Cultivating leadership

Sororities and fraternities offer a place for strong social bonds, but they also improve academic performance and give aspiring leaders a chance to hone their skills.

When Bo Mantooth became director of fraternity and sorority life at Indiana State in late 2012, sorority involvement was down and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. was the campus’ only historically black Greek-letter fraternity.

Flash forward to 2016. Fifteen percent of Indiana State undergraduates are involved in a fraternity or sorority, and the university has netted seven new Chapters across all of the councils.

Bo Mantooth

The November announcement of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.’s return was part of a campus effort to bring back more National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternities and sororities. The sorority was welcomed by the existing fraternities —  Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi and Phi Beta Sigma.

“It’s been a huge momentum shift for our community and our students in general because having NPHC groups has created a buzz,” Mantooth said. “Their events are always packed with people and it’s given an opportunity for our students, a lot of whom have family members who are NPHC alumni and it’s almost an expectation that their children be members, too.”

Indiana State’s National Pan-Hellenic Council had more than 55 members this fall, including Shaquille Lee, a senior exercise science major from Gary and member of Omega Psi Phi since 2015.

“I’m a first-generation student. When I first came to college, I was interested in fraternity life because of the brotherhood, so I did a lot of research and saw all of the great things Omega men have done — and are still doing,” said Lee, who joined the fraternity during his junior year. “I really like everything that comes with being a brother, including networking with alumni who it feels like I’ve known all my life. The experience has been more than I expected.”

For members of African-American fraternities and sororities, it is an experience measured in lifetime membership, not just four years, said Willie Banks, vice president of student affairs.

Zeta Phi Beta welcomes new members.

“If you look at African-American sororities and fraternities, it is very much predicated on service, scholarship and giving back,” he said. “Oftentimes, they were built to try and give a place for African-American students on college campuses during times when they wouldn’t have been allowed to join traditionally white fraternities and sororities.”

While they are not exclusive to African-American students, historically and predominantly black fraternities and sororities give African-American students space to develop unity, participate in community service and focus on scholarship, said Karen Thompson, assistant director for fraternity and sorority life and advisor for Indiana State’s National Pan-Hellenic Council.

“It provides a family for African-American students on campus,” said Thompson, a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. since her days as a student at Eastern Michigan University. “I know that being a member of the sorority helped me as an undergraduate, as well as after college.”

The findings of a study on sorority and fraternity life at Indiana State might also come as a surprise. Fraternity and sorority members are not only 22 percent more likely to stay enrolled in college, but they also graduate at a higher rate than other students.

“No matter what changes have been made, whether it’s the size or staff or programs, our students have stayed consistent because they trust our office to lead them to be better,” Mantooth said. “I think that means we not only have a great team but great students who believe and trust in us to make them better.”

In turn, the students are making the world a little better. Indiana State’s fraternities and sororities contributed more than $95,000 and 30,600 hours of community service last year and have earned 34 national leadership and excellence awards, including the Pi Kappa Alpha’s 2015 North-American Interfraternity Conference Medal of Distinction — a recognition bestowed on only five chapters nationwide

A member of Pi Kappa Alpha works with a child.

“As a student, I learned about leadership in the classroom, but it was in the fraternity that I put theory into action. Fraternities and sororities are laboratories for coordinating the experience and doing service,” David Stowe, ’83, GR ’87, GR ’90, and Indiana State’s Pike chapter advisor since 2006. “It is critical for fraternity and sorority alumni to stay connected and be instrumental in facilitating the growth and development of our future leaders.”

The success continues to bring the university’s fraternities and sororities national recognition. For the fourth straight year, Indiana State’s Panhellenic Association was awarded the College Excellence Award from the National Panhellenic Conference, an honor bestowed on only two universities for four straight years.

“I have spent all but three weeks of my college career as a member of Alpha Sigma Alpha,” said Kayla Lindsay, the sorority’s chapter president and a senior communication major from Terre Haute. “I had no idea the impact the sorority would have on me and my character, but I have grown as a person and as a leader. Joining a sorority has been, hands down, the best decision I’ve made in college.” 

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