By ALICEN HACKNEY
UMW is well-known for its academic focus. And, while the school does have smaller non-university affiliated fraternities and a sorority, the social life of many students is as quiet as the city of Fredericksburg itself can be. Without the social pressures that come with Greek life, the expectation has been that students would feel less stressed and be able to spend more of their time on academics. However, numerous studies–and the social climate of UMW–point to this issue being quite the opposite.
Part of what makes it difficult to make and keep friends at UMW is that relationships here rely on schedules. Unless students live together with their friends in the dorms or off campus, students rely heavily on their class schedules to make availability for their friends. The two biggest solutions UMW offers to this issue are joining clubs, which is schedule and sometimes audition based, and taking discussion-based classes which tend to be upper level.
While sororities and fraternities do have their own application processes, when they are in schools there are several to pledge for and they don’t rely on the student to have the perfect schedule to fit the group. Beyond that initial pressure are the fun and friendship-building group events, the increased likelihood of acceptance and understanding through shared stressors and experiences, and of course, the positive effects of a shared living space. All of these Greek life pros truly boost the strong foundation a student needs in order to be successful in college and beyond.
The hook for grades to be successful through Greek life lies with the university that houses it. Some universities have difficulty upholding high grades within Greek life, while some boast grade point averages much higher within Greek life than average students. What becomes necessary here is for the university to require a grade point minimum for joining, and continuing in, a sorority or fraternity. In a study conducted by professors from Harvard and Syracuse Universities, it was determined that Greek life had a positive effect on students’ educational lives, “if the values, missions and goals of a fraternities or sororities are aligned with those of the institution, then the fraternity/sorority communities can foster valuable out-of-class learning.”
UMW boasts a high retention rate in the 80 to 90 percent range, which is higher than both the national average and Virginia’s average. While the lack of Greek life at UMW may not appear to directly affect the retention rate, it must be acknowledged that Greek life does contribute positively to raising retention rates among schools that have it. In a study done by two professors from Middle Tennessee State and Niagara University, it was found that “the increased likelihoods of graduating on time may stem from Greek members having an added incentive to stay enrolled and keep a minimum GPA, so that they can continue to belong to the organization.”
Considering UMW is continuing to strive for higher retention rates, it would be important to seriously consider opening lanes for Greek life to be a larger part of UMW life. Beyond student relationships, GPA, and university retention rates there are numerous other reasons for UMW to build a Greek life program. Most importantly, students in Greek life can build larger more connected networks and use this to their advantage in job searches later on in life. Greek life is intrinsically interwoven with networking events like dances, galas, volunteer/service days, and general parties which all provide students with the opportunity to expand their studies and career ideals.
The catch for Greek life to effectively and responsibly work at UMW lies in rules being written up for expectations and codes of conduct for membership. Otherwise, the pros to go Greek outweigh the cons, and establishing official Greek life on campus would improve students lives across the spectrum.