Even without the luxury of university-sanctioned Greek housing, Sigma Chi Social Chair Alex Carstens spearheaded a Halloween event that brought out about 2,000 partygoers, 10 hired security guards and a whole lot of noise at the fraternity’s Carmel Valley house far from campus.
The next day, Carstens got an early start on his finals, studying macroeconomics at an on-campus library.
So goes the life of many UCSD sorority and fraternity members, whose behavior ill-fitting the empty-headed stereotype has created a more balanced Greek student life, according to Interfraternity Council President Nam Bui.
“When you combine the social goals of a fraternity and the high academic goals of UCSD, you get a stable splice of students,” he said. “I hate to use a cliche, but we work hard and we play hard.”
Bui’s philosophy has inserted a term unique to Greek system stereotypes: education.
“We’re not representative of the entire nation,” Panhellenic Council President Heather Doshay said. “We don’t have many problems like you see in the media with hazing and alcohol. We’re actually highly academic.”
Although IFC and Panhellenic Council require a minimum 2.5 GPA, both rank higher than the UCSD average student population, Doshay said. In addition, every single sorority chapter has an officer charged with enforcing scholarship requirements and distributing awards for students with high GPAs.
The balance between work and play is exactly what is lacking at an academically sound, but socially fractured campus, a committee exploring undergraduate student satisfaction found earlier this year. But the committee also found that popular sentiment paints the Greek life in a different shade.
“Students who join Greek student organizations seem to be exceedingly disenfranchised by the campus and view the campus attitude toward them as hostile,” the Undergraduate Student Experience and Satisfaction committee stated in a report outlining its findings.
However, within the Greek system, the committee found exactly the opposite, and reported that joining a fraternity or sorority provided more pride and satisfaction with the college experience.
Establishing a stronger Greek system may also be the medicine for an ailing alumni base. Colleges that receive the largest alumni donations are usually composed of Greek graduates, who feel a stronger relationship to the campus, Bui said.
“There is a certain element of disconnect with UCSD,” he said. “Alumni don’t feel as obligated to give, and as a result we have a huge lack of alumni donation. You look at campuses where you have the most giving, and those people are mostly from Greek organizations, and most have some sort of housing.”
Bui, a candidate last year for A.S. Vice President External, touted plans on his platform to establish Greek housing near campus.
UCSD’s Greek siblings at San Diego State University have an award-winning, $16-million, 1.4-acre Fraternity Row that houses 264 students and eight fraternity chapters.
A $27 million sorority row is on the way, also paid for by the San Diego State Research Foundation.
“We’re all excited about the prospect of Greek housing,” San Diego State Panhellenic Council Public Relations Officer Kelsey Knight said. “Living with 34 girls between 12 rooms is very different from living in the dorms.”
While the Greek housing would be an obvious step forward for UCSD, that movement won’t be completed anytime soon, according to Doshay.
“UCSD has always planned for it, but it just hasn’t been a focus,” she said. “Talks have heightened a bit this year during the summer, but it’s a long-term plan. It will be here someday, but not in the next four years.”
A major hurdle for such plans is administrative priority, which currently lies elsewhere.
“Until such time as UCSD can guarantee at least two years of on-campus housing for every new freshman and transfer student, the campus should not provide any theme housing that is not equally accessible to every UCSD student with an on-campus housing guarantee,” Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Joseph W. Watson said.
Across the city, San Diego State has had strong support from its administrators, who established the need for a Sorority Row when chapters began losing their houses to redevelopment, Knight said.
But the comparison of UCSD’s upscale La Jolla with San Diego State’s environment is unfair, according to Bui.
“In the evolution of our campus, there has always been a vision for campus village and affordable housing,” he said. “But areas like the UTC shopping mall deterred any similar campus village idea. We only house about one-fifth of our students, and you have people living in Mira Mesa, downtown and Hillcrest because of a lack of affordable convenience.”
Even with the expenses, Bui admitted that there is urgency for both general and Greek housing sanctioned by the university.
“When you bring in housing for the campus, you’re going to bring more students into campus, and there’s going to be more vibrancy in the university’s social image,” he said. “As of now, the majority of students have no university pride and no one really has a connection to their college. The demand for housing is there, but there is no supply.”
The student environment would even change physically with Greek housing, Doshay said, transforming a barren campus into an energetic community.
“On weekends, there’s nobody around here,” she said. “Visiting friends at different schools, the campus is buzzing even on the weekends just like any other day. But creating Greek housing would require a huge amount of effort from entities inside and outside of the university.”
With the days of “Animal House” long gone, it looks like UCSD Greek organizations will have to wait for a “row” they can call their own.
“As a school, we are definitely set academically,” Carstens said. “But being a Greek is a different kind of education.”