Philadelphia native Cache Phillips-Morris arrived at the University of Arizona with no friends or family in town, and so she quickly began searching for an academic and social community of her own.
She soon learned about Iota Tau, the UA's Alpha Kappa Alpha chapter, an organization known on and off campus. But it was not merely the reputation and the broad network that drew Phillips-Morris to the sorority, but its philanthropic and service orientations.
"I try to embody giving back to the community," said Phillips-Morris, now a UA senior majoring in psychology and Africana studies and her chapter's vice president. "I chose the chapter because the AKAs stand for what I am big on: sisterhood and service."
Phillips-Morris shares a common connection with thousands of other Greek-affiliated UA students: she is committed to developing strong, lasting bonds with her peers while at the same time contributing to communities beyond the UA in ways that carry positive impact.
With the start of school, Greek members are slated to return to their tens of thousands of hours of community service and fundraising campaigns, activities that mostly took a hiatus during the University's summer break.
Based on self-reported data collected by the UA's Fraternity and Sorority Programs, which serves as a liaison between the UA and the four Greek councils, the 4,000 members contributed nearly 23,000 of community service during the 2011-12 academic year, said Johanne Ives, the UA's assistant dean of students.
Chapters are self-governing and tend to keep minimum grade-point-average requirements. And while chapters may require service of their members, or that members engage in philanthropy and extracurricular activities, Fraternity and Sorority Programs does require that each member complete at least eight hours of service each semester.
"The philosophy of our office is about keeping the students safe and making sure that fraternity and sorority life adds to their lives as University students," said Ives, who also heads up the UA's Fraternity and Sorority Programs.
But many Greek members commit to much more than the required eight hours.
During the 2011-12 academic year, members of Greek organizations completed 22,837 hours of service and contributed about $260,000 to local and national organizations, according to information reported to Fraternity and Sorority Programs.
Like Phillips-Morris, Danielle Hannon also pledged to a sorority because of its level of interaction on and off campus, finding that the sorority helped to bind her to the University and community beyond campus.
"It was a way to for me to become involved within a smaller community here at the University of Arizona. I also loved when I went through the new-member process that I had a place that was my own, a little home away from home," said Hannon, a business management senior, who has since held a range of leadership positions within her sorority.
Given her personal growth and the work of others, Hannon has become concerned with addressing negative perceptions of the Greek community.
"Even though we are a community of social fraternities and sororities, we focus a lot of our time on service and philanthropy," said Hannon, also vice president of programming for the Panhellenic Council.
Organizations may run food and clothing drives or work directly with schools and community organizations to host programs and to complete building projects. Chapters have collaborated with local and national organizations to raise funds for cancer research, wellness initiatives, educational programs and relief efforts, among other needs. And organizations, along with training provided by the UA's Fraternity and Sorority Programs, also educate members about safety and issues around alcohol use and abuse.
Phillips-Morris, the chapter's vice president, said the sorority's initiatives are around asthma prevention, economic security for women and community empowerment.
Also, undergraduate members collaborate with the graduate chapter to offer Emerging Young Leaders, a program for middle-school girls. The chapter members work to educate the young women about healthy body image and also about the pros and cons of interacting in Web-mediated environments.
The chapter members offer guidance and warnings around social media use: "We see a lot of girls going through different stages in their maturity, and we want to make sure that they are aware," Phillips-Morris said.
Matthew Pacheco, a Pi Kappa Alpha member, said members of Greek organizations also have tremendous opportunities.
"Being a member of the Greek community gives me a great sense of pride and the ability to serve my organization, university and the community," said Pacheco, a UA marketing senior.
"It also is a great opportunity to meet people from around the world and network with them, which can open up many avenues once I graduate," he added. "Overall, going Greek has been one of the best decisions I have ever made."
Hannon feels the same.
"I think that Greek life has help mold me into the young lady that I have become, and I would never change my mind to join Greek Life," Hannon said, added that in recent years the sorority has raised more than $75,000 for philanthropy.
"Being Greek is more than your average toga party," she said. "It's about joining a brotherhood or sisterhood and living your ritual every day of you life."
Fraternity and Sorority Programs