921 Union students are Greek. This number represents 62 percent of eligible students on campus, a majority by any measure.
Let’s also not forget the growth of multicultural and service fraternities and sororities on Union’s campus, which demonstrates the continuing appeal of the Greek system as Union diversifies its student body. And yet Union’s administration does not see this critical mass as a resource, but rather a burden.
According to the Encyclopedia of Union College History, our administration once relied on fraternities to recruit top students: “In that period of recovery from very hard times the College was above grateful to fraternities for support … the fraternities encouraged members to recruit promising high school students back home, and the College needed the students who applied to Union as a result.”
Today, however, the picture is much different. When, for example, I began to train to become a tour guide, we were instructed to report that 43% of Union’s students are Greek, a figure that includes first-years who are not permitted to join. This figure is clearly less representative of reality.
When I was an orientation advisor, I was told to downplay the role of Greek life on Union’s campus. I felt this was dishonest and counterproductive. Instead of tapping into current Greeks as a resource to reconnect with a vast and powerful network of alumni who were also Greek, as any rational organization would, Union’s administration has instead marginalized the Greek majority.
Let’s imagine, for example, the positive impact that the Greek alumni network could have on Union’s rankings. One input in determining rankings is alumni satisfaction, which is measured by the percent of alumni who donate to their school. According to U.S. News and World Report (a subscription for which I paid $39, simply for this article), the average alumni giving rate at Union College is 33 percent.
Although alumni giving rates have improved under President Ainlay, Union College still lags behind competing liberal arts colleges like Colgate (41 percent), Colby (40 percent), Bates (42 percent) and Swarthmore (40 percent).
Perhaps the Office of College Relations, Annual Giving should tap into the 67 percent of alumni who do not donate (a number eerily but perhaps only coincidentally similar to the percentage of current students who are Greek) by connecting alumni to current students who are members of their respective Greek organizations.
I am on the Senior Class Gift Committee, and served as an affiliate caller through my junior year. I have never witnessed a targeted or personalized giving campaign on the basis of Greek affiliation. I contacted three alumni from Generation-U (i.e., graduates of the last decade) to ask whether the college had ever acknowledged their Greek affiliation post-graduation.
Ben Stewart, a Product Operations Manager at DraftKings and member of Chi Psi, when asked whether Union had ever tried to connect him to current Chi Psi members as a means of tying him to the campus community, quickly replied, “definitely not.”
Leanne Polliott (née Winters), Senior Administrative Assistant at Sarepta Therapeutics and former President of TriDelta, when asked the same question with respect to TriDelta, replied, “Currently alumni just get cold calls from students asking for donations to the college. If they acknowledged alumni’s Greek affiliation, and showed more support for the Greek community, I think alumni would be more willing to not only connect with current students but also donate as well.”
Jake Anderson, Co-Founder & CEO of Forsake Footwear and member of Chi Psi, expressed similar sentiments, “I suppose any and or all means of connecting students to alums should be tapped into. The fact that they are not seems like a wasted opportunity.”
Although these are the opinions of only three alumni, I would argue that they are three important voices. In fact, Jake Anderson is the first person listed on Union’s “Alumni of Influence”
From just the top ten names on this list of influential alumni, I was able to determine (after some LinkedIn and Facebook stalking) that at least half were members of Greek organizations at Union.
And although Union does not provide the Greek affiliation of trustees, we are all well aware that many of them were indeed proud members of various Greek organizations. Why then does Union College brush its Greek history under the proverbial rug? On the official fraternity and sorority webpage, Union admits in the passive voice, “we are hailed as the Mother of Fraternities,” and then mentions the word “hazing” four times.
In contrast to this reluctant admission, Union College’s Wikipedia page (under section 5.1) writes that, “Union would in the twentieth century call itself the ‘Mother of Fraternities.’” In other words, once upon a time, Union actively claimed this title. It appears as if Wikipedia presents Union’s Greek history more proudly than Union does.
Union was indeed a pioneer for Greek organizations in the 1800s, and is the only school in the country to establish two triads: Kappa Alpha (1825), Sigma Phi (1827) and Delta Phi (1827) were the first triad and Psi Upsilon (1833), Chi Psi (1841) and Theta Delta Chi (1847) the second.
Union is also a pioneer in the new Greek system: a diverse body of students who contribute to philanthropic organizations too numerous to list, raise more money than we can accurately count, and establish communities of inclusion for our members.
Union’s administration should work to harness this resource for our common purposes, not just to improve our rankings, but also to claim for ourselves a new title: “The Mother of Modern Greek Life.”