A different experience with Greek Life

Wow. The Courier-Herald printed quite a referendum on Greek life in the July 14 issue. Of course, this is the experience and perspective of one guy who joined but one organization and, for whatever reason(s) walked away from it during his sophomore year. Is that really a referendum on Greek life? Is it even a fair assessment of fraternities (or sororities)? Hardly.

Name any organization – I can find you handfuls of people who have had great, illuminating, enduring experiences with that organization. And within the same ZIP code, I can find you just as many folks who had a very negative, even horrible episode with that same group. Sometimes it’s the fault of that organization; sometimes, it’s the fault of the individual; and sometimes, the two simply were not a good fit for each other.

I am 46 years old and I attended the University of Puget Sound as an undergraduate. While there, I was not Greek-affiliated until I pledged a fraternity at the start of my junior year. I had two full years living in the dorms until then. Once I was initiated into the Sigma Chi Fraternity, I began one of the most incredible personal journeys of my life. I joined an organization that values leadership, embraces remarkable personal values and goals and most importantly nourishes and cherishes those lifelong friendships that I value so dearly today.

Mr. Nash’s experience – which he sadly underscored with descriptions of racism, bigotry, a flimsy and unsubstantial ritual, a high price tag, sleep deprivation, and a whole host of undesirable behaviors and traits – actually left me feeling pity for Mr. Nash. His personal experience with but one Greek chapter does not translate to the entire Greek system made up of many different organizations, just as one person’s experience with, for example, a single church, would not therefore translate to all congregations or all faiths, no matter how similar they may seem.

A lot of fraternities are in some ways quite similar. Many enjoy the social nature that so many students seek on a college campus. Many attempt to enhance friendships and brotherhood and hope to provide members with personal and professional networking after graduation. But the groups are also quite different in many respects, too, as I can surely see that my undergraduate experience and my time as an alum have been far different from Mr. Nash’s tribulations. Are Greek organizations perfect? Of course not. They all have flaws. Every organization, business, church or group has its flaws. One of Sigma Chi’s own values is to recognize its imperfections and shortcomings and to strive to improve those on a constant basis. Admittedly, we will have an occasional rogue chapter which, unfortunately, goes off track for some reason or another, and must be brought back in and retrained or closed down. But that is the rare exception, not the rule. Sigma Chi is over 235 chapters strong in the U.S. and Canada and we are growing each year because we have an organization vibrant with solid values, leadership and lifelong friendships which make it very worthwhile.

Apart from my own professional career, I have been a very involved alumnus in Sigma Chi. A few short years after my graduation from college, I began serving as a chapter adviser, then became a province governor over the undergraduate and alumni chapters in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Later, I was elected to chair the group of those 46 different province governors, and now I serve on the Sigma Chi International board of directors. I have, during most of my 24 years as an alumnus, been a leadership trainer and facilitator for undergraduate chapters all over the map. And, I remain very proud of my undergraduates and their successes, while staying committed to our continuing tradition of encouraging strong, positive leaders and cultivating lifelong friendships.

I have some very dear friends who are members of Sigma Chi and they will remain close friends for a lifetime. In fact, I can think of two of them right now who are not only members of my fraternity, but were also from my chapter at the U of Puget Sound and, in fact, these two outstanding gentlemen have made quite an impact upon many lives in this community of ours. Many of the Courier-Herald’s readers know Duane Weeks and his son, Russ Weeks. Russ actually became my little brother in Sigma Chi when he pledged, and later I learned that his dad had also become a Sigma Chi at Puget Sound years before. After graduation, I stood as Russ’s best man when he married. I have no reservation mentioning both of them in this letter, because I know they both have strong, personal commitments to the values of our fraternity and that they are both proud members of Sigma Chi.

Mr. Nash was right in one respect in his article: research each organization you plan to join carefully and diligently. In fact, I invite any young man who is interested in what Greek life has to offer to take his investigation to Sigma Chi, if you’re lucky enough to find one of my chapters on your campus. I hope and expect you will find it to be a much more positive and enduring experience than you read about in last week’s paper. I’ve dedicated a significant portion of my life to this organization in hopes that undergraduates who encounter Sigma Chi will have as good or better experience at college than I did. Ultimately, I hope that you can keep an open mind to the fact that there are very good, very positive experiences to be had within the Greek system on many college campuses.

My best to all who read this.

Dan Mathewson

Sigma Chi Fraternity

Black Diamond

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