By Emily Landgraf
Five years ago, Greek Life at Rider University took a major hit with the alcohol-related death of Gary DeVercelly Jr. Today, the Greek community is continuing to work on moving past that tragic event and focusing on the future, according to the Rider University Greek Council (RUGC).
DeVercelly, a California native, died on March 30, 2007, in what the Mercer County Prosecutor’s office deemed a “possible hazing incident” in his freshman year at Rider. He allegedly drank three-quarters of a bottle of Absolut vodka within a 15-minute time span, according to The Rider News’ original report. DeVercelly was rushing Phi Kappa Tau, which was disbanded after DeVercelly’s death.
DeVercelly’s death marked a dark time for the University, particularly its Greek community. Major changes were made to Rider’s alcohol policy, and frat parties became a thing of the past.
“There are no more fraternity parties in the way there were,” said Dean of Students Anthony Campbell. “Prior to the task force, there were parties in the fraternity houses where alcohol was present. That doesn’t happen anymore. We don’t allow any parties in the Greek houses.”
According to Campbell, the houses are now run in the same way the residence halls are run, and they follow the same rules.
“They have a house director, which is the equivalent to a Resident Director,” Campbell said. “We have the house managers who are trained just like the Resident Advisers are trained.”
Five years after DeVercelly’s death and the changes in policy the Greek community is concentrating on the positives of its situation.
“We’re really ready to overcome it,” said RUGC President and Zeta Tau Alpha member Arielle Karpf. “We want to focus on the future, not the past.”
Karpf stressed the changes in policy and regulations, as well as leadership programs, which have been developed for the Greek community as positives. She stated that each organization stresses philanthropy, community service, as well as the values and principles of each organization.
“As a Greek community, with events such as [Gary‘s death], we’re trying to promote what we do now,” Karpf said. “It’s not that we don’t want to be associated with the past. We just really want to focus on future.”
Brittany Shaykevich, a member of Delta Phi Epsilon and the vice president of Rider’s chapter of the National Panhellenic Conference, mentioned the unexpected difficulties in connecting with much of the Rider community after she joined Greek Life because of DeVercelly’s death.
“There were a lot of whispers and finger pointing,” she said. “I was taken aback, but I would tell other Greeks to take that energy, which is wasted feeling sorry for yourself and show everyone we can do this. We can make it as a Greek community. We’re not going to die from this tragedy. We’re going to learn, grow and thrive.”
Shaykevich also stated that RUGC is committed to moving the Greek community forward and to learning from DeVercelly’s death.
“Greek Life was not the victim, the victim was Gary,” she said. “We have not been victimized. There was one victim. It was a tragedy, but instead of focusing on taking the blame, we have to understand why it happened and the changes we have to make to prevent something like this from happening again.”
There have certainly been many changes within the Greek community, including the rush process in which each house selects new members, according to Campbell.
“It’s more closely monitored because we have house directors,” he said. “The [new member education] programs all have to be approved in advance by Shannon Corr. There are rules about when people have to be out of the house. So, yes, there are more rules to govern new member education.”
According to Director of Greek Life Shannon Corr, the new member education process is stricter than it was in the past, but DeVercelly’s death is not necessarily the reason.
“All of the national organizations created more structured new member education processes that left less room for questionable activities to happen. Also, in an effort to make sure organizations were having positive, value based programs, it has become the norm for most campuses to have students submit information about the time, place and purpose of all their activities. Again, the incident that happened here at Rider might have been the catalyst to begin the change process, but these changes came about because of changes made to national policies and practices that were becoming the norm across the country.”
Campbell also stated that numbers of Greeks on campus have remained more or less steady over the past few years.
“If you look at our rush, it looks like we’re meeting all of our quotas,” he said. “We’ve had very good numbers in our sororities, and our fraternities have been strong. That being the case, just looking at the numbers, I don’t think it’s more difficult.
The focus of Greek life on campus, however, has shifted toward leadership, academics and community service, and away from the social aspect of the groups, according to Campbell.
“The culture certainly has changed in our Greek groups,” he said. “They do much more leadership, much more service and philanthropies. They’re much more involved. There’s much more focus on leadership development within the houses. That’s really the focus. There is also emphasis is on academic achievements.”
The Greek community is constantly trying to make the fraternities and sororities better, according to RUGC, whose risk management chair, Frank Pandolfo, works to keep the community safe.
I make sure [Greek organizations] know what they can and cannot do, and risks conquered so people can’t get hurt,” he said. “I also teach about safety.”
Campbell stated that while there is currently a moratorium on forming new Greek organizations so that Director of Greek Life Shannon Corr can get acclimated, there may be more Greek organizations on campus in the future.
“I foresee a time when we will expand,” he said. “We want to make sure that our expansion is done in a way that meets a need and in a way that we can support the groups that are coming in order to help them be successful.”
Corr stated that the choice to join Greek Life is a very personal one and it often challenging for the Greek community to show students that Greek Life is not only what is presented in the media.
“There are a lot of positive opportunities, activities, and skills that can be gained from membership in a fraterntity or sorority,” she said. “It is sometimes a challenge to find interested members who understand the full commitment that membership can be and are looking for all the positives that can be found. Some students come looking at fraternities and sororities, hoping to participate in some of the negative behaviors. The challenge becomes finding the people who will be a positive addition to the Greek community. I guess the challenge really is finding the people who are seeking membership with an informed and accurate concept of what it means to be part of a fraternity or sorority.”
RUGC is staunchly committed to moving forward and promoting the good things about going Greek at Rider, according to Karpf.
“I think the best we can all agree is that we can only go on from here,” she said. “We have to prove that we’re here to stay. We’re here to help each other out. That’s what the Greek Community does.”