UC Merced emphasizes safety, community

A Safe Greek Life

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 4, 2012 

Freshmen at UC Merced are not eligible to join a fraternity or sorority until their second semester.

Starting college is a big transition for young students, said Molly Bechtel, coordinator of Fraternity and Sorority Life and Women's Programs at UC Merced.

"That's one of the big steps that we've taken at UC Merced," she said. "We are giving them a semester to build a community on campus without the influence of a fraternity or sorority."

UC Merced has other such policies and procedures in place to try to prevent tragedies such as the one that happened at California State University, Fresno, this weekend.

Fresno State freshman and Theta Chi fraternity pledge Philip Dhanens, 18, of Bakersfield died after a weekend of heavy drinking, according to The Fresno Bee.

"It won't completely eliminate the possibility of such a tragedy, but it helps," Bechtel said.

UC Merced officials are aware that there have always been concerns about risk management with fraternities and sororities at colleges and universities across the country, she said.

"We are saddened by the news of the Fresno State student's death. Our deepest sympathy goes out to his family, friends and the entire Fresno State community," said Jane Lawrence, vice chancellor for student affairs at UC Merced.

The Greek community at UC Merced is fairly new, with the first organizations being established during the 2008-09 school year.

Today, there's a total of nine, including five fraternities and four sororities, Bechtel said. The number of students in the Greek system ranges from 300 to 350, about 5 percent to 7 percent of the campus community.

There is no housing on campus for sororities or fraternities, but officials say it's part of the university's long-term plan.

Before the Greek community was born at UC Merced, a task force was assembled to conduct extensive research on trends -- positive and negative -- related to the fraternal life, Bechtel said.

"We developed a structure and support that will hopefully help us to address these concerns," she said.

The Greek community at UC Merced focuses on leadership, scholarship, service and friendship, Bechtel said.

Risk-management policies and procedures are in place to deal with hazing, alcohol, sexual harassment and insurance coverage, Bechtel said.

And each fraternity and sorority has risk management policies and procedures of its own, Bechtel said.

The administrative review process allows university officials to investigate any concerns raised about Greek activities.

About two weeks ago, Bechtel sat down with some of those in the Greek community to make sure they're all on the same page in terms of expectations, she said.

Ramiro Jimenez is a UC Merced student and member of the Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity.

Jimenez said the organization began in May 2009 and it has 45 active members.

"We take these policies very seriously, especially because there has been news about AKPsi chapters being shut down or suspended because of members breaking the rules," he said.

"We as a professional (business) fraternity want to emphasize that the safety of the students here at UC Merced is a number one priority and we would never put anyone rushing or pledging in harm's way," Jimenez said. "We want everyone to have fun but be safe at the same time."

UC Merced has a program called the Greek Initiative, which outlines the expectations of the fraternities and sororities. Each organization has to show commitment to the four values of the fraternal life on campus: leadership, scholarship, service and friendship.

Last year, as a result of the initiative, the Greek community at UC Merced contributed more than 6,000 hours of community service and donated more than $14,000 to philanthropic organizations, according to Bechtel.

The Greek community in general has faced stereotypes, and when tragedies such as the one of Fresno State happen, some of those stereotypes are reaffirmed.

"But I think there's a lot more, and I hope that we can highlight that here," Bechtel said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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