By Erik Potter
A century and a half ago, five young men gathered in Academic Hall to be initiated into the Missouri Alpha chapter of Phi Kappa Psi. Together, they formed not only the first fraternity at the University of Missouri but also the first fraternity at a public university west of the Mississippi River.
Since then, fraternity and sorority members have not only put the sweat and spirit into university traditions but also served campus and Columbia through their volunteerism and philanthropy. Last year alone, Greek chapters raised more than $1 million for nonprofits.
Recent changes adopted by campus, Greek students and alumni are moving fraternity and sorority life into a chapter of renewed dedication to the values they are based on: leadership, scholarship, service, brotherhood and sisterhood.
On Bid Day, tidy lines of students the length of Rothwell Gymnasium wait anxiously to discover which sorority houses have accepted them as members.
Emma Socolich stands in one of the lines. She holds a white envelope with her house assignment inside. Waiting to open it, she sways back and forth to calm her nerves. The education major from Hinsdale, Illinois, wants to join Sigma Kappa. “It’s a fun way to do community service and meet people you wouldn’t meet otherwise,” she says of joining a sorority. “It’s important to give back to your community wherever you are.”
Socolich represents the “secret sauce” Dean of Students Jeff Zeilenga has been extolling recently. Zeilenga, along with strong leadership from Greek students and alumni, has been working to create a values-based change of culture in fraternity and sorority life for the past two years. “They are the same values we’ve always held, but we’re changing the culture and making the values a priority,” Zeilenga says.
The key to changing the culture is to recruit for the culture you’re trying to build: finding students who are devoted to service, leadership, scholarship, sisterhood and brotherhood. Recruiting people like that, Zeilenga says, will help Mizzou avoid harmful, high-risk behaviors that have brought scrutiny to Greek chapters across the country.
“The key to changing the culture is to recruit for the culture you’re trying to build: finding students who are devoted to service, leadership, scholarship, sisterhood and brotherhood.” — Jeff Zeilenga, dean of students
One example of the shift already underway at Mizzou is the scene on bid day. In the past, Greek Town was an outdoor party on that day, and sometimes it got out of control. For the past two years, the executive board of Interfraternity Council, the governing council for many of the fraternities in Greek Town, vowed that, out of respect, their members would stay out of Greek Town until bid day was over and let the event be about sorority life.
Outside of Rothwell Gymnasium on bid day 2019, the streets of Greek Town are quiet. Fraternity pledges fill an auditorium in a different building, waiting to hear their house assignments.
Inside the gym, Socolich tears open her envelope and jumps in the air. She’s gotten into Sigma Kappa. “I’m really excited — they were really nice and supportive of all the girls,” she says, as she runs to her new sisters in their hugging, jumping and screaming.
“When it’s done well, the Greek experience can take a place like Mizzou — a school with access to everything but that at times can be overwhelming to a person because it’s so big — and give you the best of both worlds,” says Bruce McKinney, BS BA ’74, a Delta Upsilon member. “You can also form relationships that are truly lifelong and meaningful.”
The next four pages celebrate the Greek experience done well: the students and alumni who exemplify the best of fraternity and sorority life — men and women who have put into practice the values those organizations espouse. The stories paint a picture of a proud past and a progressive future.