Jean Mrasek chairs the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), an association of 26 sororities. The NPC represents more than 4 million women at over 650 college/university campuses and 4,500 local alumnae chapters in the United States and Canada.
Mrasek has helped to promote the NPC since pledging Chi Omega at the University of Tulsa in 1979. She served as the national president of Chi Omega for four years. Established in 1902, the NPC provides support and guidance to its members and serves as the national voice on contemporary issues of sorority life. In this interview, Mrasek shares her insights about sorority life in America.
In addition to her work with the NPC, Mrasek is Chief of Staff in the Office of the Chancellor at Texas Christian University (TCU). She is also a former Director of Development for TCU's College of Education. Mrasek received her Bachelor of Arts in Adverting/Public Relations and her Master of Arts in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Tulsa.
Often, college students and their parents have preconceived notions, both good and bad, about Greek organizations, while the mass media typically focus on the attention-grabbing raucous behavior of some fraternity members to the exclusion of all else.
So, to gain a different perspective, we asked Jean Mrasek to speak to the reality of Greek life on America's college campuses today.
Interview with Jean Mrasek
Thank you for allowing us to interview you for TheBestSchools.org.
Could you please begin by sharing with us a couple of specific fond memories you have regarding your days as a Chi Omega at the University of Tulsa?
I am a Chi Omega legacy. My mother attended the same University of Tulsa chapter in the early 1950s, so it was wonderful to share that kind of similar chapter experience with regard to chapter size and location.
I have fond memories of big events, from Bid Day in recruitment and community service projects to simple pleasures like long talks with sisters in the lounge and late night fast food runs. I enjoyed Monday night dinners and chapter meetings that involved the entire membership.
How much of a positive impact does “the sense of security and friendship” sororities provide have on the lives of sorority members during their college years?
I had a great sense of security and friendship as a sorority member at the University of Tulsa (left). There were upperclassmen and chapter officers who served as mentors and helped guide me to campus resources and encouraged me to get involved in campus activities. There were alumnae advisers who provided emotional support and taught me the value of lifelong commitment.
After pledging a sorority, I felt an immediate sense of friendship with a network of women with common interests and values. This contributed to my confidence to excel inside and outside the classroom.
Suffice it to say, sorority chapters offer authentic communities where people genuinely care about one another.
A recent National Gallup-Purdue Index report states 43 percent of fraternity and sorority members employed full-time are “engaged in the workplace” (enthusiastic about work; loyal and productive), compared to 38 percent of all other college graduates. The report also states 46 percent of fraternity and sorority members “are more likely to be thriving in the element of financial well-being than all other college graduates” (46% versus 42%).
Are the percentage differences in workplace engagement (5%) and financial status (4%) surprising to you? Did you expect smaller or larger percentage differences?
When we decided to participate in this research study, we knew that the results could tell us things that would be helpful. While the indicators in all five areas point in favor of the fraternity and sorority experience as contributing to well being, it also tells us that we can strive to better our best. We can and will do more to build on these strengths.
The National Gallup-Purdue Index report also shows 59 percent of fraternity and sorority members “are thriving in purpose” (enjoying what they do every day) compared to 54 percent of non-members. What aspects of Greek life do you believe contribute to Greek members enjoying what they do every day?
Working in concert with university officials, we are in the business of student development whereby we encourage engagement in campus activities and scholastic achievement. Therefore, it is reaffirming to see that what we are doing is working---and that is to develop future leaders who find fulfillment in their daily work and interactions, and who ultimately make a difference in their workplace and communities.
According to the report titled "The Impact of Greek Organization Membership on Collegiate Outcomes: Evidence from a National Survey" (published in 2014 in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics), membership in Greek organizations increases the likelihood of graduating on time and having graduate school aspirations.
Obviously, this is good news. Are these major goals of Greek organizations?
The sorority setting encourages women to succeed in academics and supports women in their career pursuits. Results from the National Survey reinforce what we know to be true---that sorority membership enhances the college experience. Sorority members have a greater sense of belonging and this contributes to the desire to complete their college coursework and realize their career goals.
The report also shows Greek membership increases the frequency of alcohol and cigarette consumption and decreases religious convictions and service attendance. If true, do you think these outcomes are also typical of the general college student population, thus not mainly attributed to Greek membership?
Studies show that frequency of alcohol, cigarette, and prescription drug consumption has increased among all students on college campuses. These outcomes, along with mental health issues, continue to be areas of concern for university officials and inter/national leaders in our National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) organizations.
There's a stereotype of Greek social organizations being basically partying organizations, with alcohol consumption a major factor. Is the stereotype a major concern of the NPC?
Student safety and student success remain priorities of all 26 NPC organizations. These are challenging times for students in general, with many campus cultural forces outside of their control. We continue to provide education about risky behaviors and help our women find solutions to address these challenges. We believe it is important to empower our women to make good decisions.
There are many benefits to sorority membership that should be promoted on a regular basis. The good news does not always get covered. It is impossible to counter all the negative stereotypes and negative portrayals of sorority women. We are encouraging our women to be brand ambassadors and to advocate for the sorority experience. We all play a role in shaping our positive message.
There's also a stereotype that Greek organizations have a lack of racial, socioeconomic, and general diversity. Is this an unjustified stereotype?
Contrary to this statement, there are Greek organizations that have evolved in the past few years to meet the needs of students with a variety of special interests, religious beliefs, and ethnic backgrounds.
Demographics are changing on college campuses, and NPC is tracking the trends in higher education. Our NPC organizations are addressing these changes in demographics and preparing for recruitment in the future. Many of our new chapters on campuses reflect the composition of the ever-changing student population. This continues to be a discussion topic for all Greek groups.
NPC does not dictate or determine prospective membership policies, but member groups must follow their own membership selection procedures, as well as all applicable state and federal laws, as they pertain to single-sex organizations.
From the Sorority Life website: "Once you are initiated into a NPC organization, you are ineligible for membership in any other NPC organization for the rest of your life."
Is this true? If so, why? Some sorority members may want to leave their sorority and join another one that provides a better fit to their lifestyle.
Lifelong commitment is part of the agreement associated with sorority membership. Loyalty to one organization is paramount to ensure that the member fulfills her obligations and understands her responsibilities. The NPC Unanimous Agreement states: “A woman who is or who has ever been an initiated member of an existing NPC fraternity shall not be eligible for membership in another NPC fraternity.”
This Panhellenic Compact was one of the earliest binding agreements adopted by NPC member organizations, and it has been further ratified by the inter/national president for each organization. There is no interest or movement in NPC to change this compact.
What are the three most important reasons why women should join a sorority?
Jean MrasekOnly three?
Permit me to say that sorority membership as a lifelong commitment helps all of these to flourish:
- Leadership Development and Responsibility
- Community Engagement
- Mentorship and Emotional Support
- Overall Well-Being