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Greek perception survey results released

The results of the Greek perception survey, which was completed in 2008, have been released by Lehigh University’s office of fraternity and sorority affairs. The survey identifies consistent areas of success and concern for the university’s long-standing fraternity and sorority community.

Of the 1,244 students (undergraduate and graduate) and 229 faculty and staff members who responded to the survey, 63.5 percent of all respondents have a positive perception of Greek life at Lehigh. This belief is shared by 88.2 percent of Greek students, 47.7 percent of non-Greek students, 28.6 percent of faculty and 58.4 percent of staff who took the survey.

Greek students are also seen as highly engaged on and off campus and as academically strong.

While the overall impression of Greek organizations’ impact on the Lehigh community is positive, some areas of concern emerged from the survey. These findings mirror those that came out of the 250-page campus climate survey report that was issued in early 2007, following an extensive survey process that identified issues of concern and provided the framework for sustainable change.

In that campus climate survey, respondents voiced concern about race, women’s safety and occasional intimidating behavior related to a person’s standing in the campus community.

In the recent Greek perception survey, the following issues emerged:

- Respondents perceive a notable degree of discrimination based on race and ethnicity, gender and identity, and sexual orientation. Discrimination based on sexual orientation was perceived to be the most significant in the view of 41.4 percent of Greek students, 58.5 percent of non-Greeks and 84.1 percent of faculty.
- A majority of respondents believe that an area of concern for the Greek system
is “hazing” (51.1 percent), alcohol abuse (69.7 percent) and drug abuse (60.9 percent).
- A significant number of respondents (42.8 percent of Greeks, 72.4 percent of non-Greeks and 88 percent of faculty) believe that women’s safety is an issue in the Greek community.

More information about the survey is available here.

The findings of the survey do not surprise Tim Wilkinson, director of fraternity and sorority affairs, who said the evolving fraternity and sorority community at Lehigh is prepared to address the issues that emerged as a result of the recent Greek survey.

“Our awareness of these issues didn’t begin with the Greek perception survey, but this process allows us to gain a deeper understanding of how these concerns impact the Greek experience here at Lehigh,” he said. “In addition to taking the pulse of the campus, the information gathered here affirms our existing belief that these are issues that we need to deal with and have been dealing with. It also provides clarity for future steps we need to take and affirmation that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Wilkinson said the office of fraternity and sorority affairs (OFSA) has been working with chapters on understanding and embracing inclusivity since the inception of the Greek Life Diversity and Inclusiveness Education Initiative in the fall of 2006.

“OFSA has challenged our men and women to find programs, activities or experiences that remind them that a values-based, fraternal organization should be the most accepting place on campus,” he said.

Additionally, the Greek Partnership Council (GPC) recently launched the “Next Steps Initiative,” a joint faculty, staff, student and alumni effort aimed at examining such fraternity and sorority community topics as hazing awareness, inclusion, the evolution of the accreditation process and relationships with the entire Lehigh community.

“Our chapters need to continue to strive to be relevant with today’s Lehigh community,” Wilkinson said. “This new initiative will help us find the way.”

John Smeaton, vice provost of student affairs, says that the survey results are a helpful tool in the ongoing process of improving the quality of Greek life at Lehigh, an initiative that began in 2003 and is detailed in the Greek life task force report that was endorsed by the board of trustees.

“An important component is on-going assessment, including the recent Greek perception survey,” Smeaton says. “Fundamental change in organizations and systems of all types requires a clear sense of the desired outcome, an unwavering commitment to achieve the goal, and the willingness and ability to gather data to guide the change process. These key elements are in place for this effort. Substantial progress has been made thus far, but we are mindful of the work that remains.”

Addressing the issues

Lehigh’s office of institutional research began data analysis in the spring of 2008, culminating in final survey approval by the institution review board near the end of the fall 2008 semester.

The survey response rate was 17.2 percent of the overall Lehigh population. Faculty and staff responses were considered particularly low, and responses from female students and students who are affiliated with a fraternity or sorority were higher than males or non-affiliated students.

While cautioning that the response rate prevents the over-simplification of general observations, Wilkinson said that his group is viewing survey results as a “general barometer of how the broader Lehigh community views Greek life,” as well as a tool to help direct his office’s future areas of focus.

“These are difficult topics to try to quantify, but we will use this to continue to challenge our community,” Wilkinson said. “This is a general snapshot of a point in time, and it clearly indicates that we have a lot more work to do in the areas of multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion, across the board.”

Wilkinson points out that much of that progress is largely the result of the Strengthening Greek Life Initiative (SGL), which was launched in 2003 to address mounting challenges that threatened the university’s fraternity and sorority community – 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.

As a result of that work, Lehigh University was the 2007 recipient of the prestigious Outstanding Change Initiative Award by the Association of Fraternity Advisors, the professional association dedicated to the national fraternity and sorority community. That award 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.

Other recent developments include a recently released report from the Greek Accreditation Committee that recognized the accomplishments of the university’s Greek organizations. Of the 26 fraternities and sororities reviewed this past academic year, seven earned gold chapter status, 14 earned silver and five earned a bronze ranking. For the first time since the accreditation process began during the 2004-05 academic year, there were no rankings of either “poor” or “unacceptable.”

Also notable is the recent naming of a Lehigh staff member and one faculty member as recipients of national Greek awards. Tiffany Showalter, Greek life coordinator in the office of fraternity and sorority Affairs, was named campus administrator of the year, and Ken Sinclair, professor of accounting in the College of Business and Economics and advisor to Chi Phi fraternity, was named chapter advisor of the year by the Chi Phi National Congress.

Lehigh also recently announced an expansion of the Greek system to recolonize two non-residential fraternities -- Delta Chi and Pi Kappa Alpha – for the first time in university history. Last spring, Lehigh welcomed the first Latina sorority in the university’s history, Lambda Theta Alpha, which is founded on a respect of culture, tradition, history and philanthropy.

As an indicator of the prevailing appeal of the Greek experience at Lehigh, Wilkinson also noted that the most recent sorority recruitment period concluded with 234 women accepting invitations to join a Lehigh sorority – the largest number since the 2000-01 academic year.

Story by Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Friday, January 16, 2009

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