Posted on Mar 31, 2008

The fraternities and sororities at Union College want to be known as more than just social clubs.

Timothy Dunn, director of fraternity and sorority affairs for the college, said Greeks at Union are tackling issues such as climate change and social responsibility.

The activities they are involved in include helping to renovate a house on Barrett Street for Habitat for Humanity and raising money for St. Jude's Children's Hospital and others. Dunn wants to expand those efforts.

“There has not been as much of a push for that in recent years before I got here,” he said.

Dunn, a native of Abilene, Texas, has been on board since late October after a short stint as adviser to fraternities at the University of Georgia and was assistant director of residential life at the University of Hartford from 2004 to 2007.

He noted that not many colleges have a separate administrator for Greek activities. A fraternity man himself – Kappa Alpha Psi – Dunn said Union College already has a strong program upon which to build. There are 17 Greek organizations at the college. Only sophomores, juniors and seniors can participate in Greek life at Union and about 47 percent of those eligible do, including about 374 men and almost 300 women.

Dunn's hiring last fall was just the latest step in a series of changes that the college has made to Greek life on campus. In 2001, Union College adopted a new alcohol policy to ban hard liquor at parties and cap at 100 the number of students attending parties where alcohol would be served, and implemented strict rules regarding the serving of alcohol.

The college in 2004 moved three fraternities – Sigma Phi, Psi Upsilon and Chi Psi – from their on-campus houses to convert them into the Minerva houses, which are houses that students and faculty can use for special social events. At the time, college officials said they did not want the Greek system to be the only source of social interaction on campus.

Stephen Leavitt, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said the college a few years back had debated whether to retain a Greek life presence, which dates back more than 200 years as Union started one of the first fraternities. It decided ultimately to continue these clubs. “We really needed to have someone whose full job was to work with these organizations to help them really be something we can be proud of,” he said.

Leavitt said Greek events sometimes involve alcohol and the potential to get involved in fights and other problems. In 2005, the Chi Psi fraternity was suspended for two years after a student became intoxicated and was sent to the hospital.

Incidents like that are why these organizations need to be aware of alcohol issues and act responsibly. He added that Dunn has already helped students run their events in a more responsible way.

Fraternities and sororities receive training about the proper way to serve alcohol at functions, Dunn said. All students age 21 and older are required to have wrist bands to show they can be served alcohol. They also must be served from a bar and there can be no open access to alcohol. Students also receive proper training on keeping noise levels down and being considerate neighbors.

The training appears to have paid off, as there have been fewer items in the news about wild parties.