Opinion: Debunking the myths surrounding Greek life: a community of opportunities

Open doors for networking, community-building, and proper academic performance define sororities and fraternities

Opinion: Debunking the myths surrounding Greek life: a community of opportunities

Seven sororities and 11 fraternities form U of T’s Greek community and, contrary to popular belief, being a member of any one of them means more than just parties. One has to pay dues, spend time and effort on various meetings, and engage in activities during the school year. It is certainly not a small commitment, and can greatly add to the cost and pressure of university.

Greek life is busy — in a good way. Every house has at least one mandatory weekly chapter meeting, and there are regular social gatherings to bond with fellow house members. Some weeks have socials between fraternities and sororities. There are also philanthropy events, alumni events, semi-formals, and formal parties. The Greek community is an ideal place to open up one’s social circle and unite with other people who are seeking to share similar experiences.

However, joining in does not guarantee that you will make friends; you can’t just hold your drink and stick to the walls during parties. You have to make an effort to talk to people. Sometimes others come to you; sometimes you will need to approach them. After all, your interpersonal skills are what enhances any bonds you make with people. It takes effort from both parties to maintain a relationship.

My own experience with Greek life is defined by a sense of belonging. I came to Canada from China alone — a 13-hour time difference separates me from my family and friends. Within the Greek community, I finally felt the sense of belonging that I searched for in a foreign continent.

While I do not live in my sorority house, I spend a large amount of my free time there. My sisters and I cook and eat together while binge-watching Netflix. Sometimes we share stories of emotional ups and downs. More often we stalk random cute guys on social media and discuss their Instagram posts.

While there are numerous social opportunities and obligations attached to joining a house, they are generally understanding when it comes to prioritizing school over duties. Members understand that everyone is under a lot of academic pressure, and that it is okay to adjust your engagement with a Greek organization to account for classes.

If you scroll down my sorority group chat during the school season, the most common messages are ones that ask if any sisters want to go to the library together. Our education comes first. All houses have minimum GPA requirements to stay active and we reward high academic achievement.

Greek life is a community experience. It can be a great networking opportunity and a second home with your lifelong friends. It can be anything you want it to be, if you make a social and academic effort. How much and how good of an experience you get out of Greek life is totally up to each pledge to figure out.

Haley Sheh is a second-year Anthropology student at Innis College. She is The Varsity’s Associate Video Editor and a member of Alpha Omicron Pi.

How to join Greek life at U of T

Your guide to the world of sororities and fraternities

How to join Greek life at U of T

So you’ve seen the cult-classic films, viral recruitment videos, and the sorority candids all over Instagram. What’s next? 

U of T has had an extensive history with Greek letter organizations since its early commission in the late 1870s. Notable Canadian figures, including Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, and former Chief of Staff Jodi White were all involved in Greek life at the university.

To this day, organizations can be found thriving and operating within campus. Home to seven sororities and 11 fraternities, U of T Greek life has become a pathway that first- and second-year students can take when exploring university involvement. 

Members cite benefits such as a vast social network, strong academics, leadership opportunities, and lifelong tradition. However, joining an organization is much more than writing your name in a sign-up sheet and attending an information session. 

When you choose to dedicate yourself to Greek life by going through recruitment, you make an important decision that determines your college experience in Greek life. Where do you see yourself at home? 

Signing your name on the dotted line

It is important to keep in mind that the processes of joining a sorority or fraternity are very different. They operate under the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPC) and the Interfraternity Council (IFC), respectively, which are umbrella organizations that consist of several North American sororities and fraternities.

Sororities require potential new members (PNMs) to fill out an online form consisting of contact information, academic history, extracurriculars, and internal references. This is different from joining a fraternity, where requirements involve individuals selecting and directly contacting a chapter’s rush chair for more information about becoming a brother. 

The reason for the NPC requesting PNMs to fill out a form is for the chapters to become acquainted with interested new members and to ensure that a sorority is a right fit for them, and, of course, inform them of any important news during recruitment weekend. Organizations have grade requirements and highly encourage campus involvement and leadership to ensure that members are getting the most out of their university experience. 

