The Growth of Greek Life at Columbia

The Growth of Greek Life at Columbia

Published on November 1, 2016

Clad in a hot pink, sequined bikini with her arms spread across the sides of a hot tub, Elle Woods smiles widely at the camera as she begins her video essay for Harvard Law School.

The frame cuts to Woods standing at the head of a table in her sorority house, her blonde hair perfectly coiffed, her gold dress as glittery as her diamond jewelry.

“As president of my sorority,” Woods says in a voiceover that plays as the camera pans up from the table, “I’m skilled at commanding the attention of a room and discussing very important issues.” The audience then hears her decrying the injustice of the university’s maintenance staff switching their toilet paper from Charmin to a generic brand.

In the next scene, we see Woods looking wistfully out the window at a gaggle of shirtless frat bros running past with kegs in their arms.

This depiction of sorority life, from Legally Blonde and other films and TV shows like it, shaped my impressions of Greek life before I even set foot on a college campus.

The common pop culture stereotypes of sororities and fraternities—that they are full of petty fights over appearances and boys, and beer-fueled ragers—made the idea of Greek life incredibly uninteresting to me. A “sorority girl” was the last thing I wanted to be. So when it came to choosing a college to attend, a school’s Greek community didn’t even cross my mind.

Regardless of class year, this is a sentiment I hear again and again in my conversations with Columbia and Barnard students. Many of them also arrived completely uninterested in joining a Greek organization.

When Abhijit Nagaraj, a classics major and Columbia graduate of 2010, first came to Columbia College 10 years ago, he knew that he probably wouldn’t join a fraternity. As a self-professed introvert, Nagaraj tells me that the images of Greek life on TV and movies—in addition to what he had researched about Columbia’s Greek life—made him think that fraternities weren’t for him.

Though Nagaraj says he momentarily considered joining a fraternity after one of his good friends told him he was rushing, he ultimately never did. Instead, he turned to groups like Club Zamana—a South Asian cultural club—to meet people.

“In terms of fraternities, I’m still not sure what it was, what it is that unites the people who join a fraternity other than a commitment to be really good friends or support each other,” he says. “The idea of just joining a group of people without having something in common already, that still kind of seems a little strange.”

Although a decade has passed since Nagaraj was a first-year at Columbia, many students since then have also come to campus feeling the exact same ambivalence toward Greek life.

But unlike Nagaraj, these same students—in record-high numbers—are now, in fact, affiliating. What is unclear is what is causing this change.

By the numbers

Over the past 10 years, there has been a significant increase in the number of students who have turned to Greek life at Columbia.

Sororities have seen the most impressive increase in membership and interest. Between 2012 to 2015, the Panhellenic Council—which oversees six sororities recognized at Columbia— reported a 74 percent increase in recruitment numbers.

A natural increase should be expected, of course; there are 771 more students enrolled at Columbia and Barnard this fall than there were in 2010. But the uptick in participation has meant that individual chapters are growing rapidly.

(Amanda Frame)

(Amanda Frame)

Sigma Nu, a fraternity that has been at Columbia since 1908, saw a 77 percent increase in membership between 2010 and 2016, growing from 31 to 55 members, according to archived versions of the group’s website. More impressively, the website of Alpha Chi Omega, a sorority that was established in 1989, indicates that membership has increased by 125 percent, going from 55 to 124 sisters between 2010 and 2016.

In fact, the increase in interest is part of what led to the reinstatement of two sorority chapters—Alpha Omicron Pi and Gamma Phi Beta—in 2013 and 2015, respectively.

In the last 10 years, Greek life has seen an average increase in membership of 40.69 percent every three years. Total enrollment at Columbia College, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of General Studies, and Barnard has increased by roughly 15 percent since 2006. Greek life participation, on the other hand? About 178 percent.

As of this fall, nearly 16 percent of the entire undergraduate student population participates in Greek life—an almost ten percentage-point increase from the 2006 rate of 6.61 percent.

This dramatic increase in fraternity and sorority membership means that Greek life at Columbia will evolve. But perhaps that means that the undergraduate social experience at Columbia will fundamentally change, too.

But as membership in fraternities and sororities continues to grow, Columbia is struggling to determine how best to manage its Greek life constituents on campus.

Associate Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Jazmyn Pulley explains that the University has extended its “moratorium” through 2017, whereby no new Greek chapters can be established on campus until Columbia can determine how best to serve its Greek community. This cap was put in place shortly after Gamma Phi Beta was reinstated at Columbia in 2015.

