“I’d say the general stereotypical thing is that we’re not very good academically,” Tanner Cook, a member of Lambda Chi Alpha, said.
When greek life members talk about their fraternities and sororities, it’s likely academic achievements won’t be the first thing they bring up — but it’s not because there isn’t anything to say.
“Most campuses with greek organizations, they put that grade report online of their chapters compared to the rest of students on campus, and it’s typically higher,” coordinator of fraternity and sorority life Kathryn O’Hagan said. “But it’s not one of those things that they shout about or announce.”
Cal Poly greek life is are no different. With 20 of 35 organizations earning higher grade point averages than their respective overall gender averages, most greek chapters on campus are above average academically.
Tanner Cook, a member of Lambda Chi Alpha and mechanical engineering junior, is aware of the reputation most people in greek life have when it comes to academics.
“I’d say the general stereotypical thing is that we’re not very good academically,” Cook said.
The requirements of greek organizations by Student Life and Leadership, however, point to the contrary.
Academic policies require greek organizations meet either a 3.0 or match the all-gender GPA for Cal Poly, otherwise the organization will be subject to various accountability measures.
“So, as a whole, our fraternity is better than the average of Cal Poly men,” Cook said. “That’s definitely saying something about our academic achievement.”
His fraternity was in the middle of last spring’s Interfraternity Council (IFC) grade report with a 2.92 average, slightly higher than the all-men’s GPA of 2.89.
Just six of the 16 IFC organizations were under the all men’s GPA last spring, but by a margin large enough to bring down IFC’s overall average to a 2.88.
Kappa Sigma was one such organization that fell below the all-men’s benchmark, with a chapter average of 2.58.
Cole Uhland, a biomedical engineering junior and Vice President of Kappa Sigma, said his fraternity has taken measures to improve academically since spring, implementing a study hours program this past quarter.
The study hours program requires members complete one proctored study hour per week for every .05 grade points below the chapter-mandated 2.5 GPA.
“Which means you have to either be in the library in one of our fishbowls or at one of your teachers’ office hours or meet with a tutor,” Uhland said. “For example, someone who had a 2.25 gets five proctored study hours per week.”
Since implementing the new policy, Kappa Sigma has seen improvement. According to Uhland, fall was “the best quarter we’ve had for a while,” with three brothers getting 4.0s and their chapter average raising to an estimated 2.9.
“The people who continuously do well did just as well as they normally did, but we only had two brothers go on academic probation this quarter, which is pretty good,” he said.
Sitting at the top of IFC’s grade report last spring was Delta Chi, who had an overall chapter GPA of 3.07.
Gannon De Petris, a civil engineering senior and Delta Chi president, said his fraternity’s diversity of majors is what contributes to the organization’s academic success.
“The good thing about Delta Chi is we have such a good combination of majors,” De Petris said. “We have about 25 engineers, we have 20 guys in science and math, and the rest of the guys in college of liberal arts, and a couple guys in architecture.”
As a freshman going into his fraternity, Depetris was in the process of switching into civil engineering from environmental sciences. By connecting with older brothers in his new major, he found another resource to assist him academically.
“I could sit down with them and have an academic mentor, an academic peer, available to me every day,” De Petris said. “They were always willing to help out.”
Though Delta Chi stood out academically among IFC fraternities, its GPA would be near the bottom of Panhellenic Council’s grade report. Last spring, all nine sororities earned GPAs higher than the women’s average of 3.02.
First on the list of Panhellenic sororities was Kappa Alpha Theta, with a chapter average of 3.19 — the second highest in all of greek life.
Journalism junior and Kappa Alpha Theta Chief Education Officer Jane Redmond said her sorority’s use of incentives to reward good academic behavior contributes to its academic success.
Members can be rewarded for logging the most library hours each week, or for receiving a compliment in the sorority “brag box,” Redmond said. One incentive program is called “smarty panties,” which rewards girls with Victoria’s Secret gift cards for academic accomplishments.
Perhaps the biggest incentive for girls to study is the privilege of going to sorority events, which could be taken away if a member drops below the chapter-required 2.6 GPA each quarter, Redmond said.
“That’s kind of rewarding in itself,” Redmond said. “If you’re not getting good grades, why should you be able to go to things?”
Redmond said the recent scholarship programming her sorority has implemented has set the tone for the seriousness of academics in Kappa Alpha Theta.
“It’s really something we all take really seriously,” Redmond said. “If girls have tests or something on Monday, they won’t be going to Theta events because they know school comes first.”
Only Lambda Theta Alpha, a United Sorority and Fraternity Council (USFC) Latina-interest sorority with just three active members, topped Kappa Alpha Theta’s GPA last spring by earning a 3.28.
Jasmine Rubalcava, a psychology senior and president of Lambda Theta Alpha, said her sorority has mandatory two-hour study sessions every week. Ultimately, the success of her organization is due to the amount of time the women spend studying.
“Honestly, I think it’s because we spend more time studying than going out partying,” Rubalcava said. “It kind of comes down to that.”
The sorority was the only USFC organization to exceed its gender average for spring quarter. The other nine chapters averaged less than a 2.9.
According to O’Hagan, who oversees greek academics, most organizations realize when they are struggling and make adjustments before she needs to take action.
“I’m hoping that they realize it’s a problem, their consultant or their headquarters has told them it’s an issue, and that’s one of their main focuses for the next quarter is to develop incentives to make sure students know what the expectations of them are,” O’Hagan said.
Sigma Omega Nu, another USFC Latina-interest sorority, had the lowest GPA in all of greek life. Christy Pedraza, a physics senior and president of the sorority, said the low GPA was due to over-scheduling social events.
“We took on a little bit more than we could chew, just having events every weekend, maybe,” Pedraza said. “It kind of took a toll on our academics.”
By cutting back on social events and implementing mandatory study hours for all members last quarter, the sorority raised its GPA to an estimated 2.8, though the official average has not been released.
“I think we’re okay with it right now; it’s definitely improving,” Pedraza said. “We’re definitely a lot more focused on it now than we were before, I believe.”
As greek life waits for the latest fall grade report to be released, O’Hagan said she doesn’t have plans to “revamp” anything as far as academics go. She plans on seeing what the fall grades look like, then addressing issues as needed.
“Judicial action on these kinds of things are never going to be quite as helpful as really giving a lending hand,” O’Hagan said. “That’s always my step as an advisor: to help first, and then if something else needs to happen, I’ll let that happen second.”