Doing your homework 

Before diving into full-on recruitment mode, do a little research on each of the houses’ history, values, alumni, and philanthropy. These factors make a Greek letter organization unique, as no two houses share the same origin story. 

By familiarizing yourself with a house’s backstory you are able to develop a feel for the organization’s values and traditions. 

Encouraging a spirit of philanthropy and continuing to support a specific cause are often a central aspects of Greek letter organizations. Each organization, when established in its early years, chose to champion a charitable cause, whether it be literacy initiatives, hunger relief, or health issues, so it’s important that you pick a house which supports a cause you care about. 

Showing up

Literally just show up. Keep track of important dates that individual fraternities have in their rush calendar or that NPC has on their website. Recruitment typically occurs during the second weekend of September after a hectic orientation week and the first few days of class. 

Recruitment weekend requires PNMs to visit and learn about each house and rank them, based on preference. Throughout the weekend, the list narrows down to your top two choices until you decide where you want to call home.

Creating meaningful impressions 

You’ll meet many fascinating members and have to eventually come to a decision, but keep in mind that people will remember you most for being your kind, genuine self. Create meaningful impressions with people you will potentially call your ‘brothers’ or ‘sisters.’ These are the individuals you will create lasting memories with beyond your university years and beyond the Greek letters. 

Disclosure: Ann Marie Elpa is the Vice-President Academics at the Beta Tau chapter of Alpha Omicron Pi at the University of Toronto.

Fraternity, sorority houses now regulated as multi-tenant facilities

Licensing exemptions for Greek housing removed, effective immediately

Fraternity, sorority houses now regulated as multi-tenant facilities

Toronto City Council voted on May 23 to regulate fraternities and sororities as multi-tenant housing facilities. With previous exemptions lifted, Greek life housing will now require licensing to accommodate its residents.

Effective immediately, fraternities and sororities will have to register an official contact with the city, renew their licences annually, develop a fire plan, and undergo a fire inspection to ensure that their buildings are up to property standards set by the city.

According to Councillor Joe Cressy, the licensing framework is meant to improve safety at fraternities and sororities, and is supported by the majority of the City Council, U of T, the University of Toronto Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, Toronto Fire Services, and local residents of the Annex. Cressy represents Ward 20, in which the St. George campus is located.

“It was long overdue,” Cressy told The Varsity. “I can’t understand why we would treat [fraternities] any differently than every other multi-tenant housing facility in the city.” He further stated that prior to the vote, fraternities and sororities were neither regulated by the city nor the university, which placed them in a “legal grey area.”

In June 2017, Cressy submitted a letter to the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee calling for the regulation of fraternities and sororities as multi-tenant housing facilities. In April 2018, the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee released a report listing possible solutions, one of which was the regulation of Greek life housing through annual reporting.

Cressy said that although licensing is “not a silver bullet,” and cannot regulate the behaviour of fraternities and sororities, non-compliance with the policies will lead to stricter conditions. “If you don’t play by the rules… there are consequences,” he said. Breaking the rules consistently may result in the licence being revoked.

According to the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee’s report, there were 78 incidents reported to the Toronto Police at or near fraternity or sorority houses between January 2014 and March 2018. Of these incidents, 12 per cent were related to sexual assault, and 62 per cent to thefts under $5,000.

“We are delighted the Council has agreed to impose full licensing and remove the rooming house exemption from the fraternities,” said David Harrison, Chair of the Annex Residents’ Association. He hopes that general behaviour and property maintenance will improve. Harrison added that “fraternities that operate in a civil manner” should have no problems with licensing, but for those “that are chronically, socially inept the challenge may be greater.”

Harrison also mentioned the recent death of Naiqi Helen Guo, an 18-year-old student at UTSC, in what is thought to be a violation of the Ontario fire code as evidence that proper regulation of rooming houses is crucial. “Clearly, parents of students and the students themselves should embrace licensing as it will better ensure safer residences.”

