Changing the narrative: Greek Life reflects on image, aims to highlight pledged values

GVL / Sheila Babbitt

GVL / Sheila Babbitt

Amy McNeel and Nick Moran

From the outside looking in, Greek Life is often branded in a hostile and adverse manner. Nationally, Greek Life is largely associated with alcohol and parties, and news headlines place many chapters in a negative spotlight.

However, at Grand Valley State University, Greek Life members have been working hard to push against the national trend and preserve the higher morals they swore themselves to. On Wednesday, Oct. 31, Greek members met with GVSU’s Greek Life Board and Associate Dean for Student Life Bob Stoll for a Greek Life Town Hall, where Greek members planned to set their best foot forward.

At the meeting, the Interfraternity Council (IFC) planned to pitch a self-imposed dry period in attempt to remove themselves from the national trend and consider more sustainable solutions to alcohol abuse within the Greek community. However, once gathered at the Town Hall, the GVSU administration acted swiftly and decided to impose multiple sanctions on the entirety of GVSU Greek chapters.

“The university said that they want us to see more self-governing, and they implied that we should do that more, but they haven’t ever given us that ability; everything just goes right over our heads,” said IFC Vice President of Public Relations Tyvin Whittaker.

The meeting was going to be a decisive step in their endeavor for self-governance and independent decision making, but in complete contradiction, GVSU administrators ended up taking matters into their own hands.

The imposed sanctions — which included a ban of alcohol, expansion and further progress on a relationship agreement, as well as creating a task force to investigate issues — were a shock to the GVSU Greek community, leaving many members frustrated and hurt.

“It’s kind of like the rug was just ripped out from under us,” Whittaker said. “It was unexpected.”

Results of the Town Hall meeting have since left members of Greek Life wondering what exactly the university wants to come out of the imposed sanctions. Whittaker said that administrators talked a lot about the sanctions themselves, but did a poor job of communicating the intended outcomes.

While the results of the meeting were unexpected and frustrating to many members, they have also had a positive effect by bringing the Greek community together. Relationships between chapters are now stronger than ever, in contrast to the relationship between Greek Life and the university. Whittaker said that many Greek members feel personally attacked, which has severely weakened their connection with GVSU.

Additionally, the Greek community feels that the administration lacks appreciation and promotion of the good things they do, such as philanthropy.

“The university just hasn’t done a tremendously great job in the past of promoting what we do good,” Whittaker said. “They only focus on the negatives.”

Whittaker also said that the university has sent mixed messages in relation to governance, which muddies their relationship. While there is a need for collaboration, Whittaker said that the IFC wants to be able to enforce rules within the community, which requires some trust from the University.

“(The Judicial Affairs chair) is one of the most important positions on the IFC, but he almost never gets to do anything because the university always steps in,” Whittaker said. “Recently, he didn’t even know about some of the situations going on because the university did not tell him. They did not tell the people in the community what was going on. So that’s something we want to fix: we want to be able to self-govern.”

While GVSU hasn’t supported Greek Life in the way members wish, Whittaker did explain that the Greek community does have some responsibility in the hindered relationship between the two. While the Greek community does do great things, Whittaker believes that they do not market themselves in a proactive way.

In attempt to rekindle ties with the university and progress through the sanctions, Greek members are planning to take steps that will improve their image and make the community more transparent.

“Going forward, we’re in the process of creating a committee, kind of like a public relations task force, across the fraternities and sororities, hopefully, to make more of a unified message and a strategy to market ourselves better; mostly to people who aren’t in Greek Life,” Whittaker said.

Whittaker said that this crossroads is an opportunity for the Greek community to reform their image. While the public image of Greek Life tends to include drinking, Whittaker said that their new approach is to make the good work they do apparent to those outside the community. 

“We really want to change the narrative,” Whittaker said. “Right now, the narrative is that Greek Life is bad; the university is looking down on Greek Life for our bad partying scene. I think what everybody in our community wants to do is we want to change the narrative. This is a community that has flaws — like every community does — but these are some of the best kids I know and trust. I’m proud to be a Greek every day.”