Education

University of Iowa fraternities and sororities delay 'rush'

Rethinking of recruiting comes after 15 chapters faced discipline

In fall 2018, Iowa City police investigated massive fraternity tailgate parties on Melrose Court, including this one captured on police body camera video, where they found widespread violations of a Greek-system ban on events with alcohol. This year, recruiting into the university’s Greek system is being made more rigorous. (Iowa City Police Department)
In fall 2018, Iowa City police investigated massive fraternity tailgate parties on Melrose Court, including this one captured on police body camera video, where they found widespread violations of a Greek-system ban on events with alcohol. This year, recruiting into the university’s Greek system is being made more rigorous. (Iowa City Police Department)

IOWA CITY — With 11 of its fraternities starting the semester on some form of probation — and four other chapters booted from campus last year — the University of Iowa this fall is revising the process for recruiting into its Greek system, postponing “rush” several weeks.

By delaying recruitment and membership intake for the remaining 49 chapters, UI administrators can expand the process to cover issues like “lifelong membership expectations, campus life, and health and safety,” said Bill Nelson, associate dean and executive director for the Iowa Memorial Union.

“Education and its timing play an important role in creating and maintaining membership expectations,” Nelson told The Gazette by email. “We hope to create a healthier, safer, and better-informed campus community by providing more information and training to students before they commit to joining an organization.”

The later rush this fall also affords new UI students time to get acquainted with the campus and its opportunities — including fraternity and sorority life — potentially extending the Greek system’s net for recruits to those “who may not have been traditionally represented” before, Nelson said.

UI officials hope to compel a cultural swing within a Greek system plagued for years with a “party school” mentality.

In 2017, a UI freshman at an out-of-town fraternity formal died from drug- and alcohol-related causes. In response, sorority and fraternity leadership cracked down on alcohol-involved events with a moratorium and strict guidelines around parties.

But numerous fraternities rebuffed those rules, and UI administrators last fall sanctioned 11 fraternities — including four it stripped of campus recognition — based on “blatant and systemic failure” to comply with the alcohol moratorium, among other violations.

No rush for rush

The rush delays this fall are more significant for sororities. Where sorority shoppers last year spent Aug. 23 through Sept. 3 getting oriented to the Greek system, meeting with different chapters, expressing their preferences and awaiting an invitation, this year’s process has been bumped to Sept. 26 through Oct. 7.

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For fraternities, the typical recruitment in August and early September has been pushed even later this fall to Sept. 16 through 23.

Delegates from atop the campus’ Fraternity and Sorority Life system weighed in on the scheduling changes as part of a new strategic planning process. They considered the Hawkeye football schedule and Labor Day weekend in amending the timelines.

“In prior years, Panhellenic recruitment dates have coincided with the first home football game and caused new students to miss this initial experience,” Nelson said.

When asked whether the later rush could conflict with student studies and classroom pursuits, Nelson said “no.” Primary recruitment was pushed into the fall semester in 2011 with the inception of “OnIowa!” — an extended orientation program for all first-year students.

Iowa’s nine multicultural Greek chapters and six National Pan-Hellenic chapters — those associated with a group of historically African-American fraternities and sororities — won’t see any scheduling changes this year as they conduct ongoing recruitment and member intake, Nelson said.

New requirement

But all UI chapters are participating in the ramped-up “pre-joining education” effort, including online and in-person modules available through October. Students must complete the courses to be eligible to join a chapter.

“Fraternity and Sorority Life has never had a pre-joining requirement like what we are now implementing,” according to Nelson. “

The online module asks questions about what it means to “belong, serve, lead, succeed and thrive,” according to content provided to The Gazette. But it does not directly address the issues of alcohol or drug use, hazing, or other improper behaviors.

Similarly, a PowerPoint presentation used for the in-person discussions focuses on the tenets central to membership, although it does present a hypothetical scenario about alcohol at an off-campus party.

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The university also now makes fraternity and sorority “score cards” available online for students and families. The cards include membership totals, demographic breakdowns, community service hours, philanthropy achievements, mean grade-point averages, hazing investigations and compliance with alcohol regulations.

Regular rush

Fraternities and sororities at Iowa’s other public universities are engaging in traditional recruiting activities without big changes.

The University of Northern Iowa’s sorority system added an extra potential new member orientation and its fraternity council added optional house tours.

Iowa State University’s sorority system completed its recruitment the week before school started, in time for 650 new members to participate in the campus orientation program. Its fraternity system takes a long view in recruiting, holding spring and fall educational programs.

UNI fraternities have completed fall recruitment, with sororities wrapping up Sept. 15.

Of ISU’s 37 fraternities and 24 sororities, six are under probationary status. Of UNI’s 12 Greek chapters, just one fraternity is on probation for holding an unregistered event with alcohol.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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