“We need to be able to support those organizations—with more organizations means more work for administration,” Pulley says. “As long as there are enough advisers to really be able to support them fully—because advising fraternity, sorority life is not an easy job necessarily, that also plays a part. We cannot increase members unless we have enough support. They go hand in hand.”

Adding to this, Cristen Kromm, dean of Undergraduate Student Life for Columbia College and SEAS, tells me that even if sororities and fraternities continue to grow in size—which, inevitably, they will—and more brownstones do open up, Greek organizations don’t have any more priority than other student groups vying for designated space. Already, more than half of the sororities and fraternities on campus are without brownstones.

“Just because there are chapters interested doesn’t mean that we are opening it, no—there is no housing commitment at all,” Kromm says. “We’re not at a point in time where we’re saying we’re making more brownstones available to that community.”

After speaking with Pulley and Kromm, I can’t help but wonder: What will happen to Greek life at Columbia?

Greek life on an urban campus

Columbia’s first fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi, was established in 1836. Across the street, the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority was established at Barnard in 1891—just two years after the college itself opened. Which is to say, neither fraternities or sororities are new to our campus.

But despite its long and established history here, Greek life never took off at Columbia and Barnard in the same way it has at other institutions.

At the University of Pennsylvania, for example, there are 48 recognized Greek chapters and more than 28 percent of undergraduates are affiliated. Dartmouth, on the other hand, has 28 recognized Greek chapters and about 50 percent of the undergraduate student population is affiliated with one of them. While Columbia has 29 recognized Greek chapters (which include chapters in the Multicultural Greek Council), only about 16 percent of undergraduates are affiliated.

The absence of a vibrant Greek scene is something that history professor Robert McCaughey initially attributes to Columbia’s early status as a commuter school. “If you went home every afternoon, that kind of cuts out a good bit of what a fraternity is about,” McCaughey says.

But even beyond our urban location, Barnard and Columbia have never been particularly welcoming of the idea of Greek life.

Barnard in particular has had a contentious past with its Greek organizations (which, at the beginning of the 20th century, were all called fraternities). The college formally banned fraternities from campus in 1913 following a series of student and faculty complaints over allegedly discriminatory practices carried out by Kappa Kappa Gamma. Barnard students were allowed to join Columbia sororities, which started to emerge after the University went coed in 1983, but the college never offered any formal recognition or financial support until 2011, when it did so tangentially through its Student Government Association.

McCaughey adds, however, that during Columbia’s early years, there was a stronger sense of undergraduate community and spirit, largely due to the fact that all students went through a much more expansive core together. He explains that undergraduates felt a strong connection to their class years simply because they interacted with members of their class more frequently.

But the slow fade of this sense of connection over time has increasingly become a factor which has driven many students today to turn to Greek life for community.

Creating a pipeline

Most students are first introduced to Greek life during the New Student Orientation Program—or “NSLOP,” as it’s more colloquially known. After a long day of workshops and ice breakers, first-years with neon wristbands head in droves to 114th Street to get their first taste of what they believe to be a token of a “real” college experience: a Beta fraternity party.

But when the wristbands are finally cut off and classes begin, this often signals the end of their relationships with Greek life.

At least this was the case for Nagaraj 10 years ago. Aside from the few frat parties he attended during NSOP, Nagaraj says he doesn’t remember going to any other Greek events.

“Even though it’s physically very present, after orientation week where everyone says, ‘Oh, there’s a frat party,’ I think there’s a bit of a disconnect,” he tells me.

Today, however, it seems as though students are being introduced to Greek life in a much more systematic, streamlined way, very early on in their Columbia careers. Malina Welman, a Barnard class of 2015 alumna who wrote her senior thesis on Columbia’s social culture and former president of Alpha Delta Phi, describes this as a “pipeline.”

As of 2014, Greek organizations have officially been scheduled into NSOP with an official “Meet and Greet” on the last Saturday of orientation. Moreover, orientation leader positions have also increasingly been held by more Greek-affiliated students—something that students interviewed say gives incoming first-years a closer perspective on Greek life and better access to their first frat parties.

Columbia College junior Dante Guarneri, a member of Delta Sigma Phi, says he was first introduced to Greek life during NSOP by his OL, who was also a member of Delta Sig.

A former football player and Seton Hall Preparatory School alum, Guarneri says that he had an inkling that he wanted to join a fraternity as a way to continue the sense of brotherhood fostered at his all-boys high school.

