A crowd of neon-clad sorority women poured from Norris’s McCormick Auditorium, leaving all other conversation drowned in the wake of their frantic chatter, on the eve of Panhellenic recruitment as I sat down with ASG President and Weinberg senior Austin Young at Norbucks, coincidentally, to talk about the relationship between his student government and the Greek community.
Young himself isn’t affiliated with any Greek organization, so he’s safe from this week’s grueling recruitment process, as Greek organizations prepare to welcome their newest members. Newly recruited members will join some 36 percent of Northwestern students affiliated with Greek life. It’s a figure Greek leaders say is on the rise after a record number of students dropped first night bids on Wednesday.
How, then, does Young think this increasingly influential facet of campus life will affect the distribution of power, influence and priorities in Northwestern’s only representative body?
Not a whole lot, it turns out.
For one, Young’s administration has set its focus on the Northwestern community as a whole, not its parts. “We’re really working to be a proponent of creating opportunities for Greek and non-Greek students to interact,” Young said. “And that comes from treating all students equally.”
Young has largely staked his presidency on fostering connections between all groups, creating shared experiences for all students, and laying the groundwork for a stronger Northwestern community in general, rather than small improvements for one group or another.
More specifically, Young’s administration has made plans for events that will bring students together this quarter, including a week of winter festivities in February and a series of roundtables, open to Greek and non-Greek students alike, with campus notables like President Schapiro, Coach Fitzgerald and others. Dates for those roundtables have yet to be set, and the winter festivities remain in the planning stages.
On the other hand, the lack of focus on Greek issues stems from the preference by Greek leaders for autonomy when it comes to dealing with Greek business.
Before last spring’s ASG elections, IFC and PHA leaders explicitly asked candidates to leave specific, controversial Greek issues, particularly wet status for fraternity houses, out of their campaign discourse. [Ed.: The author was, it should be noted, one of those candidates.] In other words, ASG’s help is appreciated, but not needed, at least for now.
And Young is happy with the relatively supplemental relationship. “We’re truly here to serve them, and if that means taking a supportive role, if that’s the best way to move the relationship forward, then great. I’m all for autonomy and ownership of a task,” he said.
Practically speaking, Greek organizations are in a unique position to operate without ASG’s support. They function without ASG funds, they run their own efficient bureaucracy, and they have their own intimate connections with administrators that easily matches ASG’s influence.
According to Senate Speaker Wilson Funkhouser, Weinberg senior, Greek organizations “have their own system, they do their own services. When they have a need for us, they will come to us for extra help or advice. But they have a very strong government, a strong set of resources, and a lot of strong hands.”
Relations between ASG and Greek leaders, therefore, often assume a more personal, rather than institutional nature. That is, ASG and Greek leaders form “personal and professional relationships,” as Young calls them, and collaboration, when it’s needed, naturally flows from there.
Greek leaders and ASG have operated quite intimately in the past, but typically on very dry, administrative issues, Funkhouser said. In the past, ASG has lent its support to the amended Freshmen Freeze in 2009, and ASG worked with Greek leaders to create an Alcohol Safety Task Force that same year.
Formally, 12 senators in the ASG Senate represent the Greek community: five from PHA, five from IFC, and one each from the Multicultural Greek Council and National Pan-Hellenic Council. And, of course, a number of senators besides those are affiliated with Greek life in their own rite. (Incidentally, Funkhouser cancelled the first Winter Quarter Senate session because too many senators would have been absent for recruitment.)
Greek senators, like all others, are typically responsible for raising a wide variety of issues to the larger Senate body.
Last quarter, PHA Senator Katie Funderburg and IFC Senator Aaron Zelikovich, with former PHA President Kirstin Nordhaus’s support, passed a resolution in Senate calling for the installation of additional lighting in the sorority quads, specifically on the quad’s east end, near Delta Gamma and Kappa Alpha Theta.
The ASG-Greek relationship, therefore, is slowly developing into a more practical, mutually beneficial, working partnership likely to benefit students in the long term. “Greek members of ASG are seeing themselves as members of the Northwestern community,” Young said. “They’re working on issues that affect the Greek community, but aren’t specific to the Greek community.”
Moving forward, Young plans to partner with IFC and PHA as winter events unfold. “Increasing collaboration will inherently improve our relationships,” he said.
For the foreseeable future, those relationships will likely remain personal, unless the two groups unite in pursuit of some universal policy demand.
NBN welcomes Matt Bellassai, former ASG Presidential candidate and Public Relations Vice President, as Special ASG Correspondent this quarter. Please see our note on his coverage.