Choose: Greek Life

A house is not a home without a [insert Greek letters here]. The UW-Madison student housing scene is peppered with run-down apartments, decade-old houses and historic dorm buildings. Yet, tucked away behind the bustling State Street businesses lies Langdon street, a neighborhood lined with picturesque mansions, a lakeside view and dozens of students involved in one overarching organization: Greek life.

The draws of Greek row are many: active social lives, career opportunities and networking. However, the costs of fraternity and sorority life may determine how motivated students are to pursue a spot in one of Langdon Steet’s many houses.

Campus news reporter Beth Shoop sat down with Vice President of Finances at Pi Beta Phi, Meredith Buenz, President of Pi Beta Phi, Audrey Koehler, and Alumni Relations Officer of Phi Kappa Sigma, Sullivan Bluhm to break down the costs of living in their chapter houses.

Photo by Katie Scheidt

Shoop: Would you be able to go through and break down the costs of living in a fraternity or sorority? Preferably listing and explaining the areas of costs pertaining to living in the house?

Buenz: The cost of room and board for the semester is $4,260. The price is specifically for my chapter, which is Pi Phi. The total includes everything housing-related starting with our rent for the rooms. It also pays our chef where we get around 10 meals a week plus grab-and-go snacks. The price also covers our house mom, cleaning people, maintenance people and part of it goes towards a fund for new construction projects. There are also additional dues on top of this price that are mandatory for all sorority members living in and outside of the house.

Bluhm: Yes, so number one, the priciest cost area is the rent. Usually, it’s between $800 to $1000 a month which adds up to around $9,000 to $10,000 a year. The second most expensive element are the dues which are required by all members, including those who are not living in the house.

Shoop: You mentioned dues as being an outside cost of living in the house, what do the dues cover? Are there any other expenses required by members?

Koehler: Our dues are considered all inclusive. To name a few events — formals, date parties and dinner after Monday chapter meetings — are all paid for with dues. There are some extra things that aren’t budgeted for within the dues such as big-little gifts, apparel and parent events, but usually if there are expenses, they are optional.

Buenz: There are approximately $400 of dues on top of the $4,260 for members living in the house. This means the dues [for live-in members] end up costing around $300 less than what they would be if you are not living in the house. Our dues are all-inclusive, but I will say we often do fundraising minimums. Last year we did a sweatshirt philanthropy where [members] could either sell or buy a sweatshirt.

Bluhm: The cost of dues usually ranges between $350 and $650 a semester. Our dues cover a lot of basic needs. Cleaning supplies flies out the door, so a lot of money must be spent on buying more. Usually, a portion of our dues goes to a portion of an event. For example, for a date party or a formal, your dues will cover dinner, but you have to cover a hotel room. So, there’s normally chipping in extra costs but oftentimes we try to help each other out so nobody is missing experiences. Honestly, if I totaled up the cost it would probably be around $800 to $1,000 a year, just based on extra experiences.

Photo by Betsy Osterberger

Finanacials aren’t the only costs associated with Greek life. For UW-Madison senior Maya Cherins, living in a sorority house during her sophomore year presented even greater challenges .

Cherins said that her experiences in the sorority house created a detrimental situation for her mental health, particularly because conversations among members were often centered around diet and eating disorder culture. Cherins told Features writer Nicole Herzog that she eventually decided to drop her sorority at the end of her sophomore year after being sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I remember there were weeks leading up to [spring break] where people would talk about their spring break diets,” Cherins said. “And I wasn’t on a spring break diet, because that’s not who I am.”

“It was just really hard to be in that environment where everyone’s comparing themselves the entire time,” she added.

While social events created opportunities to form friendships among sorority and fraternity members, they also placed pressure on the students to drink. Cherins also pointed out that aside from the peer pressure, the environment of fraternity parties is one that has become associated with sexual assault and rape culture over the years on a national scale.

“I’ve known way too many people in Greek life and in college in general that have been survivors of sexual assault,” Cherins said. “All of which have been survivors of sexual assault to people in fraternities. And it’s just disgusting.”

Photo by Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Fraternities and sororities can often become caught in the crosshairs of situations that Greek life foster.

As of July 5, 2021, Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, Chi Phi fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and Kappa Sigma fraternity have been terminated by the Committee on Student Organizations, with Theta Chi fraternity and Sigma Chi fraternity being disassociated from UW-Madison. Students are advised not to join or participate in any sponsored activity by disassociated groups.

Reasons for termination or suspension vary. Sigma Chi was suspended for violating alcohol probation, while Chi Phi was terminated for hazing practices.

Though not all houses that disappear fail due to student organization policy offenses or violations. What happens when a fraternity dies?

Cal Floyd opened up to Campus news reporter Jane McCauley about Psi Upsilon at UW-Madison, and its challenges this semester with finding incoming freshmen to rush at the beginning of the year. He also explained why the fraternity’s decision to rush online ultimately made this semester Psi Upsilon’s last.

“Once COVID [came] around, we really struggled with the online recruitment and a lot of the more active members decided that because of COVID, they didn’t want to participate anymore,” Floyd said. “So after two semesters of really getting no one, we gave one last push this semester, and we just didn’t get enough people for it to make sense to keep going. We’re at a point where unfortunately, we have to shut down the chapter.”

Floyd explained that while there’s a lot of bad that’s associated with the Greek community, there is no better way on a college campus “to sit down with 1,500 men and speak frankly about sexual violence in our community. “As the vice president of member education for the Interfraternity Council, Floyd believes that Greek life has a greater ability to get people together to listen and talk about issues that impact them.

“It was a long process of sort of accepting that this was the end just because I had gotten so much out of it,” he continued. “That was tough, but at the end of the day, I’m living with five of my best friends, and so I’m grateful that I’ve gotten that out of it and the connections that I made because of this. So it’s really been special.”

“It’s just hard to sort of say goodbye.”