FIU’s Greek organizations last school year contributed more than $100,000 to local and national charities and completed more than 15,000 hours of community service.
They also installed one of their own as Student Government Association president at the Modesto A. Maidique Campus—the 13th straight year that a fraternity brother or sorority sister has held the post—and served as organizers for the university-wide annual Dance Marathon and Relay for Life fundraisers.
In the wake of a negative outlier—a fraternity that last month lost its FIU charter from the national organization for conduct unbecoming and possible illegal activity—the remaining nearly 1,500-strong Greek community can hang its collective hat on a record of giving, leadership and academic achievement.
Comprising just 4.5 percent of FIU’s undergraduate population, Greeks have a surprisingly huge impact on campus—or maybe not so surprising once you get to know them.
Belonging to a Greek organization “makes you want to give more and be a better person,” says junior international relations major Renato Gonzalez-Maza, a brother of Phi Gamma Delta, or FIJI, as it is commonly known. “Every person [at FIU] wants to give back to the community. Greeks just focus it more and expand it more.”
Part of Greek members’ success lies in their numbers, Gonzalez-Maza explains. “When you join a fraternity or sorority, you have an organization behind you. Not only that, you have at least 100 people that are willing to back you up whenever you need them to be there for you.”
That strength translates into more people working toward tangible goals in a highly coherent fashion. For example, Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority—which currently has 145 active members and expects to add as many as 75 during the current recruitment period—last year raised $8,256 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, $3,661 for the Children’s Miracle Network, $7,156 for the American Cancer Society and $4,000 for the Livestrong Foundation, and its sisters hosted a used-jeans drive for local youngsters in need of clothing for school; as a group wrote letters of thanks to soldiers stationed overseas; made pillowcases by hand for distribution by an organization that works on behalf of children with cancer; and collected new coloring books and crayons for distribution by one of its sisters during a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
Other Greek organizations hold a sports tournament and ice-cream social in support of Autism Speaks, organize a tea complete with entertainment and a “big hat fashion show” to raise funds for global nonprofit Heifer International, and read books to patients at Miami Children’s Hospital, and the list goes on.
Greeks also participate heavily in campus-wide groups and activities. Aside from almost exclusively serving as president and vice president for SGA at MMC—fraternities and sororities are perfectly organized to campaign for their chosen candidates—they also hold the majority of seats in the SGA Senate and they have their own intramural sports league. And they are overrepresented among those serving as student ambassadors, peer advisors and residence hall assistants.
When it comes to Homecoming, Greeks put forward most of the candidates for Homecoming court.
“[Greeks] are the ones that are showing school spirit, day in and day out,” says Alexis Fulks, assistant director for Sorority and Fraternity Life at FIU, which provides space for organizational meetings and offers educational workshops and other resources. “They’re the ones at the football games. They’re the ones that are tailgating.”
The commitment to lead and to serve the greater community comes from each fraternity’s and sorority’s individual national organization—a network of campus chapters across the country that together share common goals, often beneath a unifying motto or philosophy. Additionally, each of the 35 sororities and fraternities at FIU must follow the rules and guidelines of one of four governing councils. These collectives of Greek organizations offer leadership and networking conferences to build members’ skills, establish protocols for recruiting members and set minimum grade point averages to which members are bound.
That last directive—to achieve academically—has led to impressive results: Nationally, whereas only 50 percent of non-Greeks complete their college educations, more than 70 percent of fraternity and sorority members graduate. The support of peers likely plays a role.
“We try to tell the new kids, ‘I already took that class, let me know if you need help with it,’” says Gonzalez-Maza of FIJI brothers helping one another with academics. The only Greek organization with a house on campus, FIJI as a group gets particularly serious at exam time, he adds. “During midterms and especially during finals, there’s a main living area that we close down, and there are signs all over the walls, ‘study room – quiet.’”
The bigger picture
Aside from looking forward to social gatherings with other young people—such as Super Bowl watch parties, co-ed mixers and off-campus excursions—the impetus to join a sorority or fraternity, many say, comes down to wanting more from the college experience.
“It gives some people a purpose,” Gonzalez-Maza says. “You’re just in college and you’re new and you don’t know what you want, and you join an organization and you realize that you’re part of something bigger and you realize that it’s not just ‘Hey, I’m here to just get a degree. I want to experience all of what FIU has to offer.’”
Adds Liane Sippin, a member of Alpha Xi Delta sorority and the current SGA president, “You want to be the person that goes the extra mile and not just goes to class. It’s about going to college and taking on something else that isn’t a part of just getting good grades.”
Tierney Suggs, a senior human resources management major and a sister of Alpha Kappa Alpha, says the value of joining a Greek organization can go beyond one’s undergraduate years.
“A big part of it is networking,” says Suggs, who in her role as vice president of FIU’s National Pan-Hellenic Council has attended several national conferences. “Not only can you do so much for the organization,” she says, “but the organization can do for you.” She cites opportunities to meet people from all over the country during conferences and being able to call upon alumni with help in job searches.
FIU Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Lunsford can attest to the latter.
“I got my first job out of college through alumni contacts of my fraternity,” says the lifelong Pi Kappa Alpha, who joined as an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “Alumni of the organizations assist the undergraduates in getting jobs following graduation as well as write recommendations for graduate and/or professional school.”
Most Greek organizations stress a lifelong commitment and welcome back alumni as mentors and advisors. That connection between generations can play an important role in motivating undergraduates.
“You want to live up to the legacy of the alumni from your chapter,” says Sippin, the SGA president, “and to make them proud.”