Fraternities and sororities have formed at Campbell . . . and they’re out to prove the skeptics wrong
BY BILLY LIGGETT AND MOLLY HUDSON
When Campbell University announced publicly on Nov. 8, 2012, that it was going to expand “Greek Life” to include social fraternities and sororities in 2013, the response from students and alumni was passionate. About half of those who took to social media wrote the equivalent of “It’s about time.”
The other half, however, were against the idea. Some appeared to be very against it.
Joseph “Miles” Wobbleton, a native of Greenville who was beginning his sophomore year at Campbell when he first heard the news, leaned heavily at the time against the idea. His impression of fraternities as a whole had been molded by movies like “Animal House” and other depictions that associated Greek Life with heavy drinking, heavy partying, poor grades and farm animal mascots living in frat houses.
What a difference a year makes.
Today, Wobbleton is not only one of about 60 Campbell students set to be initiated into what will soon become Campbell’s first chartered fraternity — Kappa Sigma Fraternity — he’s president (or “grand master”) of the local colony and now one of the university’s most vocal proponents of the new Greek Life system.
“I get the concerns people have, because I had them, too. But I gave it a chance, and once I started learning about what Campbell’s trying to do here, it changed my mindset,” said Wobbleton. “Some fear Greek Life will change Campbell for the worse. I just see things differently now … these organizations bring many new possibilities for our school to grow and become a better experience for students.”
Two fraternities — Kappa Sigma and Phi Delta Theta — and the Sigma Alpha Omega sorority make up Campbell’s first social Greek organizations. Already, about 100 students total are involved in the organizations, and future semesters should mean the inclusion of more Greek organizations, according to Dennis Bazemore, vice president for student life at Campbell and the man tasked with making sure Greek Life at Campbell doesn’t live up to the stereotypes visible on some campuses.
Bazemore said the idea was nothing new to Campbell’s administration. Every year since he became vice president in 2003, he has been approached by students asking why Campbell doesn’t have fraternities or sororities. A 1977 graduate of Campbell, Bazemore said he’s very aware of the concerns many have with the idea, but the constant inquiries were what led him to at least consider introducing Greek Life.
“It comes up with students being recruited to Campbell, it comes up with admissions, [and] it comes up with students who are here,” he said. “I took on the task of researching other schools … and we saw that a large majority of schools, many of which are just like Campbell, have Greek Life on their campuses. We decided that for recruiting and retention and for a continuing enhancement of campus life, this would be another initiative to help the university continue to grow.”
A Reason To Stay
Suitcase campus. Two words — assigned to schools with so little to do on the weekends, many of their students pack their suitcases and head home — few growing universities want to be associated with.
Yet, for all that Campbell has going right for it in recent years, “suitcase campus” is one label it can’t seem to shed. Kendall Tart, president of Campbell’s first social sorority, thinks Greek Life will go a long way in making weekends in Buies Creek attractive enough for students to stick around.
“Is it going to completely solve all of Campbell’s suitcase problems?” said Tart, who heads Sigma Alpha Omega, a Christian sorority founded at North Carolina State in 1998. “No, but no one organization will. This is just offering another way and opportunity for students to get involved.”
Sigma Alpha Omega, like Kappa Sigma, is having success attracting students in its first year. With 24 chapters nationally, the sorority averages between six and 10 members for each founding class. Campbell’s chapter has the largest founding class in the sorority’s history with 24 members.
One of the “sells” to the new members is the chance to get involved on campus. Already, SAO is planning campus-wide events like a 5K to raise money for cancer research organizations and other events that will not only promote philanthropy, but friendship and “sisterhood” as well. In early November, all 24 girls spent a weekend retreat at Topsail Beach, where they cooked dinner together, painted, played games and shared their testimonies … all in the spirit of bonding, said Tart, a junior from Benson.
“Until then, the whole semester was about checking things off a list and trying to get everything up to standards,” she said. “It’d been all business and no play, but the retreat allowed us to get to know each other better on a personal level, not just an academic one.”
