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Penn State has been at the center of the debate over the future of Greek life in higher education. With the creation of the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform, the university has made a commitment to leading a national conversation on meaningful reform. Trends at the chapter level and among alumni associations show a system in flux, working hard to maintain strong connections to Greek life’s founding principles, while finding ways to adapt to new challenges. 

Office of Fraternity and Sorority Compliance

There are 43 fraternities (3 Co-ed), with 36 in the Inter-Fraternity Council and 27 sororities consisting of 12% of the undergraduate student body. The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life (OFSL) has 11 staff positions in OFSL with two posted vacancies; the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Compliance (OFSC) has eight positions. OFSL has implemented many new programs including mandatory pre- and post- recruitment training in alcohol abuse, hazing, sexual assault, bystander intervention, mental health and good citizenship. OFSL conducts mandatory new member (i.e., pledge) program reviews with 68 evaluated in fall 2018. Optional training, open to the public, is also offered. OFSL will sponsor a four-hour workshop on April 28 for Alumni House Corporation members and advisors.  

OFSL is encouraging fraternities to meet with first semester freshman to build a prospect list for immediate use when the spring formal recruitment period begins. Although fraternities still can’t “rush” first semester freshman (i.e., freshmen with less than 14 completed credits), they are free to schedule open houses and other similar informational and familiarization activities to inform anyone of what they have to offer. Fraternities are being encouraged to do so early in the fall semester before housing commitments are made for the next year.

OFSC had a very rocky start in the beginning and we saw chapters getting into conduct issues that probably never should have escalated to that point. Now that they have established themselves and have a set of best practices to operate from, we are seeing less issues. We have noticed an increase in their willingness to work with chapters to resolve issues without resulting to sanctions. Minor infractions are addressed but not punished unless they become a reoccurring problem. Four fraternities have a suspension ending this spring and one extends through the spring of 2022. The house corporation of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, with its chapter’s suspension ending this spring, has chosen to rent its house (corner of Pugh & Beaver) to a sorority, Phi Sigma Sigma, for a three-year term with alumni use of the first floor during the summer break.  In January, OFSL reported a 22% decrease in incidents cited by the Borough.

Recruitment is up

With so much negative publicity, you might think new students would be shunning Greek life in favor of other activities. In fact, fraternity and sorority recruitment at Penn State is at an all-time high, with more students participating in rush, and joining a Greek organization. Why? Sororities and fraternities have a rich history at Penn State dating back to the 1870s, rooted in founding principles that foster academic achievement, student involvement, community service, and life-long friendships. Today’s students continue to see the advantages of membership, such as:

  • Finding a support group that helps with adjusting to college life
  • Gaining access to resources that help students achieve their academic goals
  • Learning leadership skills through hands-on experience
  • Gaining confidence to get involved in other campus organizations and activities
  • Dedicating time to philanthropy and community service projects. The professional fraternities and sororities on the Penn State campus like Tau Phi Delta, Delta Theta Sigma, Sigma Alpha, Alpha Rho Chi and of course Alpha Zeta are currently working together to write by-laws and form a council. The advantage of this will be their ability to recruit all year-long.

THON remains strong

Despite changing rules on how organizations can fundraise, THON hasn’t lost its momentum or impact. The largest student-run philanthropy in the world—led predominantly by fraternities and sororities—still raised more than $10 million this year.


Houses helping chapters weather challenges

While some chapters have struggled with the financial implications of suspended chapters, other fraternities have implemented innovative solutions. When Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s House Corporation Alumni Board decided to close its Penn State chapter house following a suspension by the university, it created a unique opportunity for sorority Phi Sigma Sigma. The sorority couldn’t find a house with the correct zoning for a large amount of unrelated inhabitants in State College Borough. Until now, the chapter has rented a floor and a suite in South Halls, like many sororities on campus. Phi Sigma Sigma recently announced that it will move into the SAE house starting next school year. The agreement is for a three-year term but allows the SAE Alumni brotherhood use of the first floor and Mid-Century Room during each summer recess. SAE will continue raise funds and make capital improvements as it plans to reconstitute.


Investing in reform

Penn State has pledged an initial $2 million for the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform, with an additional $3 million in matching funds from private donations. The goal is to establish an $8 million endowment. The interdisciplinary center will provide nationwide assessments to guide students and parents, and will study Greek life in order to spur national conversations about ways to improve safety. This initiative will put Penn State at the forefront of important reforms that can carry fraternities and sororities into the future.