Over the past six years, Greek participation at DePauw has declined by 9 percentage points, with the last two years marking an all-time low for the university in the number of students involved in Greek life according to data beginning in 1980. However, DePauw is not alone in this drop, as colleges across the nation are seeing a similar decline in Greek involvement.
Greek organizations within the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) and the National American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), the two umbrella councils for all chapters in DePauw’s Panhellenic Council and Interfraternity Council (IFC) minus one fraternity, are witnessing the biggest dips in student participation.
The number of undergraduate women affiliated with NPC sororities at the national level declined by 8.7% from 2015 to 2020, according to the most recent data available from NPC’s annual reports. NIC fraternities have seen a more drastic decline, dropping 31% from 2015 to 2019, according to the most recent data provided by Todd Shelton, chief communications officer of the NIC.
DePauw’s campus has historically been defined by its Greek presence, being one of the few schools in the country to have over 50% of students affiliated with Greek life according to Frae Binder, DePauw’s director of fraternity and sorority life. Despite the campus’s small size and rural location, it is the home to 23 Greek-lettered organizations, including two Alpha chapters, and has previously been ranked the #1 college for Greek Life by the Princeton Review.
From 1980 to 1995, Greek affiliation never dropped below 75% at DePauw. Numbers remained consistent throughout the early 2000s before the sharp decline began in 2015.
Alumni, faculty, and students at DePauw have varying opinions on what is causing this decline, but nearly all can agree that this topic is extremely multi-faceted.
Both Nate Spangle, ‘19 and Lauren Keltz ‘20 attended DePauw during the years the decline began, witnessing an 8-9 percentage point decrease throughout their four years. Keltz said that she noticed a drastic difference in her experience from her freshman to senior year, attributing it to the administration disapproving of the social scene in the Greek community.
“It felt like they didn’t want to be involved with us,” Keltz said. “It was like they were just trying to restrict us [socially] and it didn't feel like they were there to help us in a sense.”
Spangle felt a similar lack of support during his time serving as IFC’s vice president of risk. “I was constantly at war with the administration with very few internal advocates for the Greek system,” Spangle said. “ It was very tough to make a significant impact in building a healthy Greek culture on campus due to the lack of support from those in positions of power.”
While both said their Greek experiences were overall positive, providing them with lifelong friendships and connections, they believe Greek life at DePauw could be improved for current and prospective students with improved communication and endorsement from DePauw’s administration.
Current DePauw students who chose not to go through recruitment have a variety of reasons for being independent.
Senior Lindsey Grewe knew her first year that she did not want to go through recruitment, feeling as if it wasn’t the right fit for her. Nearing the end of her time on campus, Grewe said that being independent has not had a major impact on her experience at DePauw. “I have friends in sororities and friends in fraternities,” Grewe said. “I don’t feel secluded from it at all.”
Similarly, senior Joanna Berry did not think joining Greek life was something she needed to curate a positive experience at DePauw due to the various other opportunities available on campus that have provided her with more freedom in terms of her time, money, and housing choices. However, she acknowledged that the school’s large Greek presence is unavoidable.
“It can be incredibly difficult to not feel left out, especially when you can’t walk across campus without seeing at least a handful of the Greek properties facing you,” Berry said. “But life is not a spectator sport, you have to seek out the organizations and clubs that speak to your interests and passions on campus. You will find yourself, and your friends, in those places just as easily.”
Berry said one of her primary reasons for choosing to be an independent and a factor in DePauw’s lowering numbers is the exclusivity of the Greek system towards people of color. “People are taking the time to learn about the racist histories and foundations of Greek fraternities and sororities, and are actively choosing to not be complicit in perpetuating that history by remaining independent,” Berry said.
Acknowledgment of Greek life’s historical white predominance and a refusal to be complicit is not unique to DePauw students. During the Black Lives Matter movement’s activism that took place in the summer of 2020, Greek life’s racist foundations made national headlines as students across the nation disaffiliated from their chapters, some even disbanding them entirely.
Senior Cooper Mixon also chose not to join Greek life because of a lack of diversity and inclusion. “I don't think most frats are very inclusive towards people of color, so I felt I wouldn't always be comfortable in that space,” Mixon said. “Not seeing anybody that looks like you in a community makes it very hard to join it.”
Mixon feels being unaffiliated has expanded his experiences at DePauw, allowing him to make friends with people both in and out of the Greek community. He speculates Greek affiliated students may not be as inclined to make friends outside of their own organization.
Jack Kneisley, DePauw’s IFC President and member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, said that the biggest concern he hears about Greek life from first-years and transfer students is hazing. Hazing in the Greek system is another topic that has flooded mainstream media due to the overwhelming number of hazing deaths occurring across the country in the last several years.
According to the Hazing Death Database created by Hank Nuwer, a journalist and hazing expert, there have been 33 hazing-related deaths between 2015 and 2021.
No hazing-related deaths have ever occurred at DePauw, however, there have been a handful of hazing-related incidents that have made the news. Delta Zeta, which has since been removed from DePauw’s campus, discriminated against members based on their looks to avoid a negative stereotype, asking certain members to leave the house in an effort to promote a specific image during formal recruitment in 2007.
Binder acknowledges the existence of hazing, historical white predominance, and several other issues within the Greek system, and said the office of fraternity and sorority life (FSL) is working to tackle these problems.
“Any entity that is historically white probably has very problematic foundings, that's just a fact,” Binder said. “So I think that's where our job as Panhellenic and IFC organizations is to continually challenge and work on the landscape and foundation of what our organizations are to see what we're building.”
Binder said this spring, when the formal recruitment process occurs, both anti-hazing and identity development curriculum will take place for Greek chapters. The identity development curriculum will focus on getting chapters to “challenge themselves on what perceptions they have,” Binder said. She also said she plans to make an effort to have conversations with unaffiliated students about the Greek system.
Binder mentioned that while Panhellenic and IFC organizations are seeing dipping numbers, chapters a part of the Multicultural Greek Council (MGC) nationally are increasing. However, she was unable to locate the data for these chapters. Members of MGC organizations at DePauw that were contacted declined to comment.
“I think sometimes when people who don't know what a sorority is about, they just see, ‘oh, they're pretty girls who live in a house and have matching shirts,’” Binder said. “Yeah, but also, they're doing STEM education, they're traveling abroad, they're being educators, they're future mothers or future politicians. I think the more we can showcase how amazing, powerful and uplifting being in Greek life truly is, the better.”