Greek life participation down at Eastern, plan in place


Illustration by Logan Raschke

In 2015, the Greek community on Eastern’s campus had over 1000 active members, and now there are less than 500.

Now, as spring recruitment begins, fraternities and sororities are starting to switch up their recruitment tactics.

Originally thinking that Eastern’s decrease in enrollment from the budget impasse in 2015 negatively affected Greek life, Nathan Wehr, interim director of fraternity and sorority programs, and Hannah Gillaspie, Panhellenic Council president and history junior, have since learned that was not necessarily the case. 

“We’ve kind of hit this plateau even with numbers increasing,” Gillaspie said. “… Our excitement originally came from the hopes that our numbers would increase, and now they’re not, so what can we do to really get the community excited again and help them feel like it’s going to grow again?” 

They started creating a plan for growth.

Calling it a “1-3-5-year plan,” Wehr said the ultimate goal was to be more strategic with creating strong programming efforts to continue in the future.

Gillaspie said she thinks this plan is also going to be a way for the Greek community to rejuvenate and re-excite itself after seeing a continuous decline.

Eastern’s Greek life numbers have gone down each semester since 2015, going from 1,319 people in Fall 2015 to 1,062 in Fall 2016. Then it dropped to 702 in Fall 2017, and it kept dropping to 536 in Fall 2018. Greek life involvement is down to 439 as of last semester.

“Eastern is in such a bubble that it seems like this isn’t happening nationwide, and it is,” Wehr said. “… We’re not the only campus community that a growing decline of individuals wanting to go and participate in fraternity and sorority life is happening, so this is definitely something that’s happening nationwide that’s not affecting just us.”

However, other public four-year universities in Illinois are not experiencing the same decline as Eastern.

Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois had 887 Greek life members in Fall 2015 and 811 in Fall 2019. 

Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois had 2,334 members in Fall 2015. It only declined to 2,310 members in Spring 2019.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois had 7,670 members in Fall 2015 and 7,538 in Spring 2019.

Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois had 1,747 members in Fall 2015 and 1,153 in Spring 2019.

Illinois State, Illinois and Northern Illinois’ Fall 2019 Greek life numbers are not yet available.

“Hopefully in a year we can see some growth and in the next three years we can see some growth and some more programs and stuff being added,” Wehr said. “And then hopefully in the five-year plan we can definitely see some growth and have some foundation stuff laid out.”

Wehr said this plan will be slowly implemented so he can see if there is any progression after a year or if he needs to adjust the strategy, especially with the newer generation of students coming in.

“I would say one of the major things about our slow climb coming back to Greek life is the generation that’s coming in is very different than the generations that have come in previously that have grown our numbers and exceeded the expectations that we had,” Gillaspie said. “We’re obviously all strengthening, we’re obviously all hitting some walls and we’d like to all grow together again.”

Gillaspie sits on the committee that created this plan along with three other sorority women, four fraternity men and two National Panhellenic Council representatives. 

“We’ve started by rewriting our mission statement,” Gillaspie said. “We’ve made that more diverse, inclusive, well-rounded and to fit these incoming generations and how they can find themselves in our mission statement and a part of our community.”

This Tri-Council committee plays a part in the Greek unity that many chapters on campus are hoping for this year. 

Gillaspie said the councils are slowly becoming more connected than they had been in the past.

“Chapters and sororities are starting to reach out to each other and build those connections to build that comfort for Gen Z, and especially with our numbers dropping it’s easier for us to get together,” Gillaspie said. “A past weakness that we’re truly trying to build upon would be that these three councils didn’t work together and didn’t show support for each other in the ways that they should have, and we’re really working toward that this year; we’ve made that a focus.” 

Spring recruitment begins Jan. 27 and runs through Feb. 9, though Gillaspie said there will be continuous open bidding until April 26.

Itzel Gomez, president of Sigma Sigma Sigma and junior special education major, said her biggest goal for this recruitment season is retention.

Gomez said she wants people to give not just her chapter, but all the other chapters a chance to get to know who they are and what they represent on campus.

“The reasons why you should join a sorority differs from person to person, but at the end of the day it’s a network of women to help empower each other,” she said. “That’s one of our big mottos in Tri Sigma.”

Kyle Gordon, recruitment chair for Delta Chi and psychology senior, said his chapter’s goal was to gain new members as well.

“We just want to try and spread more awareness on campus that Greek life isn’t as bad as the stereotypes make it out to be, and we just try to find people that are like us,” Gordon said. “We like to add to the overall Greek community.”

Christian Walls, political science sophomore and Delta Chi member, said he wants people to give his chapter a chance, too.

“You really don’t see a lot of fraternities that are inclusive like us, and I feel like we’re trying to change the game on Eastern’s campus of how we approach Greek life,” Walls said. “We welcome any walks of life on campus; our brotherhood is very diverse.”

Fernando Olvera, recruitment chair for Sigma Pi and freshman criminal justice major, said he wants people to feel comfortable when going through recruitment because he went through the same process last semester.

“Since we’re one of the smaller frats, all of our guys are a lot closer than a frat that’s probably like 30 people, so you’ll really get close to these guys,” Olvera said. “I know I got close to them even though I’ve only known them for about two or three months.”

Gillaspie said there are other benefits to joining a fraternity or sorority that do not just include the social aspect.

“It’s helped me find my future career, and not only friends but the ability to talk and communicate,” Gillaspie said. 

She also said students who are worried about the cost of joining Greek life should not be because of its affordability.

“I know so many women who pay off their bills from what they make in the dining halls,” Gillaspie said. “We are affordable. We have chapter houses to live in that you don’t pay rent on; you pay what you would to live on campus, which many students do for more than one year anyway.”

Hannah Shillo and Elizabeth Taylor can be reached at 581-2812

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