University hoping to amend fraternity transfer credit policy

By Shaun Chornobroff

From the brightly painted walkways leading up to sorority houses complimented by big Greek letters, to the jerseys and the consistent fundraisers held, Greek life is a known part of the student experience at Rider. 

For transfer students who long to identify as a member of Greek life, being forced to wait a semester to join a fraternity or sorority is a reality, due to a more than decade-old rule stemming from the aftermath of a campus tragedy. 

The clause requiring any Rider student to have 12 credits with the university before entering Greek life was implemented as part of a non-monetary settlement with the family of Gary DeVercelly Jr., an 18-year-old member of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity, who died of alcohol poisoning in consequence of a hazing ritual in 2007. 

As a result of a cultural overhaul within Greek life and a university that looks much different than it did at the time of his death, the rule may be on its way to an amendment for transfer students, allowing them to become members of Greek life immediately. 

“I think there’s an opportunity for us to revisit the policy and also consider, potentially, amendments of the policy,” said Kadi Diallo, Rider’s assistant director of student involvement and fraternity and sorority life. “… I do think given the changing campus climate and the best practices of fraternities and sorority life, I do think this is something that we should consider changing.”

‘It’s a lot of work for just one year.’

Chris Carney came to Rider excited to join a fraternity, something he says he’s always wanted to be a part of one. 

“I just liked the whole social aspect, getting to know the brothers and then branching out [with] those friends who last a lifetime,” said Carney, a junior history major who is in his first semester at Rider after transferring from Brookdale Community College. 

Carney said he likes “the overall aspect of being in a frat,” and has looked forward to rushing a Greek organization for years. 

Despite receiving encouragement that he may be able to join, Carney was told he had to wait before rushing Sigma Phi Epsilon; a saddening revelation for someone who was openly excited to be a member of Greek life. 

Carney is still planning on rushing next semester, but said he does feel like he’s missed out on opportunities due to this rule barring him from joining sooner. 

“I feel like I’m going to be a frat member for just my senior year,” Carney said. “It’s a lot of work for just one year.” 

Carney’s story is not unique at Rider, a school that admits between 200-300 transfer students each year, making up nearly a quarter of the new student body, according to Rider Associate Vice President for University Marketing and Communications Kristine Brown. 

In the aftermath of the pandemic many college students are trying to find a new sense of normalcy. As a result, Diallo said she’s seen a rise in transfer students wanting to join fraternities and sororities. 

“We are finding that a lot more transfer students are interested in joining this semester in particular,” Diallo said. “They’re eager to be involved and just to find their people and find their home on this campus.” 

Changed policy 

When the policy was instituted, Rider was a different school, one that had a larger reputation for partying and was in a state of re-evaluation and cultural shock following DeVercelly’s death. 

In the aftermath of the incident, Rider made a council to look at issues within the school’s culture and what needed to change. 

“When we started negotiating with the family, what we proposed was this set of recommendations that we had already begun implementing,” said Debbie Stasolla, Rider’s vice president for strategic initiatives and planning and secretary to the board, who co-chaired the council.

Among the recommendations: the policy ensuring all students earn 12 Rider credits before joining Greek life.

Over the past decade-and-a-half, Rider has maintained contact with the DeVercelly family, working cohesively to ensure an event like what happened to Gary DeVercelly Jr. is prevented from occurring again. 

“Before Gary died, Rider had a much larger Greek life presence that was known for their parties and was out of control,” Julie and Gary DeVercelly Sr., the parents of the deceased said in an email to The Rider News. “After Gary’s death, Rider made many lasting positive changes to address and transform the hazing culture, especially with Greek life.” 

Despite the changes, the DeVercelly’s, who were told of the potential removal of the transfer policy in March of 2021, still do not believe the potential policy change is positive for the university.

The DeVercelly’s will have to consent to the 12-credit policy being overturned since it’s part of a legal settlement, which is something Stasolla is optimistic of given her personal conversations with the family. 

Engaged Learning challenges

Among the many adjustments facing incoming transfer students at the school is Rider’s engaged learning program, requiring students to accrue a certain number of points in order to graduate through being involved at the university, doing volunteer work and participating in internships among other avenues. 

For transfer students, the requirements can be even more of a burden. 

“I know it’s probably hard as a transfer student coming in with only two years to make those [three] points,” said Chloe Verderber, a senior majoring in elementary education and President of Rider’s chapter of Alpha Xi Delta. 

For upperclassman transfer students who may want to earn points through being a leader in a Greek organization, the transfer policy makes it almost an impossibility if you enter Rider as an upperclassman. 

However, changing the policy could relieve these concerns. 

“This would help them meet their engaged learning requirements a lot sooner, if they were able to join,” said Diallo. “The academic benefits of being able to join through the engaged learning requirement and also the overall benefit of getting acclimated to the campus community a lot sooner, I think it’s something we should take into consideration.” 

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