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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Charity: Is it Greek to the greeks?

    It’s “”Black Friday,”” the morning after Bid Night, when newly minted fraternity pledges awaken to pounding headaches and the kind of hangover that makes them give up alcohol for at least a couple of hours. Or so the stereotype goes.

    It’s no secret that a certain tension exists between the greeks on campus and the rest of the Wildcat family, mostly because of long-running stereotypes that have gone relatively unchecked.

    But while embittered students complain that greeks do nothing but party, the good folks at Greek Life point to the many philanthropic contributions of the greek community. Frat guys and sorority girls understandably get touchy when they’re criticized, and that’s fine until they start to claim that they make enormous philanthropic contributions to the campus.

    Jami Savage, a regional development senior and this year’s enthusiastic president of the Panhellenic Council, was rather frank. “”We do a lot of community service,”” she said, “”a lot of which we might not be recognized for.””

    Fair enough. But greek students can try to deflect criticism all they want; the fact remains that their charitable contributions aren’t exactly up to snuff. Don’t believe me? Let’s do the numbers.

    For the 2003-2004 school year, the latest year for which statistics are available, the greek community raised $48,682 for charity and contributed 18,819 philanthropy hours.

    Taken at face value, the figures might seem impressive, but it gets more complicated when you consider how many greek students there were that year (just over 2,500). A little math tells us that the average greek raised about $19 for charity and contributed 7.5 philanthropy hours.

    Now, the point here isn’t that greeks aren’t doing enough; they’re just not doing enough to make exaggerated claims of philanthropic largesse. Most scholarship recipients are required to do at least 40 hours of community service a year and $19 pales in comparison to greek membership and housing fees that can top out at over $5,000.

    Still, there has been cause for optimism. When one popular greek philanthropy devolved into a male strip show in the spring of 2005, then-greek council presidents Erin Cohen and Michael Katzman embraced the need to clean up a system that had become tawdry and debased.

    “”The objectification of men and women on our campus, in the greek community and in the name of charity, must come to an end,”” they wrote in a refreshingly honest letter to the Arizona Daily Wildcat, “”(and) we commit ourselves to working to curb this problem of indecent and immoral philanthropies.””

    By most standards, the resulting policy, which implemented a screening process for prospective philanthropies, has been enormously successful. Savage noted that the policy won plaudits at a national conference over the summer.

    “”Our philanthropies are now aimed more toward actual philanthropy,”” she told me, “”and we’ve raised a lot more money with our philanthropies because people now understand what a philanthropy is and what good can come from them.””

    Savage is right – there has been some recent success. According to Jennifer Leung, the coordinator for Greek Life programs, the greek community donated more than $21,000 in 2005 to the Bobbi Olson Fund, raising nearly half their charitable contribution a year earlier in one event.

    Despite the achievements, though, legitimate questions linger. It remains to be seen if there was a significant surge in dollars raised and hours contributed in the 2004-2005 school year. Perhaps more importantly, given the lackluster numbers, is “”good enough”” good enough?

    Sure, the primary function of many of the fraternities and sororities on campus is a social one. But because last night marked the close of this fall’s greek recruitment, it might be a good idea to rethink how philanthropy is talked about; that is, as an actual goal rather than a defense against charges of chronic drunkenness or public debauchery.

    So I offer my congratulations to the newest class of greek students. Here’s hoping that, this year, philanthropy becomes less of a talking point and more of an actual commitment to the common good.

    Damion LeeNatali is a senior majoring in political science and history. He can be reached atletters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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