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Column: Greeks bearing gifts

Rushing as a freshman, I made the mistake of using the word "cuts" in conversation with my rho chi. She wasted no time in setting me straight. With the calculated coldness of a fake half-smile, she said: "Julie, they're not cuts. They're mutual selections." Right then I knew we weren't going to get along.

This year a rushee with a need for bluntness like my own could turn to her second rho chi (now recruitment counselor) for support. The "team rho chi" approach is one of the innovations in this year's sorority rush, and one of the changes coming out of the new Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life.

Over the past few years, many greeks have bemoaned the death of the greek system. With the dissolution of two fraternities and a waning on-campus social scene, we greeks (sidenote: I survived my rho chi and am now my sorority's representative to the Panhellenic Council) have been fighting an uphill battle against the administration. We believed that they would rather eliminate us than work with us. We became dispensable somewhere along the line, perhaps when the administration discovered that U.S. News and World Report did not include mixers and theme parties in rankings data.

This perception of the University's attitude toward greeks has been confounded by the administration's recent decision to form an Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. Why would an anti-greek administration put more than $100,000 into greeks?

One answer is to fix past institutional mistakes. The way greeks were institutionalized at Duke was detrimental to their continuance and their ability to thrive. As nationals (the heads of each greek organization) mandated changes, the groups lacked proper support to adapt. Without any central governance for the greek organizations, the Duke administration caught heat for their chapters' poor compliance.

Each of the three umbrella organizations of the 35 greek groups was overseen by a different adviser. The director of the Women's Center, Donna Lisker, oversaw Panhel. Assistant dean of university life, Beverly Meek, advised the National Panhellenic Council. And the assistant vice president for student affairs, Sue Wasiolek, was in charge of the Interfraternity Council. Because the multicultural sororities did not fall under an umbrella organization, they were not given an advisor.

None of the advisers were greek affiliated, and none had the ability to prioritize their advisement of the organizations with an already demanding administrative job. The greek groups had no formal interaction with one another. The umbrella organizations had almost no administrative funding (around $1,000 a piece), and they had no advocates to the administration.

Under these conditions, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, standard amongst our equally greek-populated counterparts (University of Pennsylvania, Emory, Vanderbilt, etc.), was born. Following Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta's theory that students should be housed with their advisors, the office became shared space between greeks and two full-time advisors.

The move to the new office represented an unprecedented collaboration among the greek groups. Panhel and NPHC donated their Bryan Center basement space to the project, and IFC abandoned prime real estate in the West Union Building (which is now used as a communal meeting space) to share an office with the multicultural groups. The greeks then received their advocates, Todd Adams and Nicole Manley, both former greeks. In addition, the University allocated upwards of $10,000 for greek programming.

Thus far, these changes have had extremely positive results. Collaboration among the groups has increased, resulting in diversity programming. As part of next week's Greek Week (the first involving all greek organizations), NPHC will reserve Step Show tickets for IFC and Panhel. To ensure continued interaction among the groups, a community executive council has been formed.

Greeks have traditionally been powerful in numbers (consisting of 40 percent of females and 32 percent of males). Now they may have the resources to be powerful in voice. Although the Office seems to be a welcome improvement for greeks, many still wonder: Why would the administration want to do it?

The optimist says that the administration was never anti-greek but just greek-uneducated. The pessimist says that this is an administrative Trojan horse, brought to appease financially supportive greek alumni and further control greek groups. Me: I've always learned to beware of greeks bearing gifts, but for now I'm pretty happy about greeks being brought them.

Julie Smith is a Trinity senior. Her column appears every third Wednesday.

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