Until this semester, weekends in Buies Creek for Will Greene, a sophomore from Mooresville, were sadly repetitive.
“On a typical weekend, you sit in your room and watch TV,” Greene said. “You can go to the football games if there’s a home game, and that’s about it. You always hear college is supposed to be the most fun four years of your life … and it wasn’t like that for me [my freshman year]. That’s some of what we’re trying to do here — make college fun.”
Greene, along with Wobbleton, is one of five members of Kappa Sigma’s “executive council.” Like SAO, Kappa Sigma is focusing on philanthropy (community service is one of the many prerequisites for the colony to earn its charter), but the group is also trying to turn around the university’s “suitcase campus” image.
“I have friends at other schools who live 10 minutes away from their parents, and some of them haven’t been home all year,” said Keith Boyette, a Garner sophomore and member of Kappa Sigma’s executive council. “That’s because there’s always something to do, and we’re trying to help change that here. We want our fraternity and other Greek Life organizations to be the reason why people choose not to go home over the weekends. We want there to always be something going on, and we’re talking events for everybody.”
Already, the organizations are visible across campus. They shared a Greek Life float during the 2013 Homecoming parade, and Kappa Sigma has run a well-attended tailgating tent at football games this season.
“I think the more opportunities Campbell gives to students to get involved, the more willing they’re going to be to stay [on campus],” said Tart. “If you feel a connection with a group, you’re not going to want to leave the group, therefore you aren’t going to want to leave Campbell. So I think sororities, and just Greek Life in general, are a niche for people like myself who hadn’t really found that one particular group they fit in with.”
Bazemore said he believes with more organizations joining Campbell’s Greek Life system, more students will have fuller social schedules. Many of those events, he said, will have a positive impact on the university.
“We will see them as a body of brothers or sisters at various athletic events and other university events in a very supportive way,” he said. “And I think we will see them in some competition with each other, which will bring an interesting dynamic to the university from time to time. They’ll have both formal and informal events, which will be different for us as a university, but I think will be a good sign of the kind of work they are doing. Their engagement will just add to the retention of these students on our campus.”
Good For Campbell?
The Nov. 8, 2012, Greek Life announcement on Campbell University’s Facebook page garnered 42 comments from alumni and current students. Thirty-eight of the 42 comments expressed an opinion that day, and of those, 18 had something positive to say about the news, while 20 comments expressed concern or flat-out discontent.
One of those “against” commenters was alumna Danielle Cooley (‘03 MBA, BBA), today a financial advisor in Durham. Cooley said she feared Campbell was “heading in the wrong direction” and choosing student retention over a quality education. Almost a year later, her view is unchanged.
“Fraternities and sororities bring negative images of bullying, hazing, binge drinking and elitism,” said Cooley, who was a member of the business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi while at Campbell. “I remember Campbell fondly as a place that focused on quality friendships and quality education. I don’t think Campbell can avoid the negative impacts of Greek Life, because no one can. I think they will quickly discover that Greek Life does not fit on the main campus. And if I’m wrong, good for Campbell.”
According to a 2012 article in the USA Today, there has been at least one hazing-induced death per year across college campuses since 1975, and the majority of those deaths were a result of binge drinking. Movies like “Animal House” in 1978, “Revenge of the Nerds” in 1984, and, more recently, “Old School” in 2003 depict fraternities and sororities as party-heavy, alcohol-abusing groups with very little thought of succeeding academically.
Bazemore is well aware of the concerns of students, alumni and administration. He knows the stereotypes. He also believes the policies put in place by the university will keep the “negatives” at a minimum.
“From the time we first talked about it until now, there have been questions raised about how negative Greek Life could be for Campbell or how the stereotypes of Greek Life will cause some to worry that those things will happen here,” Bazemore said. “We put together a Greek Life task force early last year, and that task force worked throughout the academic year and developed a very lengthy and thorough policy manual for Greek Life on our campus. It’s very detailed with all kinds of guidelines for the fraternities and sororities that will be here.”
