Ongoing and intentional: the future of Greek Life volunteering

By Lucy Rudman
Junior Editor

This summer, Jo Gressly (C’19), the new Office Coordinator for the Office of Civic Engagement sat down and examined the Greek Life volunteering standards. Sitting at four hours a member per semester, Gressly found error in both the approach of the policy and in the intention. 

“There seemed to be this confusion between philanthropy and service,” Gressly explained. “Philanthropy is more monetary where service is more hands-on. I started meeting with Colin [Nelson-Pinkston] and we really wanted to cultivate the service part and the experience part rather than mainly focusing on the philanthropy.”

“We’ve done philanthropy… and that’s valuable. There might be some community partners that don’t have the infrastructure to take on large groups of volunteers,” Nelson-Pinkston, the University Director of Greek Life, added, “but we also want to recognize that in giving your time, you learn a lot from that. Making that contact with your community is valuable.”

Gressly and Nelson-Pinkston hope to restructure the standard to involve “intentional and ongoing,” in the words of Nelson-Pinkston, collaborations between Greek Organizations and their community partners. This includes getting them connected, through the Office of Civic Engagement, to a local organization that best fits the size and commitment of the chapter or fostering long-term partnerships already in the works, like, for example, Alpha Delta Theta’s ongoing work with Folks at Home. 

The two also hope to involve local Greek leaders as much as possible, and have already hosted one round table discussion involving presidents and chair members from sororities and fraternities around campus. They were encouraged to reach out to Gressly and get more information about which community partners had already expressed interest. 

“While we have done an outstanding job with philanthropy in the past, our community service hours have not matched our philanthropic efforts,” said Garret Liebe (C’20), Vice President of Community Service explained after attending the discussion. He also said that, already, they “are working diligently alongside the Office of Civic Engagement to reach out to local community organizations to inquire about any potential service opportunities.”

“The discussion went well, and it seemed as though all organizations were excited and energized by this change,” said Peter Bahr (C’20), chapter president of Alpha Delta Tau at Chi Psi. “It allows campus organizations to create strong, lasting relationships of service and mutual respect with shareholders in our community.”

Community is another theme that Gressly and Nelson-Pinkston hope to convey in their revisions. 

“Place is so important here.” Gressly explained, “Colin and I were really thinking about how we can reach out to community organizations and really make them feel like a part of our school, a part of our initiative, a part of our service opportunities. And they love having students come out!”

Gressly is currently working with Jim Peterman, Director of the Office of Civic Engagement on drafting a letter of interest, to “feel out community partners” and get a sense of who in the local area would be interested in a long-term service relationship with Greek organizations.

This long-term service also encourages “accountability and trust,” and, according to Nelson-Pinkston, the pair will end up with something that will act “less like a policy” with possible punishment, but more like a standard with incentives both in the Chapter Awards at the end of the year, and in the “camaraderie” both between the community and the campus, and within each individual chapter.

 In the words of Liebe, “We have decided to nix the community service hour requirement with hopes that organizations can find intrinsic motivation to be active members of the community.”

This is something Bahr can attest to, both in terms of in-chapter collaboration and in lasting relationships with campus and community groups.

“Two years ago we formed a strong partnership with Facilities Management [FM] in the cleanup of Lake Trez (Lake Finney),” said Bahr, “FM and our alumni provided us with tools and we took out dozens of loads of trash found in the lakebed.” 

“It was a great opportunity for our members to become stewards of the lake and to participate in the work that FM does all year long. We hope to assist them with more projects around campus, not just near the Lodge, but wherever they may need the help of this capable group of gentlemen,” he finished.