks didnt really care about the neighbors, says Grice. But thats not the way it is today; we need to give back to where we live.
Grice encourages Greeks to get involved in communiversity events, as well as their own philanthropy initiatives. Greeks have also worked with members of the community to clean up the local parks, build houses, and work at soup kitchens, says Grice. Its important that [Greeks] know they are part of the neighborhood, too.
Grice says this strong commitment to community service keeps him involved with the chapter. Im always impressed by the level of maturity in the Greek community now, he says. Were not just here to have fun, but were here to do good things and have fun. Rensselaer students tend to be very responsible, and thats apparent in our Greek life.
Although Rensselaers Greek community is working toward the goal of being a national model of excellence, challenges remain. Spear believes that while Greeks have worked hard to be better neighbors, they still need to make a significant contribution to their local community.
In order to thrive in the future, the Greeks at Rensselaer must work with their neighbors to establish a comfortable living situation for both interested parties, says Spear. If the neighbors see that Greeks are making an effort to work with them and are actually interested in their concerns, we can actually be one community.
|Rensselaer Magazine: June 2003|
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