The Interfraternity Council, Phi Delta Theta, Delta Kappa Epsilon, and Delta Upsilon declined to respond to requests for comment. Phi Delta Theta, Lamda Chi Alpha, Theta Delta Chi, and Zeta Psi did not respond to requests for comment.

Safety risks at fraternities and sororities should remain a concern for the city

Re: “New city proposals to tackle issues with Greek life residences”

Safety risks at fraternities and sororities should remain a concern for the city

There are safety risks in the Greek life community that must be resolved. After years of unsafe practices at fraternities and sororities, and numerous complaints from their neighbours, recent proposals by the City of Toronto aim to resolve these safety concerns and help rebuild bridges between the two parties. Three of the six proposed solutions involve establishing open dialogue between Greek life community members and their neighbours, including holding meet-and-greets and assembling call lists of influential Greek life community members whom the public can contact.

These proposals are the result of an open letter penned by Ward 20 councillor Joe Cressy that suggested that Greek houses should be shut down if they fail to secure multi-tenant housing licenses. Concerns voiced by individuals and their respective resident housing associations are at the forefront of this inquiry.

Incidents over the years have become increasingly hard to ignore, from drug busts and house fires to stabbings and sexual assaults, as previously reported by The Varsity.

Many people likely assume that Greek houses are overseen by the University of Toronto, but they typically operate with minimal supervision and without any formal ties to the university. The activities at these houses, however, do affect the university, including the student residents of these houses and the many students their events attract. As such, it is vital that student safety be secured.

One solution, it seems, is to increase by-law officer patrols and thereby upgrade supervision during peak hours in the community. However it is not clear if the city can afford to reallocate resources to monitoring these parties. Moreover, residents of Greek houses should not have to passively accept inappropriate or dangerous behaviour from their peers.

The conflict appears to have been exacerbated by a lack of communication; the Interfraternity Council, which represents a majority of the fraternities on campus, has voted that no individual house may speak to the press, preventing members from publicly making or defending themselves against complaints. While Greek communities may be valued by students and help them feel like they belong at the university, the behaviour of certain members of Greek organizations, as well as the safety risks associated with their housing situations, cannot be ignored.

Anastasia Pitcher is a first-year student at New College studying Life Sciences.

City proposes solutions for conflict between Greek life community, residence associations

Executive Council poised for decision on Greek house licensing

City proposes solutions for conflict between Greek life community, residence associations

The city’s review of multi-tenant housing regulations, which encompasses fraternity and sorority houses surrounding U of T, has opened up a rift between the residences of these houses and the communities that surround them. The outcome has been a six-month-long deliberation process at City Hall between students in Greek life housing and their neighbours regarding changes to the way these multi-tenant houses are licensed.

Issues of excessive partying, lewd behaviour, and improper garbage disposal have been raised by members of housing associations around the U of T campus, with local residents citing problems such as “numerous fires” and “numerous sexual assaults” occurring at nearby fraternities.

In a recent public meeting, city staff presented six possible solutions to provide the public with a general idea of what could be suggested in January and then voted upon in February, when the Executive Council meets.

The six solutions

The first solution is one that was initially proposed in a letter from Ward 20 Councilor Joe Cressy in early June: that fraternities and sororities should no longer be exempted from the housing regulations that all other multi-tenant buildings are required to follow. This suggestion is what first sparked the debate over the status of these houses in September. It is believed that for fraternity and sorority houses to be fully compliant with multi-tenant housing regulations, they would have to fundamentally change their operations, putting their continued existence in jeopardy.

Decades of tension between fraternities — more so than sororities — and surrounding residents have come to light from residences in the neighbourhoods that surround frats and sororities in the wake of Cressy’s letter.

This tension has spawned a few of the proposed solutions, which directly target the relationship between Greek life residences and their neighbours. Three of these solutions are community-led meet and greets with Greek house residents, proactive community outreach to fraternities and sororities before school starts, and the establishment of a community working group consisting of both Greek and non-Greek residents to help bridge the gap and improve communication between the two groups.

Along the lines of communication, another proposed solution is creating a contact list within the neighbourhood so that residents have a number to call to voice their complaints.