When his OL started talking to him about his experiences at Columbia and in Delta Sig, Guarneri tells me he took it in eagerly.

“Having an upperclassman’s perspective on a new experience was definitely helpful in trying to figure out my way,” he says. “Especially when it’s coming from a leader, you’re new to this experience, you’re taking a lot of what they’re saying to heart.”

NSOP gives Greek-affiliated individuals the opportunity to actively dispel any negative stereotypes about Greek life that many students, like myself, arrive at Columbia with. These casual interactions enable members to encourage more first-years to consider rushing.

Columbia College senior and Alpha Chi Omega Chapter President Jackie Basulto says that her chapter has made an effort to dispel myths early on. “We’re trying our best to engage with first-years at Barnard and Columbia to convey how great of an environment we have on campus in our chapter and also how important the things that we do together are to us.”

Barnard sophomore and AXO member Elizabeth Hanson says something similar, explaining that when she speaks to first-years during AXO meet and greets, she makes a concerted effort to tell them how different Columbia’s version of Greek life is.

Waleed Ali, a Columbia College sophomore in Pi Delta Pi, says that his views of Greek life were heavily influenced by his hometown of Chicago, Illinois, where he grew up near the University of Illinois.  

When Ali began making friends during his first year at Columbia, he was surprised to find that many of them were either members of fraternities or planned to rush one—and that these fraternities were not at all like the alcohol-fueled Animal House images in his head.

Ali doesn’t seem like your stereotypical “frat bro,” one who wears salmon shorts and displays a penchant for binge drinking. In fact, the very first thing Ali tells me when we sit down to talk is that he never planned on joining Greek life.

“It kind of was an organic process,” he says. “We kind of just stumbled upon it and really enjoyed the company of those who are already there. And I guess that drew us in as well, the personality of the people there, the activities we did together. It was a really fun, social group.”

Fraternities and sororities at Columbia are very different from what you might find at a state school—but that’s something that almost all the students I interview say they liked about Columbia’s Greek life.

(Jaime Danies for Spectator)

“At Columbia, it’s not the stereotypical whatever people think of Greek life, which is something I’m really proud of,” Basulto says. “I try actively to be very different from the stereotype when I lead Alpha Chi, and I think all the other presidents of sororities are doing the same thing.” Hanson also agrees that her Greek life experience is markedly different to that of her high school friends back home in Missouri, where she says the focus is predominantly on going out and partying, rather than fostering a supportive community.

“It isn’t so much the drinking culture, it’s more like ‘being with friends’ culture,” she says. “We don’t have events to drink with each other—we have events to be with each other, so I think that’s why I’ve enjoyed being a part of it so much.”

That being said, Columbia’s fraternities and sororities have not been without scandals that have threatened to upend their efforts to reverse common perceptions of what Greek life is like.

The Zeta Beta Tau fraternity lost its brownstone in 2013 after it held an unregistered party while being on probation for a hazing incident. The Kappa Alpha Theta sorority also came under fire in 2014 after controversial photos of members dressed in culturally insensitive costumes were published online, an incident that was nicknamed “Thetagate” at the time. Former Sigma Delta Tau member and Columbia College graduate of 2016 Shua Bhattacharya also penned an op-ed in Spectator earlier this January, accusing sororities of promoting pettiness and superficiality.

Bhattacharya tells me that she intentionally joined a sorority to make friends, despite her hesitations about Greek life in general. But as she was being fed messages of empowerment, Bhattacharya says her actual experience in her sorority was very different.

“What ensued was talking about who’s had a threesome and who’s done really explicit sexual things,” she says. “I’m not condoning those actions—rather, I’m saying, that’s not a way to foster empowerment and inclusivity.”

But one of the most notable incidents occurred in 2010 when a New York Police Department sting, titled Operation Ivy League, led to the arrest of five Columbia students who were allegedly operating a drug ring out of Alpha Epsilon Pi, Pi Kappa Alpha, Psi Upsilon, Intercultural House, and East Campus.

However, Greek organizations have made significant strides in the past few years to improve their image following some of these incidents. In 2011, the University implemented its ALPHA Standards of Excellence as a means to ensure that fraternities and sororities were being held to an official standard of conduct.

