University of Minnesota sees resurgence of interest in Greek life

  • Article by: KEVYN BURGER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 11, 2013 - 5:51 PM

Looking to polish their skills and create networks, more students are joining sororities and fraternities at the University of Minnesota.

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Nicole Voltz and her Kappa Kappa Gamma sisters prepared to greet new recruits at their sorority house near the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.

Photo: Photos by KYNDELL HARKNESS • kyndell.harkness@startribune.com,

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Sophomore Christina Lim has gone to the University of Minnesota for three years, but has yet to find a close group of friends. Emma Allison is transferring in as a junior. Amanda Schwartz, a freshman from California who chose the U because she wanted a Big Ten school, admits she’s feeling a bit disoriented by the lack of familiar faces.

The three decided to see if joining a sorority could help them create the college experience they envision.

Though they might not know it, they’re part of a resurgence of Greek life on campus.

Until fairly recently, participation in sororities and fraternities at the university had been dwindling for decades. In fact, Minnesota slipped to the bottom of the Big Ten in Greek participation. Two sororities and a fraternity folded their chapters and left campus.

That decline was arrested in the early 2000s, and since then, the numbers have pushed significantly higher. This year, a record 752 young women took part in what used to be called “rush” and is now called “recruitment.” The U’s administration endorsed a growth plan that calls for the addition of 1,000 new Greek members over the next five years. And for the first time in 30 years, a new sorority is recruiting on campus this fall, and another will arrive next year.

“We’ve seen a steady increase in interest,” said Matt Levine, director of the office of fraternity and sorority life. “Greek students are active and engaged. They come in and want to be connected; they’re good for campus life.”

The renewed interest in sororities and a fraternities is being driven by more than students’ need to make friends: Group-oriented millennials, eager to succeed, are using the campus organizations to help them develop skills and build networks.

Delaney Reger is one of them.

“I found a place where I fit in and a group that I connect with,” said the incoming junior from Burnsville.

As president of Kappa Kappa Gamma, she’s occupied with much more than fraternity formals and parties. Her duties include overseeing the boards, budgets and committees that run the house and the sorority.

“It changed me,” she said of her involvement in the sorority. “I didn’t see myself as a leader, but I do now.”

For their part, sororities and fraternities are trying to change, as well. In an effort to distance themselves from the “Animal House” era of hazing and partying, they now stress philanthropic ventures, GPA requirements and connecting with alumni mentors.

In addition to their signature mascots, colors and symbols, every Greek organization on campus is connected with a state or national nonprofit, and all members devote regular hours to the organizations. Charities range from those that serve the vision-impaired to those promoting literacy or supporting at-risk youths.

Alpha Phi’s cause of choice is women’s heart health. The sorority raised $50,000 for those efforts last year.

“Being involved pushes us to think about others,” said Alpha Phi President Jenny Wolf, a senior journalism major from Fargo. “Plus, we had speakers who came in and educated us about heart health. It’s the No. 1 killer of women, so it’s important to know how we can help.”

Made for millennials

With a student enrollment of about 50,000, the sheer size of the university is the top reason cited by students who go Greek. Members say they like the familiarity of loyal peers and the built-in organizational infrastructure in the midst of the expansive campus.

But the campus organizations seem to have a unique appeal to this generation of students.

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  • A line of potential new members lined up outside Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. Recruits are at a record high for women students at the U this year.

  • Delaney Reger handed out mints to her sorority sisters before greeting new recruits at the Kappa Kappa Gamma house near the campus of the University of Minnesota last week.

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