In the fall semester at University of North Dakota, sororities and fraternities welcome new members into their organizations with lofty goals: to develop leadership skills, encourage brotherhood and sisterhood, build up scholarships, and create everlasting friendships for the next four years of college.
One traditional way to achieve those goals has been through charitable activities.
Each year, up to 500 freshmen enroll for recruitment, a chance to join a sorority or fraternity they believe in. While freshmen fight for a spot in the organization, 40 to 50 members find who would be the best fit to bring into their sorority or fraternity.
Every Greek Life organization on campus holds a fundraising event for their chosen national charity. Alpha Phi holds philanthropy events for women’s heart health and fighting heart disease, Sigma chi holds philanthropy events for cancer, and Kappa Alpha Theta holds philanthropy events for CASA: Child’s Advocate Special Advocates. Alpha Chi Omega holds philanthropy events for domestic violence awareness, and Delta Gamma holds events to benefit Service for Sight to help the blind, to cite a few examples.
The University of North Dakota encourages new students to sign up for Greek Life, and veterans of charitable campaigns say those activities are among the benefits of membership. “Greek life has been such a strong foundation throughout my years of college. It’s presented me with countless opportunities, experience, and friendships,” said Megan Buckingham, a former member of Kappa Alpha Theta.
Philanthropies are not a new development. Sororities and fraternities have been around for more than 100 years ago. CASA became Theta’s official philanthropy in 1989. In 1988, alumnae decided to donate to CASA and the word was spread about the great cause. Torie Danielson, former Kappa Alpha Theta president, said the coronavirus and UND’s response by going to total distance learning forced cancellation of the annual fundraiser. “This year we were unable to hold our spring event ‘Chips & Cheese’ because of the COVID-19 outbreak,” she said.
“Every semester we hold a philanthropy event to raise money for CASA and 100% of the proceeds are donated. We have won the ‘UND women for Philanthropy’ grant these past two years, and those grants also go to CASA.
“In Theta, we have a couple different officer positions on our executive team and other volunteers to help with the main organization of the philanthropy events, from buying supplies – like ingredients to our nacho feed – to designing clothing to sell and working with local businesses to get donations for some of the costs,” Danielson said. “Every member helps out on the day of the philanthropy ensuring it runs smoothly and is fun for our members and everyone that comes!”
Mary Vaughan is a junior at UND and a member of Alpha Phi. “I never had many opportunities to volunteer in high school while balancing sports and jobs, so to come to college and join an organization that values helping others so much is something that has become very prominent in my life now,” she said. “I have learned so much about myself through volunteering. It is a way to represent something bigger than one person. Growing up, I was very blessed to have what I have and I think volunteering has made a huge impact in showing not everybody is as lucky.”
Alpha Phi holds their philanthropy event called the ‘Red Dress Gala’ at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. This event has been around for three years, raising money to support the Alpha Phi foundation, which provides support for executive council leadership conferences, the Forget Me Not fund which helps a sister in need during a tragedy, and a lot more. Half of the money raised goes towards the Altru Cardiac Care unit for women’s heart health research.
“We do not struggle to get people excited for activities because we all joined our organizations because we value who they are, what they do, and how they behave,” Vaughn said. “With that, we share a lot of the same excitement over certain things and for us, sisterhood is so valued so people love to connect even if it’s something just as simple as watching movies, talking, or having our weekly meetings when we are all together.”
Sigma Chi has one main philanthropy each year that lasts a week long. This is known as “Derby Days,” with five separate activities for the week. Each sorority that chooses to participate has opportunities to win points for each day through activities and attendance.
On Monday, the sororities come to the Sigma Chi house and decorate the house as best as they can with their sorority gear, flags and posters. The house with the most decorations on the walls wins the points of that day. Tuesday is the grill-out, each visitor can pay money to donate to a charity for a hamburger or a hotdog, as well as play yard games. The sorority with the most attendance wins the points on that day.
On Wednesday, there is a Derby Chase. Each member of Sigma Chi wears a colored hat corresponding to their year in school, except for the fraternity president, who wears his own colored hat. Each color hat is worth a different amount of points for sorority members who “capture” the hats. On Thursday there is a flag football tournament. Any fraternity or sorority can participate, and the winners score a date party of two sororities and two fraternities including Sigma Chi.
Sigma Chi donates all the money that is made to the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Park City, Utah, for research and treatments. The fraternity also participates in numerous other philanthropies within Grand Forks every year, donating money raised to meet the greatest needs in the city.
“I have met more people than I could ever imagine because of Greek Life,” said Berg Labahn, a junior and member of Sigma Chi. “We have speakers come and talk about their experiences, we have an alumni network that is extremely helpful especially with finding future jobs and connections.
“To me, charitable work is a small but very effective way to make our community a better place. It has brought perspective into my life and I will be eternally grateful for the blessings I have received throughout my life.”