If you’ve ever watched a movie or television show about a fraternity or sorority, you’re probably familiar with the popular images of wild parties and drunken debauchery.
While that picture of Greek life may hold true on some campuses, UC Davis students pride themselves on having a system that is known for more than just the parties.
The Greek system at UC Davis is characterized by its large size, diversity, attention to social problems and commitment to community service.
What they’re like
Like many college campuses, the Greek system at UC Davis is made up of a number of fraternities and sororities, each of which offers different focuses, memberships or goals.
Some of these groups are traditional, historic fraternities and sororities that are familiar nationwide, such as Delta Sigma Phi and Alpha Chi Omega. Some have a social bent, intended primarily to bring people with similar interests together. Others focus on academics.
But many fraternities and sororities in Davis break from the traditional mold. These include Delta Lambda Phi, a social fraternity for gay, bisexual and transgender men; and multicultural groups like Nu Kappa Alpha, a Latino-interest fraternity, and Delta Phi Beta, a co-ed fraternity for those with a South Asian interest.
“One of the things that makes UC Davis unique is the number of multicultural and ethnic fraternities and sororities,” said Mike Bodnarik, SPAC’s Greek Liaison.
According to Student Programs and Activities Center (SPAC) documents, approximately 1,830 students were members of fraternities and sororities in Davis in 2007. This represents nearly 8 percent of the undergraduate population.
With 42 fraternities and 27 sororities registered with SPAC, there are a great many opportunities for students to find something that matches their interests, Bodnarik said.
While the parties are a major draw for some, the Greek system at UC Davis is not known for being exceptionally wild.
“It has to do with the caliber of the students who come to Davis,” said ASUCD Senator and Sigma Chi member Andrew Bianchi. “People don’t come to Davis to party, so people don’t join Greek organizations to party. You can’t compare it to Chico or Santa Barbara.”
For those who get involved in leadership positions, fraternities and sororities can offer invaluable experience for later in life.
“There’s nowhere to learn responsibility better than if you have to manage 40 guys,” said Tom Heflin, president of the Davis chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon.
The risk management skills and sheer responsibility make Greek leaders well prepared for the business world, said Heflin, who has served two years as president.
“It’s a nonprofit organization, so you have to run it like a business,” he said. “The social atmosphere conflicts with running the business quite often, so you have to find a balance.”
For former ASUCD Senator Molly Sundstrom, sorority Kappa Alpha Theta provided a strong support network when she decided to get involved in campus government.
“The Greek community tends to rally behind and support members of their community when they are trying to accomplish something on campus,” Sundstrom said in an e-mail.
How they work
This type of “support network” has been noted in research on Greek life as well.
“Fraternities and sororities take the home world as their model in that there are brothers, sisters, and sometimes house mothers,” said UC Davis American studies professor Jay Mechling in an e-mail.
And because they are formal, exclusive organizations, there is a level of secrecy to their rituals and inner workings.
“At the same time, frats and sororities are very conscious of the bad reputation they have in the mass media … so they work hard to repair that reputation,” he said.
Many fraternities and sororities adopt charities and work for them by raising money, while others go out regularly to work on community service projects.
How to join
Many organizations have a “rush week” at the beginning of fall quarter, where they offer social events that are intended to introduce the fraternities or sororities to potential members.
These are usually advertised through fliers, bulletin boards, Facebook groups, chalk messages on blackboards and word of mouth. You can also find a partial list of fraternity and sorority websites at spac.ucdavis.edu/programs/greek.
JEREMY OGUL can be reached at email@example.com.