The last of the solutions is the establishment of proactive enforcement of bylaws within the area during peak times of activity. One major concern for this solution is that the city may lack the resources for full enforcement. In addition, according to a comment made during a public consultation reported by Toronto Community Houses, “many fraternities and sororities are dry and/or have education on alcohol and housing.”

Speaking to stakeholders

University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Vice-President External Anne Boucher was initially skeptical of Cressy’s original proposal, stating that it appeared to have the intention of slowly removing fraternity and sorority houses from the city. However, Boucher said she was repeatedly met with the assurance that the city is simply looking to ensure that Greek houses are safe and regulated.

Boucher said she was presented with a detailed presentation of the licensing change and is convinced that the proposal truly aims to improve the safety of Greek housing. She wrote that “this change specifically would not harm the operation of Greek houses.”

Boucher said that while some of the other solutions look to solve long-standing residential grievances such as noise complaints, they fail to really address how Greek houses could be made safer.

The Annex Residence Association’s David Harrison highlighted the long-standing tension between Greek houses and their neighbours, saying that “clearly, the Greek group didn’t see any need for change to their status or additional rules and regulations.” He insisted that the residents he represents find the enforcement of some form of regulation on Greek housing to be the most pressing solution.

City staff will develop a summary of consultations in a report to the Executive Committee in early 2018.

The Inter-Fraternity Council, which represents the majority of U of T fraternities, declined The Varsity’s request for comment.

The U of T Panhellenic Association, which represents the majority of U of T sororities, did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.

Noble goals with limited scope

Proposed bylaw changes for fraternities and sororities will not effectively address concerns about noise or waste management

Noble goals with limited scope

Earlier this year, backed by a number of community residents’ associations, Councillor Joe Cressy called for fraternity and sorority houses in the City of Toronto to be regulated as multi-tenant properties. This would mean that fraternity and sorority houses, including those on U of T’s campus, would need a license to operate, a move that requires adherence to city codes and bylaws.

Cressy believes that this change will help fraternities and sororities become better neighbours. However, while changes to regulation may resolve concerns about health and safety, it will take more to lessen the negative impact fraternity and sorority houses may have on the neighbourhood at large.

Being designated as a multi-tenant property would force frat and sorority houses to abide by health and safety requirements, including property bylaws about waste disposal and the regulations outlined in the Ontario Fire Code. To maintain their housing license, fraternities and sororities would be required to pass an annual inspection by Toronto Fire Services and Municipal Licensing and Standards. Any violations would result in a financial penalty.

Currently, there is no way for the city to ensure the safety of those living and frequenting these buildings. Licensing would allow the city to make sure that students do not suffer the consequences of poor building maintenance. Although serious fires or building accidents have yet to be reported, we shouldn’t wait for these incidents to go viral before doing anything to prevent them.

At the same time, though a multi-tenant housing license might be helpful for improving property maintenance, it won’t do much to address issues on noise and waste, which are a major source of complaints from other residents. Out of the 16 known frats and sororities on campus, there have been a total of 20 noise investigations related to their properties within the last two years. Coupled with 27 investigations about waste over the same period, it’s a total of 47 city investigations since 2015. Only 14 of all investigations have resulted in orders to comply by the city.

Unfortunately, the changes being proposed do not address issues outside of property maintenance, meaning a multi-tenant housing license won’t spur fraternities and sororities to more effectively govern their behaviour in these cases.

There is also a case to be made that bylaws are an ineffective way of governing behaviour in the first place. According to its recent review on multi-tenant housing, the city believes that existing bylaws are “sufficiently” effective. Recent data on the frequency of complaints against fraternity and sorority houses — and their lackluster resolutions — shows otherwise.

As of late, one fraternity house at 157 St. George Street has had 14 noise and waste investigations in the past two years, with two happening on consecutive days this September. Another house at 152 St. George Streethas had nine investigations, and a third house at 180 St. George Street has had eight. This assortment of complaints and investigations have only brought forth eight notices to comply.

