When I was growing up, all I ever wanted was a sister. After my parents divorced when I was about five, I realized that it probably wasn’t going to happen, so my next best chance was to join a sorority in college, so in the Fall of 2014, I joined Sigma Alpha Iota, a music sorority on SUNY Potsdam’s campus. My sisterhood has given me so many opportunities to grow as a person and a musician. Joining SAI has been the greatest decision of my life.

Unfortunately, most people don’t see Greek Life the way I do. Fraternities and sororities have been cast in a negative light in the media and it’s hard for us to overcome the stereotypes. To combat the negative connotations of Greek Life, here’s a list of things that fraternities and sororities do to positively impact the community.

1. Philanthropy

Every Greek organization has a philanthropy - a charity or group that we raise awareness for by fundraising, educating and donating. Some national organizations have their own philanthropy, like Sigma Alpha Iota and SAI Philanthropies, Inc. Smaller chapters may align with a local charity like a food bank, or a larger organization like Relay for Life or Habitat for Humanity. This year at UW - Madison, Greeks raised $140,000 for The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County and Dane County Chapter of United Cerebral Palsy.

For the Fall of 2015, I served as my chapter’s Fundraising Chair and we raised $183 for SAI Philanthropies, Inc. That money helped create scholarships for our sisters, sent music and instruments to underprivileged schools and assisted other charities such as People-to-People. While this number was small in comparison to the national level, I know how hard my chapter worked to raise that money and I’m extremely proud of my sisters.

2. Fundraising/Community Service

While I could have lumped this category into Philanthropies, I wanted to touch more on fundraising for local organizations. Community service is a huge part of Greek life - for our chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota, it’s so important that we require our training class to put on their own community service event during their training semester. Our community service chair for Spring 2016 had a complete plan for the semester - every week we either participated in an event (charity walk, working with local Girl Scouts, etc.) or donated items (food, winter gloves, feminine products, etc.) to a local charity.

This is also an opportunity for several chapters on campus to work together for a larger goal. This semester, SAI joined a fraternity at a neighboring campus for their charity walk benefiting the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Every spring, our campus holds a Relay for Life and the fraternities and sororities are usually some of the largest fundraising groups. Sigma Alpha Iota raised just under $2000 this year and exceeded our goal last year by nearly $300. A local sorority on our campus, Omega Delta Phi, was ranked second in fundraising, donating over $5000. Charity walks are a huge part of Greek community service and they help to raise money and awareness for local and national causes.

3. Leadership

Greek chapters are often self-governed by an executive board of chapter members. We have advisors and national guidelines, but there are countless opportunities to build leadership skills inside and outside of the chapter for individual members. Many of our sisters serve as committee chairs; They lead projects such as musicale, set up fundraisers and host alumnae weekend. Sisters who demonstrate exceptional leadership skills and creativity are nominated to executive board positions. I recently served as Vice President of Membership - I organized recruitment events and led the new training class before their initiation.

Outside of the chapter, members hold leadership positions on campus and in administration. Several of the tour guides on our campus are members of Greek organizations, as well as orientation leaders. Many sisters of Sigma Alpha Iota are section leaders in our campus ensembles. One sister of SAI played a huge role in organizing a concert tour to New York City. Each member of a Greek organization has the chance to practice their leadership skills within their chapter and then transfer those skills beyond the chapter.

It’s also no secret that Greek societies often churn out leaders in “the real world” as well as on campus - nearly half of the U.S. Presidents have been in fraternities, 30 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by members of Greek organizations and every astronaut on the Apollo 11 mission was in a fraternity.

4. Professionalism

First impressions are extremely important - how you dress, walk and talk are all signs of how you interact with the people around you. Greek life teaches you how to hone these skills so that members are able to present themselves the best way they can. In Sigma Alpha Iota, professionalism is HUGE. Our chapter “pro-dresses” once a week and we take it very seriously. Being able to dress yourself as a professional person is something that I always thought I knew how to do, but I learned so much more when I joined SAI. I sometimes look back at the outfits I used to wear and wonder how I wasn’t fined for not complying with pro-dress rules.

At SUNY Potsdam’s Bid Night, the leaders of each chapter read part of a speech by TJ Sullivan called “You Are Always Wearing Your Letters.” I’ve always liked this speech because it speaks of Greek Life as a whole instead of as chapters. No matter what organization you pledge, you will always be a representation of Greek life, as if you were constantly wearing a pair of letters. Everything you do is a reflection on yourself, your chapter, and your organization; it all stems backs to professionalism.

5. Academic Achievement

Greek life is a huge time commitment, which can be a concern for the parents of potential new members. How will rushing and pledging affect a student’s academics? Many Greek organizations have a minimum GPA requirement to rush and active members must maintain a certain GPA in order to hold offices or wear their letters. Some organizations have required study hours where members will sign in and out when they are working in the library. According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 70 percent of members of fraternities and sororities graduate, as opposed to the national average of about 50 percent.

I could give you a hundred examples of how my sorority has positively impacted me personally, but Greek life is so much more than the individual. Having a strong system of fraternities and sororities on a college campus is beneficial to the students, the college, and the local community. We are more than the letters on our shirts and the colors we wear - we are a huge asset to the community and we are proud of that fact.