“It’s going to improve our image on campus, by seeing our community service hours, the money that we’ve raised—the ALPHA standards will enable the community to better appreciate what we do,” Matthew Renick, AEPi’s former president who graduated from General Studies and the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2013, said in an October 2011 interview with Spectator.

Though the standards initially faced backlash, including from Spectator’s own editorial board, current Greek life members say the ALPHA standards have actually helped Greek organizations foster a better relationship with Columbia’s administration and the wider campus community.

Guarneri says that the standards essentially reinforce and reward fraternities and sororities who create a culture that is “safe and open” for others.

Pulley says she hasn’t seen any large scandals in recent years—something that she believes has encouraged good students and leaders to want to join.

“We are in a good place that fraternity and sorority life is remaining stable,” she says.

Leaders from the InterGreek Council, which oversees all Greek organizations at Columbia, the Panhellenic Council, the Interfraternity Council, and the Multicultural Greek Council all say they have seen renewed effort from chapters to host philanthropic events and improve outreach to the larger Columbia community.

Panhellenic Council president, Delta Gamma member, and Barnard senior Ama Kwarteng says Panhellenic sororities are now holding at least one to two public philanthropy events per semester. The council itself has also begun co-sponsoring its own events with non-Greek organizations, such as a fundraiser with Por Colombia and Latinx Heritage Month in honor of the indigenous Wayuu community and an event for Feminist Fight Club, a book by Jessica Bennett (who also happened to pen the New York Times piece “When a Feminist Pledges a Sorority,” which showcased Theta).

Within individual chapters, students interviewed say they have also seen a shift in their respective organizations to broaden their appeal to more people.

“I think that there is a push for inclusivity rather than exclusivity,” Justin Udry, Columbia College junior and Beta Theta Pi’s brotherhood chair, says. He praises Beta’s “Beta Jam” event in particular, in which both non-affiliates and affiliates are open to perform in the fraternity’s house.

“I think historically and stereotypically frats are like very exclusive secretive societies—that if you are not in it, you don’t need to know about it,” Udry says. “I see it as, there should be giving from both ends. Giving back to the Columbia community and the Columbia community being involved in Greek life, even if they aren’t explicitly in a Greek life organization.”

It’s clear that Greek organizations have had no other choice but to shift their public perception at Columbia to improve their status and reputation on campus. But as I continue to speak with more students, I’m not convinced that the public philanthropic events or the early interactions with Greek life through NSOP alone are what is causing droves of students—an increasing proportion of the total student population—to want to join in recent years.

What’s changed?

Walking down 114th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam, it’s easy to forget you’re on Frat Row as Butler Library looms over the row of brownstones. Even on a weekend, the glowing light from the tall windows of Butler serves as a reminder of what’s truly central to Columbia.

Columbia students are likely some of the most stressed students in the Ivy League.

Last spring, the University Senate published the results of its 2015 Quality of Life Survey, which was sent out to the entire University student body. Undergraduate students reported feeling “worried, tense, or anxious” for an average of 9.32 days per month and felt that they did not get enough sleep for an average of 14.18 nights per month.

A Spectator report also found that the number of course credits students are required to take to graduate are amongst the highest in the Ivy League: Columbia College students must graduate with a minimum of 124 credits, SEAS students with 128 credits, GS students with 124, and Barnard students with 122.

Though some efforts have been proposed to reduce the academic workload for students, such as a policy to lower required credits and allow students to double-dip major requirements, none have officially been announced or implemented.

In recent years, Columbia’s famous lack of school spirit and sense of community has been exacerbated by the intensifying stress culture, which has, in turn, been pushing more students to look to fraternities and sororities as their support systems.

But has Columbia really gotten much more stressful in the last 10 years?

When I ask Nagaraj about Columbia’s stress culture and how that may have impacted his decision whether to join Greek life back in 2006, I almost don’t believe his response.

“Stress culture? I’ve never heard that term,” he says. He seems genuinely surprised. “People are obviously pretty serious about academics, but not really any more serious than they were at my high school.”

But if you were to ask that question of anyone on campus today, they’d tell you about the endless hours spent in Butler agonizing over papers and problem sets.

Basulto says her first year at college left her feeling “isolated on campus and stressed.” But when she decided to go to an AXO event on a whim, she immediately saw a community for her.

“I felt like it was somewhere where I could have my home on campus and be able to live there and see my friends everyday and have something to be grounded in,” she tells me.

Welman tells me that Greek life can become a welcome answer to Columbia’s unique brand of stress.

