When I began my role as the Fraternity and Sorority Advisor at California State University, Northridge in May of 1999, I was faced with a nearly impossible task. It was only a few weeks before commencement, so there were not many opportunities to fully engage with and get to know the fraternal community before everyone went home for the summer break. Therefore, I decided to take advantage of the early downtime to fully research all chapter and council files. I approached this task with much anticipation, similar to a child on Christmas morning hoping each gift I opened would make my friends envious. As I read each file, I felt as if there was nothing but coal under the tree for me that year. What did I get myself into? What did I do to deserve this mess? The overall fraternity GPA was a 2.17! (Yes, if you remember your basic stats class, this meant many chapters were well below a 2.0). The sorority averages weren’t much better and I quickly became overwhelmed with the amount of work it would take to get this community back on track.
Upon further inquiry, I learned that a handful (literally) of students were solid students academically. These students were well known leaders and I knew that I had to capitalize on their popularity and provide them with some recognition and “extra bling” they could wear to chapter meetings and Fraternity/Sorority events. One of the many strategies I immediately implemented was chartering a chapter of Gamma Sigma Alpha Greek Academic Honor Society on campus. The extra membership badge and graduation cords would certainly be a talking point and hopefully trigger some conversations around academics in the fraternal community. The first induction consisted of 5 students in my office one night in early fall 1999. These few students were invited to speak at every Fraternity/Sorority event (recruitment, orientation, Greek week, council meetings, etc.) for the entire year serving as ambassadors for being balancing fraternal membership and academic success.
Within one year, many younger fraternity and sorority members were showing signs of improvement. New member class GPA’s began to increase and eligibility for membership in the chapter did as well. In a few more years, our induction ceremony grew to a larger room in the student union with funding provided by the Vice President’s office. We included overall chapter academic improvement awards and other special academic recognitions such as certificates for all students achieving a 4.0 signed by the University President. Parents and faculty were invited and the importance of academic success was illustrated and people were taking note.
Now 10 years later, academic achievement is in our student developed strategic plan as a core principle for belonging to a greek-letter organization at CSUN. Our fraternity and sorority averages are above the all men’s and women’s campus averages. We had the largest spring induction class for the entire Gamma Sigma Alpha national organization. In fact we now average over 100 eligible students each semester. Chapters are beginning to reward their members by paying their induction fees and sponsoring special events just for those who join our GSA chapter. Next on the chapter’s agenda is to sponsor Study Jams for midterms and finals with massage therapists, coffee and midnight snacks, and other unique study incentives.
While bringing a chapter of Gamma Sigma Alpha Greek Academic Honor Society did not create an immediate change, it did light that initial spark eventually leading to an entire culture shift in our students’ priorities and confidence that they could be part of a fraternity/sorority organization and be academically successful!