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Greek life initiative earns national award

Lehigh University was recently named the recipient of the Outstanding Change Initiative Award by the Association of Fraternity Advisors, the professional association dedicated to the national fraternity and sorority community. The award was announced at the AFA’s annual meeting in Cincinnati.

Established in 1996, this award is presented to institutions of higher education of associate member organizations that have made tremendous progress and improvement in their fraternity/sorority community. It recognizes major initiatives or long-term plans that have led to measured results in areas related to scholarship, education, leadership development, risk management, retention and recruitment.

Past recipients include Dartmouth College, The Ohio State University, Drexel University, the University of North Carolina, Penn State University and the University of Maryland, College Park.

Lehigh’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs submitted the award application this past summer on behalf of the Strengthening Greek Life Task Force and the departments and individuals involved in the university’s Greek community.

Stacey Kraus, associate director of programming for fraternity and sorority affairs at the University of Pennsylvania and chair of the AFA Awards Committee, said Lehigh emerged at the top of the field of several candidates for the depth and breadth of the program, for the inclusion of measurable outcomes and for its long-term view of cultural change.

“Lehigh was very clearly ahead of anybody else by several points,” Kraus says. “They did an outstanding job in recognizing what it takes to create change, and that includes buy-in by groups all across the university.”

John Smeaton, vice provost for student affairs at Lehigh, said that this award reflects the efforts of many people within the division and beyond, including Joe Sterrett, the Murray H. Goodman Dean of Athletics; Margret Plympton, vice president of finance and administration, and her staff; and Tony Corallo, associate vice president of facilities services and campus planning.

“They all made a magnificent contribution. Together, we were able to craft a plan and implement it,” he says. “In doing so, we've also created the opportunity for the future."

Student involvement was essential, he adds.

“There are many who served as past leaders of the IFC (Interfraternity Council) and Panhellenic Council,” says Smeaton. “Some of them have already graduated, but their leadership throughout the process was instrumental in making this happen."

Tom Dubreuil, associate dean of campus living and student conduct, said that awards such as this one are gratifying, but “the real satisfaction comes from seeing our organizations and students continue to grow and learn.”

He attributes the success of the effort to the relationship-building and hard work on the part of the members of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs.

“Without Tim Wilkinson, the Greek Life coordinators and the Greek Life leadership coordinator on the job every day,” Dubreuil says, “we would not have gotten as far as we have in strengthening Greek life."

David Polakoff ’86, current president of the Greek Alumni Council (GAC) who served on several committees of the Greek Life Task Force, called the AFA award a “truly remarkable, third party validation of the concept and execution” of the project.

“The Lehigh effort has been so unique in affirming its commitment to Greek life and the recognition of its complimentary value to the classroom aspect of the college experience,” he says. “The AFA award acknowledges what the actives, administration, alumni and faculty have collectively committed themselves to these past years.”

A monumental effort

Lehigh’s Strengthening Greek Life (SGL) Initiative was launched in 2003 to address mounting challenges that threatened the university’s Greek systems – one of the oldest and most well-established Greek communities in the country.

Comprised of a task force of students, alumni, faculty and administration, the SGL Initiative was charged with conducting a thorough and candid analysis of Greek life at Lehigh and outlining a series of tactics that would improve the system and support its future viability.

This past summer, further affirmation of the progress made was found in a report from the Greek Accreditation Committee. The committee found that, of the 29 fraternities and sororities reviewed, four sororities and three fraternities attained a gold chapter status—as compared to two sororities and two fraternities the previous year. Eleven fraternities received a silver status (an increase from five last year), and the four remaining sororities received a silver ranking. Five fraternities received a bronze ranking (compared to 12 last year), and only two fraternities received any designation lower than a bronze.

Additionally, 13 different chapters – nearly half of the Lehigh Greek community – received major national awards this past summer at various national conferences and conclaves.

Although the university has made great strides toward changing the culture of Greek life at Lehigh, Smeaton says that additional progress can be made.

"There is a whole group of individuals that has worked diligently in embracing a vision of what might be, and then moving toward that goal,” he says. “The foundation is now established, but there is still much to be done. Critical to this process -- both in getting to this point and moving forward -- is addressing the issues of mutual trust, clarity of vision and commitment toward our long-range goals."

Tim Wilkinson, director of fraternity and sorority affairs, credits the willingness of students, staff and alumni to work together for progress over the past few years.

“Change is never an easy thing,” he says. “But the ability of all the key stakeholders to continue to have an open dialogue has really been the key.”

-- Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Thursday, January 17, 2008

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