The cool breeze results in grateful sighs from the members of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and its sister sorority, Alpha Xi Delta, as they sit to discuss how their experience of Greek life has progressed in the last few years. Representing just two of the many Greek life organizations at Brooklyn College, they have built their communities to nurture cooperation, unity and growth in every aspect of their personal and academic careers.
“We’re just weird. We’re just a weird group of guys,” said president of Sigma Alpha Mu, Daniel Drabkin, 21.
And given their extensive history as a fraternity on campus, moving toward this kind of individuality has been a concrete goal. Originally exclusively Jewish, they functioned as Kai Beta Nu before a CUNY ban of all Greek life in the 80s. By 1988, Greek life was allowed back on campus, this time allowing “any man from any walk of life” into the organization, according to Academic Chairman Joseph “Hodor” Burnetti, 22. Kai Beta Nu was thus changed to Sigma Alpha Mu. In the meantime, girls interested in forming a group took one year to shift from “Sammy’s Little Sisters” to the Alpha Xi Delta organization on campus.
Today, both organizations “celebrate their bond” as national chapters, fighting the stereotypical sorority and fraternity associations by working extensively with community service.
With a fraternity of 10 members, Vice President John Tucker, 24, sees his fellow members as a reliable source he can go to when he needs to be grounded and relaxed. As a former member of the Marines, the worst part of fraternity life for Tucker is letting down a fellow member because “…that can really take its toll. You want to do well and you really care about these guys and what’s going on. So if you don’t do something right it just really hurts… The fraternity and the Marines are similar because you have each other’s backs, but it’s much more loose.”
For the academic chairman, its members transferring out of the college that worsens the experience. “It’s just like a friendship… except we really work together,” said Drabkin, after sharing that the organization was commemorated for its philanthropic efforts with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The idea of Greek organizations on a commuter campus is different too, because the number of persons involved in Greek life is much smaller than the number in larger universities. In the CUNY campuses, this results in a community feeling. Sorority member Isabelle Stefman, 21, said, “no matter [the] letters we wear, sorority or fraternity, everyone in Greek life and on campus knows each other.”
For the girls, the philanthropy go-to is Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks is an active group of 40 members who Stefman sees as “family on campus and friends for a lifetime.”
Their numbers grow because of “rush week,” the collection of events following the Meet the Greeks fair early in the semester. “Rushing is easy,” said Tucker, “but making the commitment is not. It takes time and hard work, but if you do it and you see it through, it’s worth the experience.”
In retrospect, Tucker remembers his rush week experience with none of the music, chanting and pamphlets provided this year as he greeted prospective members. For Vice President Victoria Manna, 20, the shift between her rush week and this past rush week has been the shift from excitement to pride.
“Everyone is here to graduate and flourish despite having fun together,” said Manna, in response to the question of whether Greek life lives up to its stereotype. She exemplifies this, recently landing an internship as the editor of the Bollywood Lawyer podcast from an Alpha Xi Delta alumna, a position directly related to her field in broadcasting.
For people willing or interested in joining, Drabkin thinks “anyone can join Greek life, and clubs just don’t give you that family feeling.” They get along swimmingly, and Stefman said the fraternity is “like our support system. They’re the ones that we go to and we know we can always rely on them.”
The president of Sigma Alpha Mu stated that he could have a conversation with any one of the girls and promote the message of respect among members of both by always ensuring each other’s safety. Greek life in CUNY schools bans hazing, a primary policy made public by every organization.
With each Greek organization having its own traditions in its approach to prospective members, it is important that those interested are aware that members have to put themselves out there and use their time to adhere to instilling community responsibility. These responsibilities also include dues all members pay on national and local levels. Still, Manna admitted, “We all put a lot of work into the sorority…so it’s nice to have people who want to do what we do.”