The Durham 500: Breaking the Greek/non-Greek barrier

By Greg Gottlieb
On March 4, 2014

"Challenge the herd!" Justin Jones-Fosu demanded of the crowd at a mid-February gathering of UNH Greek Life members. The annual "Grand Chapter" event is an attendance-mandatory symposium sponsored by the Office of UNH Greek Life and the three governing councils. It is facilitated by a different influential guest speaker each semester; some are wicked inspiring and help better the Greek community, and others, not so much. This past Grand Chapter's presentation ranked pretty respectably in my book. But it wasn't just the presentation itself that did something for me; it was the feeling I got from just having the opportunity to be in that room.

Although whining and protest exist among Greeks when it comes time after a busy day of classes to dress to the nines and converge in the MUB, there's not a complaint in sight once you've stuffed the GSR (and a simulcasted Strafford Room) full of the Greek community. The "red carpet of UNH Greek Life," as my fraternity's former sweetheart coined it, is a truly unique experience. It's the one moment each semester wherein we truly feel united as one; the presupposed boundaries which isolate chapters from other chapters simply vanishes. It's not solely the good vibes circulating throughout the room of some of tomorrow's greatest leaders, but also the physical presence and proximity among the seemingly often-segregated groups.

But why should this sense of "Greek unity" cease to exist beyond each semester's Grand Chapter, occasional weekend socials, and marginal attendance at one another's philanthropy events? Why should joining together in laughter and listening to a motivational speaker be the extent of our togetherness?

Don't get me wrong - events like Pi Kappa Alpha's "Cycle for Life" and Chi Omega's "Swishes for Wishes" draw in enormous support from the Greek community. Moments like those, however, are mere presages for what united bodies like the Greek community can do when we move ourselves beyond unhealthy competition and promote healthy collaboration.

Take, for example, the first UNH Dance Marathon held on Feb. 15. One or two diligent representatives from each chapter, 400 tireless dancers (primarily from the Greek community, but also including non-Greek students and other members of the greater Durham community), $11,000 raised for Boston Children's Hospital, and one eye-opening day (at least for me).

Participants in the event cried together (thanks to some moving words from families whose lives literally rely on events like ours), laughed together (thanks to some fascinating variations on the limbo and "Cha Cha slide") and most importantly, joined together. I had never been more proud to be a Greek. It put into perspective for me and many others the vast difference in potential when we are united as opposed to segregated.

We may not have the manpower or resources that Penn State has - which yielded a $13.3 million Dance Marathon this past February - but it is my hope that as this event matures into a recognizable annual philanthropic experience in Durham, we can reach even more extraordinary heights.

It is important to note: this isn't just about Greeks.

Could you imagine the caliber of atmosphere we could cultivate on this campus if we continued to knock down those walls which segregate us? Even the Greek/non-Greek barrier serves as an unhealthy one at times. So long as we're respectful of our differences, take advantage of our common ground, and "challenge the herd," great things will continue to happen in Durham, New Hampshire.

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