Statements from residents also reflect concerns about enforcing long-term regulations. As community resident David Sterns wrote in a letter to Mayor John Tory, “Toronto fraternities successfully defeated an attempt to remove their rooming house by-law exemption in 2011 by stating their desire to work with neighbours… As soon as the threat of regulation ended, any talk of working with neighbours ended and things quickly went back to the way they were.”

Certainly, this isn’t reflective of all fraternities and sororities on campus, many of which comply with regulations. However, it appears the current system for dealing with noise and waste concerns is ineffective in a number of cases, as the high frequency of complaints has persisted.

The power of orders to comply from the city is not a strong enough deterrent for noisy and messy behaviour. Any improvement in the way the city handles these complaints won’t come solely from a housing license.

The city, community, and students will have to work together to resolve the issues that the proposed regulations cannot fix on their own. For starters, the city should not rely on self-governance on the part of fraternities and sororities; consistent community inspections on the part of bylaw officers, as well as prompt and efficient city responses to noise or waste complaints, are necessary. Moreover, a strike system could be imposed, in which houses with three or more notices by the city will have to face severe financial penalties. These changes will help ensure that students are really cleaning up their act.

Multi-tenant licensing is certainly a good start but the issues at stake are multifaceted, and it will take more than a single solution to resolve them.

Andrea Tambunan is a first-year student at University College studying Life Sciences.

The Breakdown: the origins of Greek life on campus

A brief history

The Breakdown: the origins of Greek life on campus

Greek life at U of T has recently become the focus of attention in the campus community following an open letter penned by City Councillor Joe Cressy calling for fraternity and sorority houses to be properly regulated as multi-tenant houses. The coverage has since brought into question the Greek’s relationship to U of T. Here, we break it down.

In 1879, Zeta Psi, an established American fraternity, started the world’s first non-American chapter at U of T. Kappa Alpha Society opened a Toronto chapter in 1892, and Alpha Delta Phi in 1893. The first Canadian female ‘fraternity’ was Kappa Alpha Theta, organized in 1887. The first Black fraternity at U of T, Alpha Phi Alpha, was established in 1908 and had two members on record, although the fraternity closed its chapter two years later.

The relationship between U of T and these Greek letter organizations began early on, starting in 1899 when a residence in the west wing of University College was closed due to financial issues, prompting U of T to use fraternities for student housing. Loans, favourable interest rates, and long-term land leases were given to various chapters. In 1901, Kappa Alpha leased the land known today as Massey College for $1 a year in a long-term contract with the school. By 1927, U of T was host to a reported 42 chapters, compared to 23 at McGill University in the same year. In 1959, U of T expropriated several fraternity-occupied properties on lower St. George Street, leading to their relocation north to today’s Annex neighbourhood.

Currently, two societies govern Greek life at U of T: the National Panhellenic Council, which recognizes seven sororities, and the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC), which represents 10 fraternities. Among these fraternities is Delta Upsilon, which is self-identified as being uniquely “non-secret.”

The individual houses tend not to provide media outlets with comment because, as IFC President Sam Jenison explained, the IFC voted that no individual house is allowed to talk to the press.

The current relationship, or lack thereof, between U of T and Greek letter organizations is also elusive to non-members. In an account of the University of Toronto’s history, author Martin L. Friedland reveals that after 1960, when a Black female student was denied entry into a sorority, U of T formally dissociated itself from Greek organizations based on their exclusivity.

This dissociation continues today. The university’s Director of Media Relations Althea Blackburn-Evans said in a recent Varsity article that the university does not recognize fraternities or sororities as campus groups “because they’re not open to everybody who wishes to join.” In his conversation with The Varsity, Jenison confirmed U of T’s dissociation, writing, “We don’t work under ULife and we have no affiliation with U of T.”

Annex residents speak out against fraternities

“Numerous fires, numerous drug issues, and numerous sexual assaults” among cited issues

Annex residents speak out against fraternities

Fraternity and sorority housing may face significant licensing requirements changes by the end of the month. As The Varsity previously reported, the city’s Executive Committee will review whether or not to remove the multi-tenant housing licensing exemption from fraternity and sorority houses. If the change proposed by Ward 20 Councillor Joe Cressy is approved, then Greek houses around U of T may be shut down if they do not successfully secure a multi-tenant housing license.

