THON and Greek Life: A Breakup in the Making?

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THON is just around the corner. Although many other organizations have had an overwhelmingly powerful impact on the event, you can’t deny that Greek Life has had a huge presence from the very beginning. Greek Life and THON, are soul mates — they were meant to be together. But might the story of Greek Life and THON at Penn State be slowly coming to an end?

The Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, known to most as THON, is an event that is unique to Penn State. Other schools may have tried to recreate it, but no one else does it quite like Penn State. In just ten days we will see thousands of people fill the Bryce Jordan Center to join the fight against pediatric cancer and “Inspire Tomorrow’s Miracles.”

Although THON was started by Greeks here at Penn State in 1973, over the years, many other organizations have joined the cause and done an amazing job. Indeed, it would be a lie to say that the Greek community doesn’t continue to have a massive influence on the event. Recently, however, our Greeks have been feeling a growing pressure from their national organizations to shy away from THON.

Sounds absolutely ridiculous, right? Asking undergraduates to stop doing good by helping children facing the horrors of cancer is the type of thing that warrants a first reaction of “Go fuck yourself.” But these national Greek leaders do seem to have a point. Almost every Greek organization on campus has a national philanthropy they are affiliated with. At most other universities, when students are looking to join Greek Life, an important factor in their decision is the cause that each organization supports.

According to ACACIA’s national website, for example, under the “Human Service” tab, Shriner’s Hospital, specializing in pediatric burn care, is listed as their national philanthropy. However, when looking at Penn State ACACIA’s website, there is no mention of the hospital. Instead, the stories of THON families and their work with Gamma Phi Beta Sorority are showcased.

“I think that as long as Greeks are able to have balance between their national philanthropies and THON, then why not support both? I know that with Gamma Phi Beta we don’t allow our passion for THON to overlook our sorority’s philanthropy. We excel in fundraising for both THON and our national philanthropy. Both are great causes and deserve much attention,” said Gamma Phi Beta President Brooke Abbonizio.

Kappa Sigma Fraternity’s national philanthropy is the Military Heroes Campaign. The fraternity was able to help create “comfort homes” for wounded veterans and their families to assist with a speedy recovery. They also do a lot with THON, including sponsoring a THON child and family, which is no easy feat.

“In terms of making one a priority, we make sure we find time to give back to both throughout each semester,” said Steve Koniuk, President of Kappa Sigma.

These situations do not mean that Greek chapters have abandoned their national philanthropies altogether — that is definitely not the case. But how many of you who are not involved in Greek Life can match a fraternity or sorority to their respective national philanthropy? I am a member of the Greek community and I can’t even name one.

The national leaders for these organizations have come to recognize the prioritization of THON at Penn State, and aren’t thrilled by it.

But instead of Penn State chapters receiving the complaints, it’s the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life that hears these woes, and they have responded in an effort to try and satisfy all parties.

Each year fraternities and sororities are required to meet certain guidelines in order to remain an accredited organization here at Penn State. You can find a copy of the guidelines here. There are 300 points total, 90 of which go to community service and philanthropy. Previously, THON could be used for nearly all of these points, but that is no longer the case.

Organizations must find other ways to gain hours and raise money in order to be an accredited fraternity or sorority here at Penn State. Whether it is the philanthropy that is chosen by their national organization or another charity they feel passionate about, it must be something different than THON. Without getting the proper amount of accreditation points, Greeks risk losing their right to function as an organization at Penn State.

What impact would be had on THON if Greeks turned their attention elsewhere? In THON 2012, Alpha Tau Omega and Zeta Tau Alpha raised a combined total of $329,863.76, bested only by fundraising powerhouse Atlas. If you add just the top ten Greek organization totals, it adds up to $1,895,004.70. Many Greek organizations eat, sleep, and breathe THON, and are unbelievably humbled by the difference they are able to make through their efforts. But according to their national leaders, the emphasis on THON comes at a cost to other causes.

“I do feel that if we continue down the path THON is on, there will come a day where Greeks are significantly less apart of it, but not by our choice,” said Koniuk.

But how can we say that this is a bad thing? These fraternities and sororities are putting countless hours into changing the lives of children facing the horror of pediatric cancer. How can we say that one cause should be more important than another? THON is unique to Penn State, and it exists on a scale that is difficult for other universities to understand.

Penn State Greeks are doing amazing things for the Four Diamonds Fund (the charity that receives the money earned from THON) AND often are still able to make a difference for their national philanthropies.

Maybe our Greeks aren’t putting in quite as many hours as Greeks at other universities, but other universities also don’t have the largest student run philanthropy IN THE WORLD. I commend the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life for trying to find a balance. As previously stated, the Penn State Greek community and THON are soul mates.

We are going to live happily ever after and no one will ever stop that. At least not until the day no child ever has to hear the word “cancer” again.

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A farm girl and a smarty pants from Eastern PA. Lover of dogs, Brand New, Kitten Mittens, sunshine and Flyers hockey.

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