An analysis in favor of Sewanee Greek Life

Mitch Shakespeare
Executive Staff

I had a chance to sit down and speak with Sam Kearley, the President of Delta Tau Delta. Before he came to Sewanee, Kearley had a relatively negative view of Greek life as a whole. “I think most of my opinions of Greek life came from the movie “Animal House,” Kearly stated, “as well as one experience I had going to Colorado State in Boulder, Colorado. My experience there kind of led me to believe that Greek life was just about drinking beer, playing drinking games, and trashing properties. So, before I came to Sewanee I had no intention of joining a Greek organization whatsoever. I really had a negative idea of Greek life in general.” 

These notions of Greek life followed Kearley to Sewanee, but once he became more involved with members of Greek organizations, his views grew to be more favorable. “I think that that’s a common experience that people have when they come to Sewanee,” Kearley replied when asked about how his views changed when he became a student here on the Mountain. “My opinions changed quite rapidly. I had thought a fraternity couldn’t be a place for productive discussion or productive anything before I came.” 

Bill Engel, professor of English and member of the Greek Alumni council, participated in Greek life while an undergraduate at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. Engel said, “I think some of my colleagues who were perhaps not Greek affiliated are almost fearful of and don’t understand Greek life, and what goes on behind those doors and the mysteries.”

Engel noted that up until around eight years ago, many Greek houses would invite faculty over for afternoon teas and receptions. 

“I think that would be one of the best ways to build more bridges…there is an antipathy that many faculty feel towards Greek life,” Engel said. 

Engel reminds us that Greek life is one of the many core student organizations available for students. 

“Greek life provides a very important way for a student to find their place at Sewanee,” he said. “It gives a space for people to create a homebase for socialization.”

As a longtime professor who often takes walks around campus, as well as being familiar with which students are affiliated with each organization, Engel noticed how members of different organizations are often at different Greek houses. He explains how his daughter attended Indiana University, where Greek life remained exclusive with little overlap between houses, unlike Sewanee.

“That’s why I don’t think my colleagues or the administration should see it as such a fearful and scary thing…It’s another wonderful way students can overlap,” Engel said. 

He argues against assertions that Greek members struggle in academics due to partying although organizations require a certain GPA to participate in the rush process. Many Greek organizations also hold study halls in Gailor when they reserve rooms for members. 

As an undergraduate, Engel reminisces about his time in a fraternity. “We had eating clubs in the houses, almost all of them had kegs and full bars. It was the 70s, what can I say?”

He describes a moment when he saw a member drinking beer in the house at noon on a Sunday. He told the member he was wasting time and needed to complete his schoolwork. This moment for Engel serves as an example of how Greek students hold each other accountable. 

“When 20-year-olds get together, their IQ doesn’t always have to plummet. You can lift each other up and support each other,” he said.

Additionally, Greeks are responsible for a significant portion of Sewanee student programming. 

It’s safe to say that Kearly was quite surprised about how Sewanee Greek life differed from his experiences at Colorado State. One such factor that helped in Kearley’s surprise was the University’s “Open Door” policy, a policy in which all parties and events hosted by Greek organizations are open to all students across campus, whether part of a Greek organization or not. “I think the openness of everything and there not being someone in front of the door blocking you from going into parties was a surprise,” Kearley claimed. 

Kearley identified another cultural difference between Sewanee and other universities and their Greek organizations: the usage of their houses for public events. 

“I think the fact that we still have houses and we still have parties at the houses. I know a lot of schools have their houses mainly as residential areas. Most of the partying occurs at satellite houses. I think at bigger schools that can lead to things becoming more closed off which can lead to dangerous situations,” Kearley said.

The fact that Sewanee Greek organizations are allowed to host events at their own houses reduces the time it takes for the police and medical personnel to respond to issues at parties and allows students to attend and leave parties with much ease, further reinforcing the openness and relative safety associated with Sewanee Greek life events. 

Party culture aside, there are certain values that Greek life offers for students across campuses that other student organizations don’t necessarily provide. Kearley identified one of the greatest values as being a sense of ritual, which he defined as “practices that are embodied by [a Greek organization’s] members.” He continued, stating that, “I think that in America we kind have lost the idea of ritual and initiation. As a culture, we are missing rites of passage in a lot of ways. People have kind of had to create these rites of passage for themselves.” 

Greek life, in Kearley’s opinion, provides these rites of passage for those that seek to go through it. 

“Various cultures across the planet have these rituals, and it’s an important threshold to step over, to become part of something greater than yourself, something greater for your community and for the world as a whole. At its best, and it’s not always at its best, Greek life offers a program that serves as that coming of age ritual for people in America. It does it in community as well, which is important, and does it consistently, from year to year, there’s a tradition involved and this idea of an unbroken chain of repeated traditions, like rituals and practices that have occured in the same place for a very long time.” 

Engel believes social and leadership skills in Greek life, as well as the emphasis on service, prepare students both for the professional world as well as living a life dedicated to giving back. Positions such as presidents and social chairs create 

Additionally, Greeks are responsible for a significant portion of Sewanee student programming. 

“Sewanee seems to talk about leadership skills, and the only place I’m really seeing it happen is through Greek life,” Engel said. 

Engel emphasizes how Greek organizations are of service when allowed to thrive on their own. 

He continued, “I frankly think as young adults, you should be able to choose how and where you want to assemble.”

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