“I think those people, they come into the city, maybe have expectations why Columbia will be for them knowing that it’s an Ivy League, prestigious, amazing institution in New York City,” she says.

“Stress culture? I’ve never heard that term.”

—Abhijit Nagaraj, Columbia graduate of 2010

But once classes begin and homework begins to pile up, joining a club might seem like an impossible addition to academic responsibilities. “You want something that’s more social, low key, or something like an escape of sorts,” Welman explains.

“That kind of rose-colored glass effect wears off and options boil down to participating in Greek life, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a negative thing.”

Greek life versus student clubs

So why go Greek, when there are over 500 student groups to join at Columbia?

The students I interviewed presented an interesting twofold argument: They explained that regular student clubs don’t offer a membership base that’s as invested in being a part of the club as the sisters and brothers are of their Greek organization. At the same time, many explained that Columbia’s version of Greek life is also more relaxed than iterations at other campuses in the sense that students don’t feel like their lives are consumed by their Greek life affiliations.

Unlike most student clubs, fraternities and sororities have a much more involved recruitment process and also require accepted members to pay dues. For students interested in joining Panhellenic sororities, the process begins in the spring and involves a number of different activities, including social meet and greets with current members of the sorority. Interfraternity Council organizations have students rush in the fall.

Though this may seem like it can be a deterrent, Welman says that this means the people who do join are much more committed to being a part of and contributing to the organization.

In the case of dues, Welman says that it becomes an obvious exchange of money for goods and experiences that is not transparent when it comes to Columbia’s student life fees.

“When you are seeing your money actually go towards an experience that you’re getting things in return, that speaks more volumes than knowing the alternative of, you’re spending your money but you’re not doing anything that you’re getting back,” she says.

Though Greek life members say that people don’t join Greek life for a particular interest, which is what may make clubs more attractive to students, they are bonded by the fact that they are all motivated to find a community.

“Why turn down another opportunity where you can meet so many more people who you wouldn’t have met through any other medium?” Gamma Phi member and Barnard senior Alex Zhang says.

Multicultural Greek Council President and Columbia College junior Lorenzo Orozco says that multicultural and preprofessional fraternities and sororities in particular offer the best of both worlds.

“If you join a cultural affinity group, that organization is most definitely just going to focus on cultural aspects [or] political aspects,” Orozco says. “But when you join, say, a historically Latino fraternity, you’ll have the cultural aspect, the political aspect, the preprofessional aspect, and on top of that you have that brotherhood bond, in terms of sororities you have that sisterhood.”

But students also point out that joining a Greek organization does not compromise your other extracurricular commitments at Columbia, because it is so much more relaxed. Students can get the support system and community that they’re seeking in a fraternity or sorority while still having time to be involved in other campus groups.

“That kind of rose-colored glass effect wears off and options boil down to participating in Greek life, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a negative thing.”

—Malina Welman, Barnard alumna class of 2015

“Frats, they can complement your life, but they aren’t your life,” Ali says. “I know a lot of people at U of I where their frats take up all of their time, but that’s not necessarily the case at Columbia. That might be a function of the fact that you are so busy, you can’t have one club control your life.”

A clubhouse of my own

While Columbia’s prime location in New York City—as proudly demarcated in the University’s official title—has drawn students from across the globe, it is also what feeds one of the most common complaints about Columbia: There’s not enough space for everyone.

University President Lee Bollinger has pivoted resources away from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in order to focus on expanding Columbia with its new Manhattanville campus. And even in Manhattanville, concerns have been raised about how that space will best service the many different needs of Columbia’s constituents. Undergraduates studying neuroscience are unsure of how the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute will include them and student musicians are still looking for a designated performance space in the Lenfest Center for the Arts.

On campus, Columbia’s urban location has meant that space—specifically areas dedicated to student recreation—is scarce. Lerner Hall, for example, failed to become the student center it was originally envisioned to be, when a significant portion of the building became host to administrative offices. Though Barnard’s Diana Center—which houses the coffee shop Liz’s Place—could be used as another recreational center, students I interview say they go there mostly for class, to eat, or to do work.

But beyond the dearth of space on campus, spaces to socialize in New York are often “21 plus” and thus often inaccessible to underclassmen. For younger students looking to take advantage of the city’s numerous bars, clubs, and concerts, going out often necessitates a quality fake ID and a healthy bank account. And even for those who are of age or have a fake, papers, problem sets, and a weekend’s worth of reading can be huge deterrents to making the trek downtown.

