Last week, Emory’s Greek Life Task Force (GLTF), an initiative launched by Emory’s Division of Campus Life, released a preliminary report of recommendations regarding ways to improve the quality of Greek Life at Emory.
“Our goal is to work in partnership with students to create an inclusive community that supports students in developing leadership and skills to transform their communities,” Assistant Vice President of Community in Campus Life Suzanne Onorato said. “We seek to develop shared principles in a learning community focused on academic engagement, accountability, civic engagement, cultural humility, integrity, leadership and self-governance.”
Onorato and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair developed the GLTF in September 2015 to assess the strengths and weaknesses of Emory’s Greek community and move towards tangible progress in improving the University’s Greek system. The initiative is crucial for Greek life because of internal problem issues at Emory’s various fraternities, particularly hazing, sexual assault and exclusivity, according to Onorato.
Specifically, the instances of hazing that resulted in the removal of four fraternity chapters over the past three years “prompted a desire to re-imagine what Emory Greek Life can be,” Onorato said.
“We desire to develop [the] best practices at our campus that others seek to emulate,” she said.
Nair wrote in an email to the Wheel that he believes that this initiative is in line with Emory Campus Life’s mission to “cultivate a welcoming and dynamic community that is committed to developing life skills necessary for lifelong success and positive transformation in the world.” He hopes the GLTF will enhance the quality of Greek Life at Emory, as well as maximize its potential to “provide positive educational and social experiences for students.”
Onorato and Nair reached out to members of the community in order to form the Task Force, contacting organizations such as the four Greek councils, Emory’s Residence Hall Association (RHA) and Student Government Association (SGA). They also made administrative appointments of key staff members, alumni and advisors with considerable insight into the issues with Greek Life at Emory.
According to Onorato, the GLTF’s objectives were to critically examine primary aspects of Greek Life: vision and mission of Greek Life at Emory; Eagle Row’s residential communities; relationships with national organizations, Campus Life, alumni/advisors and students; and self governance and accountability. The GLTF then met to provide recommendations to improve these areas. The Task Force developed a committee for each of the areas, each of which provided recommendations on how to improve their respective areas after conducting meetings throughout the fall semester.
“The core of the conversation [in our committee] focused on ways to empower students within the Emory sorority and fraternity community to take ownership,” Assistant Director of Prevention Strategies Raphael Coleman, who served on the Self Governance Accountability subcommittee, wrote in an email to the Wheel.
The majority of Coleman’s subcommittee oversaw training needs and the selection of risk managers and members of the Sorority and Fraternity Life Review Board. Their conversations focused on the need for clarity and transparency in the conduct process at the organizational level as well as through anti-hazing policies at Emory.
Coleman noted that these suggestions were developed from prevalent issues with conduct in the Greek community on Emory’s campus.
She added that she hopes that this initiative will ultimately enable Greek students to work in partnership with other institutional constituents to make the Emory Greek community “the premier experience for our students that decide to join.”
Roseanne Hansen, who was chosen to serve on the GLTF’s Chapter Relationships subcommittee due to her work as Emory’s Kappa Alpha Theta chapter advisor, said that she believes this initiative was the first step towards substantial progress in improving Emory’s Greek community. She said that her committee has the potential to bridge communication gaps between the various Greek-affiliated organizations.
“We realized that even though we’re in different organizations, we sometimes all have the same issues,” she said. “We want to promote unity among the Greek community, and I think this is a good way to do that.”
Hansen said that the entire experience was eye-opening for her. “Students said that they wanted to get to know their advisors and other Greek students better. They want to have big activities, like team-building games at Piedmont Park,” she said.
Hansen said that she is most concerned about the role that social media plays in the negative perception of Greek life, an issue that she did not face when she was in a sorority at Emory. She hopes that bettering the relationships between different Greek chapters will foster unity and prompt everyone involved to take on a risk management role in order to maintain an overall positive Greek image.
“With social media and the Internet, if something happens nowadays, the whole world knows instantly, and the reaction is almost always negative,” she said. “As a Greek community, we’re all subject to more risk management roles .… Liability issues are huge now.”
Looking forward, Hansen said that the next step for the GLTF after receiving feedback from the larger community about the specific suggestions will be to finalize the preliminary report of recommendations that the Task Force released.
“It was good that the Task Force was mostly made up of people involved in Greek life because we got a chance to clean up our house before we invite people in,” she said. “But I think as we begin to implement the changes, an outside perspective will be really helpful.”
Director of Housing Operations Elaine Turner, who served as the co-chair of the Residential Community subcommittee, said that her committee’s action steps and timelines for implementation have yet to be devised because her particular subcommittee’s recommendations need to be developed by feedback from Emory community members.
Community members can contribute to the final recommendation by completing a form through the GLTF webpage on the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life (OSFL) website by Feb. 26.
Onorato stressed that receiving constructive community feedback is crucial to achieve the GLTF’s overarching goal of improving Emory’s Greek community.
“It may take us some time to completely develop and work out the kinks,” she said. “We are talking about changing culture in many ways and that takes time, commitment and student buy-in.”
Interfraternity Council (IFC) President Alex Von Gorp wrote in an email to the Wheel that the IFC is reviewing and providing feedback regarding the Greek Life Task Force’s recommendations. “We will continue to work towards positive outcomes and include IFC Executive Board members, chapter presidents, IFC members, alumni, the OSFL and all relevant stakeholders in any actions that are taken in the future,” he wrote.
Ultimately, Nair is confident that this initiative will positively impact Emory’s Greek Life on a national scale. “I believe that Greek Life on campus and the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life can become nationally recognized for cultivating an experience that prepares students to positively transform their communities and the world,” he wrote in an email to the Wheel.
Editor-in-Chief Dustin Slade is a member of the Greek Life Task Force. He was not involved in the reporting of this article.