You've seen the movies, you've
heard the jokes, you've read the horror stories, but what are
fraternities and sororities really like in Manitoba? The impression
most people have of these organizations comes from watching movies
like Animal House and Legally Blonde. Fraternities and
sororities in Manitoba battle these stereotypes.
Steve Synyshyn, a member of the Alpha Tau chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity talks of how people he had known for years began to treat him differently after he joined a fraternity. "It was kind of awkward, even around some of my good friends," he says. "People brand you."
The stereotypes that surround Greek groups are quite strong. Synyshyn recalls how people seemed to think all they did was party and do drugs, which was completely untrue. But if fraternities and sororities are not the mad houses that Hollywood portrays, what are they like?
Adam Chown, the president of the Manitoba chapter of Delta Upsilon, talks favorably about his fraternity experience. He explains how joining a fraternity gives people skills and experiences that round out university life and helps them move into the real world.
"I feel I have a huge leg up on people who haven't had these experiences," he says. Synyshyn describes fraternities and sororities as "a unique opportunity to enhance the university experience with the grounded tradition of something that has been working since the birth of the United States and Canada."
There are four fraternities and three sororities in Manitoba, and they are typically much smaller than their counterparts in the United States. Each frat or sorority is broken into smaller groups called chapters. Each chapter is unique with ranks and private meetings, but they also have ties to their larger international group. There is a group called the Greek Council which unites all the fraternities and sororities and helps to keep them aware of what other Greek members are doing. The Greek Council also helps organize promotional programs like traveling to high schools and promoting fraternities and sororities on the university campuses.
Political and social activities vary from chapter to chapter, but many groups take part in raising money for good causes and volunteering in the community. Groups have completed blood drives, donated to Ronald MacDonald house, and taken part in mentoring. They also participate in recruitment events, have group meetings and, of course, have social and fun events. However, the fun events are not the equivalent of what the movies show.
"We do not have mass crazy parties. First, we don't have the members for them and second, those sorts of things just don't go on here," said Leanne McCaw, president of the Beta Theta chapter of Alpha Delta Pi.
A large part of the stereotypical fraternity or sorority is a large house with all the members living inside. However, the house does not come with the membership. Many Greek groups in Manitoba don't have an official house. Synyshyn explains that his fraternity has weekly meetings at the University of Manitoba but they do not all live together. A house gives a more tangible sense of community, but it is only a dream for some of the smaller groups in Manitoba.
Lack of awareness is one issue that Manitoba groups have to deal with. "We don't have enough recognition. I don't think people even know we exist," says Chown.
Manitoba Greek groups struggle compared to those in the United States. "In the United States people go to university looking to join a fraternity. In Canada they have to make a decision to join," Chown says.
Synyshyn remarks that in the United States, people will gather from all over the country to go to a specific university. In his opinion it is different in Manitoba. Most people come from less of a distance and fraternities and sororities are not used in order to meet people in the same way.
So how do people learn about fraternities and sororities? It is often through a friend or a family member. Synyshyn describes his older brother as the one who got him interested in fraternities. Steve Snyder, a member and social chair of the Zeta Psi fraternity, got involved through meeting people in student politics. Others talked about being invited to meetings by their friends.
Joining a Greek group is not something to be done on a whim. Once a person becomes a member, they are a member for life. Alumni can still take part in group activities and many keep in contact with their fraternity or sorority after graduation. Members brag about famous people that were members of their group. Apparently there is a Delta Kappa Epsilon flag on the moon.
Each group's orientation procedure is unique, however generally when a person shows interest in joining a fraternity or sorority, they can be invited to become a pledge member. During that time they commit themselves to learning about the group. At the end of their pledge period they can become a member. Members are initiated and become part of the group.
Initiations are an aspect of fraternities and sororities that people are intensely interested in. However, most initiation ceremonies are closely guarded secrets in the Greek community. The Delta Upsilon fraternity prides itself on having no secrets and Chown, the chapter president, was able to talk about their initiation process. He explains that the frat members dress up in their ceremonial suits, an initiation oath is read, and the new members sign their names in the role book. He compares it to a graduation ceremony, but it is a beginning, not an end. Hazing is not part of any fraternity or sorority's initiation process. Hazing is strictly prohibited and any group that is found doing it is in danger of being shut down.
"I think a lot of girls are surprised how welcoming we are because we're not what they see in the movies," says McCaw of how painless the initiation process was.
The secrets that these groups hold are both an attraction and repulsion for students.
"To me they're more like traditions that have been passed down through generations," says Synyshyn.
Secret System and Community
McCaw describes the secrets as being an essential part of the Greek system. "That's (the secrets) definitely a big part of why people have pride in what they're joining, because it's not a book club," she says. "It's something that you have privileges in membership that other people don't have the privilege of, and I think that's what makes it exciting and that's what makes people proud of the letters that they wear."
Just as Delta Upsilon is known for having no secrets, the Zeta Psi fraternity is known for having secrets. "Everything we do is pretty hush-hush," says member Steve Snyder. He explains that unlike most Greek groups, Zeta Psi do not wear their letters on campus. Members often do not make known what positions they hold in the group, or even if they are in the fraternity at all. Even the number of members in the group is confidential.
"We're a little more secretive and a little more selective," Snyder says. He explains that it is more likely for Zeta Psi to approach people and invite them to join the frat than it is for people to approach Zeta Psi and ask to join.
A recurring theme in conversations with members of Greek groups is the concept of community. Fraternities and sororities can become like families. Fellow group members are called brothers and sisters. Snyder says, "When I see one of my frat brothers, it's my brother, not just some guy in my frat."