By Anna Mann
Dean of Students Marichal Gentry (C’86) announced via email that the University will increase insurance for local Greek organizations (LGOs) from a $85 member fee per year, to a predicted $330 as “student health and safety is, and must remain, a top priority.”
According to Gentry, the increased fees come from an assortment of factors including both University insurance claims and national trends. In the email, Gentry acknowledged the substantial role of Sewanee fraternities and sororities in the campus’ social scene, but stressed that “there is a sense that social life on campus can be vastly improved.”
The email cited that modifications will hopefully include a diversification of the University’s social scene, sufficient insurance coverage for LGOs in both the short and long-term, as well as the clarification of “existing expectations of students and student organizations to provide clear direction on how to be a positive contributor to the community.”
Sewanee has two local fraternities, Gamma Sigma Phi (Gamma) and Phi Society, and conversely, only two national sororities: Alpha Delta Phi and Kappa Delta. According to the University’s official 2019 “Greek Life Update,” Sewanee’s rush increased 14.47 percent from Advent 2018, making the campus 66.2 percent Greek. Out of the 278 men and women that represent new Greek life members, 134 of them will join LGOs.
According to Lauren Goodpaster and Colin Nelson-Pinkston, respectively the Assistant Dean of Campus Life and Coordinator for Fraternity and Sorority Life, the two found out about the changes in early January and quickly called a meeting with the heads of organizations. Goodpaster explained that she and Nelson-Pinkston will continue to address LGO heads as they receive new information “in as much real time as possible.”
Explaining the initial reaction Goodpaster stated: “I’m not going to lie, some people were nervous because change is hard, right? Our goal is to not sugar coat it and say ‘this is going to be super easy.’ It’s going to take some work, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Our goal is to keep [LGOs] strong and keep them here.”
Mary Margaret Murdock (C’19), President of the Intersorority Council and member of local sorority Phi Kappa Epsilon, stated that there are three options for LGOs moving forward. They can become a student organization, affiliate with an national institution, or become a separate legal entity.
She continued to explain that if groups choose to become a separate legal entity, they could either do so with their organization alone or with multiple other groups to make the costs more feasible. Additionally, each separate entity will need a board of alumni directors and a board of student leaders.
On the other hand, if an LGO decides to become a student organization, they would be eligible for Activity Fee Committee (AFC) funding but become co-ed and unable to participate in rush due to open membership requirements.
Interfraternity Council President, Garrett Lucey (C’19), explained that the University will be hiring a Chattanooga lawyer to look over paperwork compiled by LGO presidents and their advisors. However, these workshops do not have a set date according to Lucey, Goodpaster, and Nelson-Pinkston.
Lucey stated that the changes could afford more possibilities to local sororities. “There could be more equality and empowerment,” says Lucey. “There’s no doubt about it, it’s unfortunate… but hopefully down the road women’s organizations could start to lease houses just as the men do.”
Despite Murdock and Lucey’s optimism, Murdock worries about the “important role” that the smaller organizations play in the Sewanee community and their ability to bounce back after the increase in dues. Local sorority Gamma Tau Upsilon (GTU) represents one of these smaller groups, with only 12 members, president Madeleine Parks (C’19) said the news initially seemed like “it could be the end of our [organization].”
However, despite the initial shock, Parks says that GTU has recovered and reached out to receive “fantastic alumni support.” Additionally, Parks stated that GTU has reached out to Kappa Omega, Alpha Delta Theta (ADT), Alpha Tau Zeta, Phi Sigma Theta, and Gamma to form “an umbrella organization” with which to buy insurance.
“As an organization, GTU doesn’t have the people power or the money to incorporate by ourselves,” explained Parks. “We’re doing our best to keep each of organization’s individual traditions and governing separate, and we’re actually really excited to bond with other local organizations through this.”
Parks expresses confidence that the change might augment GTU’s campus presence since they will collaborate with other organizations. She explains, “I think that it will possibly have an effect on the number of future pledges we get. We’re pretty small already, but we’ve always been that way on purpose. I think there will always be interest in that kind of a social environment, especially since it will still be less expensive than a bigger organization.”
Still, Parks worries about the ability to rush freshmen in the future as, in the past, dues were kept historically lower than other groups. Yet, she states that due to generous alumni support, GTU will be looking into future scholarships for their affiliates.
Isabelle Speed (C’19), president of ADT, echoed the initial shock of Parks. However, with 55 active members and 20 pledges, her sorority represents one of the larger LGOs on campus. She said that with the emergence of more information, the situation moved from intimidating to manageable.
Speed explained that though her sorority has a target amount for dues, they have always been a “pay as you can” organization, meaning that members have applied with scholarship and paid as able. Much like Parks, Speed cited scholarships as a huge priority moving forward.
“Ideally, this will not change our rush process,” said Speed. “I want ADT, and Sewanee Greek life as a whole, to continue to be an inclusive space where everyone can find an organization where they find a sense of belonging without worrying about cost.”
As for the future of rush, Nelson-Pinkston explained that it’s too soon to tell how the changes will affect Sewanee’s Greek scene next year. However, he doesn’t believe it will affect the unique way students continue to identify with Sewanee after graduation.
“Some places you’ll see that people have a fond experience with an organization or their campus and they’ll stay involved in ways they can,” said Nelson-Pinkston. “I haven’t seen it to the extent that Sewanee [grads do]. I think Greek life plays a role in that because as far as I know Greek life has been a majority of the campus.”
According to Goodpaster and Nelson-Pinkston, the deadlines for organizations are based on insurance renewal deadlines. LGOs should know which of the three options they will pursue by April 1 and the deadline for these changes will be May 1.
With the initial surprise behind her, Parks looked more into the possibilities of the changes, saying, “I understand why the university is asking us to be legally responsible for our actions as a group and I think as organizations that claim to make our members grow as people, it will teach us some important life skills. We’ll all have to buy insurance as adults after college anyway.”