Kappa Sigma President Miles Wobbleton
Bazemore said every national organization the school has hosted thus far has agreed to work under the university’s policies should they attempt to seek a charter at Campbell.
“Our Greek Life policies sort of supersede anybody else’s policies or they will work together hand-in-hand,” he added.
According to Wobbleton, Kappa Sigma’s “check list” to earn a charter includes extensive community service and charitable work hours, mandatory study hours, involvement in organizations outside of the fraternity, a certain accumulative GPA and attendance at several workshops and other “character-building” programs. A process that has taken previous chapters up to two years to complete, Campbell’s Kappa Sigma colony is expected to finish its prerequisites in early December — exactly three months after its founding date.
“They really expected us to be done in March,” he said, “but we made our community service hours in under a month.”
Wobbleton said Kappa Sigma will be adamant in donating more to charity than other campus organizations and doing more community service than the average Campbell group, because he knows it will take that kind of effort to change people’s minds about Greek Life in Buies Creek.
“I’ve been told we’re going to be under strict scrutiny, since we’re the first,” he said. “If anything happens, we’ll be called into Bazemore’s office, so to speak, the very next day. And that’s good. We’re ready for that responsibility. We’re going to hold ourselves accountable.”
Sigma Alpha Omega goes a few steps further in its requirements with mandatory Bible studies and an outright ban on alcohol, according to Tart. For those worried about stereotypes, she said SAO was a good choice to become Campbell’s first sorority.
Sigma Alpha Omega President Kendall Tart
“SAO’s morals, values and ethics align very closely with Campbell’s; it is a highly spiritual, Christian organization,” she said. “So it was easy for them to say yes to Campbell, and it was easy for Campbell to say yes to them. It was just a good fit.”
Just The Beginning
The aforementioned USA Today article also points out several positives regarding Greek Life. Since 1825, all but three U.S. presidents were members of a fraternity. About 85 percent of Fortune 500 executives were part of Greek Life. The first female astronaut and senator were Greek.
And college graduation rates are 20 percent higher among Greeks (which number about nine million nationally) than non-Greeks.
As with the stereotypes, Bazemore is well aware of these numbers, too.
“I think that the data from Greek Life shows us that these students are strong academically,” he said. “We also will see in Greek Life opportunities for leadership development, community service, philanthropy. We’re teaching young men and women leadership skills, we’re teaching them to be good community citizens and we’re teaching them to give something of themselves to the community. Many of them graduate on time because there is an academic component of a GPA requirement with these groups. So I think it’s going to be positive for Campbell in many different ways.”
A third group and another nationally strong fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, has announced it will begin recruitment at Campbell next spring. The initial Board of Trustees vote in 2012 stated that up to four fraternities and sororities will be allowed on campus through the 2013-2014 year.
SAO Paddle Committee Chairman Kristen Radtke said her sorority will welcome new sororities and will only make Campbell’s Greek “community” stronger.
“Only having one sorority makes it harder for some girls to find what they like or find a place where they feel comfortable,” she said. “One sorority really limits girls to feeling like they have to choose between being in one or not. Students should have the chance to choose the right Greek organization that fits them well.”
In the meantime, Radtke said her sorority is taking it upon itself to set a standard at Campbell. Setting the right tone is on Wobbleton’s mind as well.
“To whom much is given, much is expected,” he said. “We feel a lot of responsibility, as Campbell has given us so much to make this happen.”
Being first and carrying the label of “founding father” adds to the responsibility, but Wobbleton and his new brothers like the idea they’re making history.
“A friend of mine told me that for years, future pledges will know our names and where we’re from because we started it,” he said. “We’re a part of history — we’re the guys who started Greek Life. That’s pretty cool, too.”
PHOTOS BY BENNETT SCARBOROUGH