Residents push for action

Cressy’s move to have the Executive Committee address the role of fraternities and sororities came on June 5, and it was supported by letters from the heads of the Annex Residents’ Association, Bay Cloverhill Community Association, Grange Community Association, Harbord Village Residents’ Association, and the Huron Sussex Residents’ Organization.

Following repeated incidents going unpunished, Sterns wrote a letter to Mayor Tory about the issue on June 15. The letter listed several cases of inappropriate conduct on behalf of the fraternity houses residing in the Annex, including a police raid confiscating over $125,000 worth of drugs in 2008, the death of a young man who fell from a window of Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in 2013, and the stabbing of three people outside of a frat party in 2015.

Following the 2011 decision, Sterns expressed skepticism of any more collaborative promises on behalf of fraternities and sororities, and urged the Mayor to support Cressy’s efforts to get rid of the licensing exemption.

The Executive Committee will address the situation on September 26; executives from the University of Toronto Students’ Union are expected to speak.

Greeks dodge licensing in 2011

Former Ward 20 City Councillor Adam Vaughan advocated for the removal of fraternity and sorority houses’ licensing exemption back in 2011 for reasons similar to Cressy’s. “The idea is simply to find a way to say to the ones that are holding parties at 4 o’clock in the morning where they’re peeing on people’s cars and doing all kinds of bizarre stuff in the parks, could you just please get on with your neighbours?” Vaughan told the National Post in 2011. “Find a way to help us help you grow up.”

There were certain obstacles that Vaughan faced in accomplishing this task, though, laid out in the staff report requested by the Licensing and Standards Committee at the time.

Specifically, there were two hindrances that kept the committee from bringing forward a licensing proposal. The first was that, according to the staff report, the city “does not have the authority to license people or organizations purely on the basis of their affiliation,” meaning that since a fraternity or sorority does not fall specifically under one classification, it is difficult to define how it should be licensed.

The second reason was that licenses cannot limit the behaviour of tenants. While a license would require the building to be fully up to code, issues that may arise related to behaviour would not be regulated.

Vaughan met representatives of the fraternities and sororities at the time and attempted to establish a collaborative system, as recommended in the staff report, resulting in the Joint Working Group meant to address neighborhood complaints. The working group took the approach of allowing fraternity and sorority houses to rely upon their organizations for regulation and enforcement, as fraternities and sororities have rules for any affiliated chapters. Despite this, complaints continue to be filed to the Annex Residents’ Association, and residents say they have had a hard time getting in touch with anyone of influence in the fraternity community.

Concerned residents speak to The Varsity

Permanent residents of the Annex — the neighbourhood home to many of the Greek life houses in Toronto — have expressed concerns about noise pollution, littering, and general disturbances coming from fraternities much more so than sororities.

David Harrison, chair of the Annex Residents’ Association, said that they “get a steady stream of complaints from neighbours of the Fraternities. There are three or four frequent offenders. The Sororities are generally much better behaved.”

Rita Bilerman, a resident of the Annex for 11 years, said she has had multiple experiences dealing with fraternities. Bilerman alleged there have been “numerous fires, numerous drug issues, and numerous sexual assaults” attributed to fraternities in the time she’s lived in the Annex. She said she is concerned that if the houses are allowed to continue on as they are, there is the potential for real tragedy. She recounted stories of fraternity members sitting atop the roofs of houses, daring each other to run naked past oncoming traffic, and passing out on her front yard.

In addition, Bilerman has kids — the oldest of which is a high school student. She said that fraternity houses in the area have invited her son to parties, and, according to Bilerman, plenty of high school students attend these parties, some of which she claimed serves alcohol to minors.

Mayor Tory’s office is refraining from commenting on the issue until the full staff report is completed.

The Inter-Fraternity Council, a representative body of 10 fraternities around U of T, declined The Varsity’s request for comment.

Data compiled by Tom Yun