If screams of “Theta, Theta, Theta, Kappa Alpha Theta!” or “I want to go Aichioo!” seemed abnormally loud on Bid Night, that’s because there were more members of the sororities than in previous years—a lot more.
This year, 254 women from Columbia College, the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of General Studies and Barnard registered for Panhellenic Recruitment—an increase of more than 30 percent over last year’s 195 women. Of those, 170 women were matched with a sorority, compared to the 110 women matched last year.
To put that in perspective, Delta Gamma, one of four sororities on the Columbia University Panhellenic Council, has 44 new members this year compared to 27 new members last year.
Greek life, comprised of the Panhellenic Council, InterFraternity Council and the Multicultural Greek Council, has increased across the board at Columbia in the past few years. Excluding members of the IFC and MGC, who have yet to be initiated this semester, roughly 1,000 students participate in the fraternity and sorority community, according to the Student Affairs Office. During the 2006-2007 school year, that number was 550.
According to IFC President Lalit Gurnani, CC ’11, the recent increase in fraternity life is due to improved relations with the administration, the ability to throw more events at the beginning of the school year, and the attractiveness of a potential employment network.
“I think the biggest thing is the administration and the fraternities are working hand in hand with each other instead of against each other,” he said. “If you’re clashing with the administration, it’s almost like the fraternities are the bad guys.”
Sororities and fraternities also held events after New Student Orientation Program week and before school started, which led to a boost in interest this year, said members. “All the kids who came to Columbia saw the great Greek barbecue and then had a chance to go and have fun with these guys a few days later,” Gurnani said.
He also cited the importance of having a built-in network as the last reason for the growth. “Now, more than ever, it’s more who you know rather than what you know, when you’re trying to get a job,” he said.
“All you have to do is check your mailbox,” said Kaylin Marcotte, BC ’12, and a new member of Delta Gamma, referring to the opportunities former sisters notify them about.
Delta Gamma President Leila Mabourakh, BC ’11, said she didn’t know the reason behind the sudden increase in interest, but said she thought it was the result of an urban—and sometimes disparate—campus.
“The Greek community is so involved and so close knit, and I think it is becoming more and more attractive to new students when they come here,” she said.
Delta Sigma Phi President Michael Loya, CC ’12, speculated that the increase may have been due to better publicity this year.
“Last semester, we really pushed to get our name out rather than do things for ourselves,” he said. “I think a lot of the organizations have more visible parties, do a lot more charity, and community service events so we were better known and the people who came to rush really knew who we were.”
He also added that the improved relationship with administrators was also a factor.
“The school’s allowing us to grow instead of putting restraints,” he said.
The fraternity, which is the largest at Columbia, typically has 10 or 11 new pledges each rush, but this year had 18 new pledges.
Regardless of the reason, the result is pronounced, especially in sororities. The four Panhellenic Council sororities at Columbia—Delta Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta, Sigma Delta Tau and Alpha Chi Omega—average about 60 members all together. As a result, a new member class of 40 drastically increases the size of a sorority.
According to Mabourakh, this has changed the dynamics at some events, like mixers, where the members of one sorority will spend an evening with members from one fraternity—and where sorority members now outnumber students in fraternities. “Now it focuses more on sisterhood, more girls, and I think it’s a shift, but it’s an exciting shift,” she said.
But the increase can also affect relationships in the sororities themselves. Marcotte said she “would kind of like it [her sorority] to stay the size it is.”
“I feel like when you join a sorority, you don’t just want acquaintances. You’re looking for real relationships, and that’s really hard when there’s so many people,” she said.
The minimum number of bids handed out—also called the quota—is determined by the PHC based on the number of women who register. Another increase in the number of registrations would lead to larger member classes again next year.
To preserve the close—knit community atmosphere of sororities, members of the Greek community have discussed two options.
One possibility, would be to put a cap on the number of new members, which would make Greek life at Columbia more exclusive. “Everyone should have a chance to participate if they so choose,” Mabourakh said. “I don’t really want to shut it off to people.”
Another option would be to bring another sorority onto campus. Since the IFC has 13 fraternities as compared to PHC’s 4 sororities, “there would definitely be room for it and support for it,” Loya said.
The Office of Residential Programs wrote in a statement that adding a fraternity or a sorority “would depend on a number of factors, which include student interest and demand as well as our ability to support (in numerous ways) additional organizations within this community.”
Last year, Columbia re-colonized an old fraternity that had died out, Sigma Alpha Mu. But starting, or re-starting, a chapter also has its challenges, especially due to the lack of brownstones where some fraternities and sororities set up shop.
Alberto Vadia, president of Sigma Alpha Mu and CC ’11, said, “the hardest part is not having a point of congregation.” He added, “A fraternity is a group of men or women that want to enjoy basically, each other’s company and enjoy doing things together. I believe that a house really facilitates that.”
Currently, one sorority and more than one fraternity do not have a house, and the Office of Residential Programs has no plans to find additional brownstones for them or future fraternities or sororities, according to a statement from the office.
But since Gurnani, Loya and Mabourakh all anticipate the increase to continue, they agree that a solution would need to be found.
“I do think having bigger and bigger classes is going to be an issue, so we are going to have to resolve it somehow,” Mabourakh said.