David Oyola did not intend to rush a fraternity when he first decided to attend the University of Georgia. As someone who highly valued academic achievement, Olyola did not think the values and principles of Greek life aligned with his personal goals as an incoming freshman.
“I had that idea of too much of what everybody sees in the movies,” said the sophomore finance major from Kennesaw. “Parties a lot, doesn’t really do anything educational or any type of other involvement.”
This changed after he struck up a conversation with existing members of his current fraternity before the recruitment period. They spoke to Oyola about their personal and academic goals and involvement with UGA Miracle. This exchange started to break down the stereotype of Greek life Oyola didn’t realize he had.
When Oyola decided to rush, he realized the coexistence between Greek life affiliation and academic commitment is entirely possible, contrary to his previous beliefs.
“After I rushed and I looked at all my friends who were in Greek life and those who weren’t involved at all, I saw that I was involved in all of these clubs and business societies and my GPA was better than theirs,” Oyola said. “Everything kind of fell into place.”
The link between academic performance and Greek affiliation is often skewed by negative stereotypes played out in film and television, where social obligations are portrayed as taking precedence over academic commitment.
In 2018, researchers at Miami University studying the academic performance of students at an unidentified university found that Greek affiliation reduces GPA between 0.1 and 0.3 standard deviations during the semester of pledging, the period in which prospective members are initiated into Greek organizations.
“The second you step in and start rushing, you notice immediately that the Hollywood stereotype is just not the case."
-- Nick Shimalla, UGA student and fraternity member
A number of other studies also demonstrate the same negative causal link between affiliation and academic performance, including a study conducted at Union College in 2017 that found fraternity membership at an unnamed liberal arts college in the Northeast resulted in student GPA lowering by 0.25 points.
But despite the widespread stereotypes and study’s findings, the academic performances of students involved in Greek life at UGA suggest that the negative link is not entirely direct. With a GPA average higher than that of the total undergraduate average, the numbers indicate that there is a healthy relationship between affiliation and a high GPA.
Higher than average GPA
In fall 2017, the average GPAs of both the Panhellenic and Interfraternity governing bodies at UGA surpassed that of the total undergraduate average, and the fraternity and sorority systems have historically boasted higher averages for members than non-Greek affiliated students.
Nick Shimalla, a sophomore finance and accounting major and fraternity member, believes that the negative link is not consistent with the values held by Greek organizations at UGA.
“The second you step in and start rushing, you notice immediately that the Hollywood stereotype is just not the case,” Shimalla said. “I mean—you're at UGA. You can't join a fraternity unless you're in UGA, and UGA does a pretty good job of admitting people who are going to do well."
Shimalla argues that affiliation has the opposite effect on your GPA by providing members with an academic edge over their non-affiliated peers. Constantly balancing social obligations with studying allows students involved in Greek life to master time management, Shimalla said.
All four Greek governing bodies at UGA are built upon foundations of scholarship and actively work to support the academic achievement of their members, said Stan Jackson, the director of student affairs communications and marketing initiatives.
Each individual chapter maintains academic committees and programs to ensure that members are maintaining a healthy balance between their social obligations and academics, and are being provided with appropriate academic support and resources.
Chapters also mandate a minimum GPA requirement that must be maintained to receive social privileges from the organization. If a member drops below the minimum, they are required to meet with the chapter’s academic chairpersons to discuss a plan of action to improve their performance, said Jackson.
If a member does not show any signs of improvement, they are put on academic probation and denied any membership privileges. If the problem persists, the organization places the member in an inactive membership status, which bars the member from any social events until they fulfill the academic requirement.
But despite the threat of removal, this is uncommon, Shimalla said.
“We really haven’t had that many problems,” Shimalla said. “It all starts with recruitment. Fraternities try to get the guys that are going to keep up their grades, that want to do good for the fraternity. You want your grades to be a positive reflection of that.”
Poor academic performance is not just a detriment to the individual member.
According to Jackson, organizations with GPAs below a 3.0 must work with the Greek life office to form a more rigorous study plan. This involves connecting organizations with campus resources to assist struggling members.
The GPA requirements and the overall pressure to perform well for the benefit of your organization help to create a healthy and committed academic environment, said Kaitlyn Rutledge, a freshman intended-public relations major and sorority member.
“Greek life can get a bad rep,” Rutledge said. “But we're all working to do well and study hard. It's a struggle to balance sorority stuff with academics, but we're all working towards the same goal."
To encourage members to exceed academically, Greek chapters incentivize and reward achievement. Both the Panhellenic and Interfraternity systems publish formal reports of chapter GPAs each semester, and according to Jackson, the top three organizations by GPA are recognized each year at a banquet.
In addition, both systems award $10,000 in scholarships annually to members demonstrating high academic achievement, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council offers two scholarship opportunities per year to its active members, according to Montrez Greene, the assistant director and advisor to the National Pan-Hellenic Council and Multicultural Greek Council.
More specified incentives also exist within individual chapters. In Rutledge’s Panhellenic organization, the ability to live in the sorority house after freshman year depends on a member’s ranking by GPA. This gives you the incentive of working hard so you can secure a room in the house, said Rutledge.
But despite the measures set in place to develop an encouraging academic environment, members still struggle with balancing their social commitments with their studies. This, Rutledge said, is due to the pressure of having to attend every social event in fear of missing out or being judged.
“If anyone else in your fraternity can handle all of the social stuff and get good grades, then you should be able to too,” Oyola said. “There’s no excuse. You can just stay home.”
In the end, defying that stereotype should not be much of a concern if you are personally committed to your academics, said Oyola. If what you see in a fraternity or Greek life, in general, does not match your goals as a student, there is nothing stopping you from discontinuing your involvement.
“If all of those social events aren’t helping you as a student, you should either stop going to them or drop the fraternity,” Oyola said. “It all depends on the type of person you are. If it’s hurting your grades, you should stop all of it and focus on your grades. You’re here for school, not the social aspect.”