With these factors in mind, Columbia students are frequently compelled to stay near campus in a phenomena popularly coined as the “Morningside Bubble.” But with this means becoming accustomed to the same array of weekend activity options: going to 1020, Mel’s Burger Bar, Cannon’s (rest in peace), The Heights, an East Campus party, or a fraternity party.

When it comes to the space dilemma, Greek organizations offer attractive brownstones—which are mostly located on 114 Street between Broadway and Amsterdam, nicknamed “Frat Row”—for its members.

Welman and Udry say that brownstones are spaces for more than just parties: Greek affiliates, even if they don’t live there, can find refuge from the physical and mental stress of being at school. Welman describes her first impressions of the ADP’s brownstone as a prime example of how she was first influenced to join Greek life in the first place.

Welman says her first time setting foot in ADP was during NSOP of her sophomore year, when she was invited to watch Real Housewives with one of her friends who was already a member of the group. But as soon as she walked in, she was enamored with the fraternity.

More and more ADP members joined them to watch the show. Welman says she met some of her close friends that day.

While only a select number of Greek affiliates can live in the brownstones, the building is still very much the space of everyone in the fraternity and sorority.

According to Udry, Beta—which actually owns its brownstone—sees its house as a crucial part of the fraternity’s history and identity. He also admits that it helps attract new members.

The other buildings on Frat Row look like any other brownstone in the Upper West Side, but it’d be hard to miss the brightly colored red, white, and blue façade of Beta’s house. When Udry begins describing the recent renovations to his frat—which include a brand new bar that he and his Beta brothers built from scratch—he becomes instantly animated.

He describes a time when a number of older Beta alums came to visit the house shortly after renovations and were sharing stories of the things that have happened in the house.

“There is a lot of history involved in it and gives a special sense of pride in it and a special sense of duty that we need to be constantly improving it,” Udry says. “I think that has just driven up involvement for us and the feeling of brotherhood in general.”

Students who belong to Greek organizations that don’t have brownstones—like Gamma Phi and AOII—still say a similar kind of community gathering space can be created through other means.

AOII member and Barnard senior Nectar Knuckles tells me that whenever and wherever she is with a group of her sisters, it automatically feels like an AOII space.

An uncertain future

What we are seeing, when it comes to increased interest in fraternity and sorority life, can best be described as a snowball effect. As more people choose to affiliate, more of our campus is exposed to Columbia’s brand of Greek life. This, compounded with the pressures of doing well academically and socially at Columbia, has ultimately led more and more students to join fraternities and sororities.

But we now find ourselves at a crossroads of sorts. The system has already started to buckle—hence the moratorium, which is prohibiting more chapters from being established—as Columbia struggles to determine how it will best serve its rapidly growing Greek population.

Columbia might adapt to the rise in interest and make way for more Greek chapters on campus.  If this doesn’t happen, however, there’s a chance that Greek life could become increasingly selective and significantly more exclusive as students vye for a limited number of spots.

Though it may not seem like it now, this rate of growth means that Greek life could have a significant impact on what the future of social culture at Columbia looks like.

Kromm tells me that if Greek life participation reaches the point where individual chapters are exceeding maximum capacity, the University will have to consider how to best meet demand with its limited space.

“We want for students to be able to define their experience while they’re here. We don’t have an unlimited supply of brownstones, and … there’s also no guarantee that should another brownstone become available, that it would go to Greek life even though interest has grown,” Kromm says. “If Columbia students started identifying their experience, or looking back and thinking, ‘That particular chapter is what defined my entire Columbia experience,’ I think that’s when we need to make different kinds of changes to respond to student interest.”

For their part, students believe that the University will have no choice but to find ways to meet student interest.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, the administration is here to provide us the best community and the best environment possible so that we can thrive in our undergraduate years,” Interfraternity Council President and Columbia College junior Yowana Wamala says. “If students think that being part of a fraternity and sorority life organization is going to provide that experience, then I think the administration would be very helpful in that.”

Next semester, first-years and sophomores at Columbia will take part in sorority recruitment and wait in anticipation for bid night, where they will find out which Greek letters they will proudly wear for the rest of their college career. While it may be a dizzying mix of interviews, philanthropy events, and formal wear, everyone is fundamentally there for the same set of reasons.

At a school where stress levels are at an all time high and campus community is hard to find, fraternities and sororities offer a way out of the pitfalls of Columbia’s social scene.

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