Greek life members hold most of Student Government’s top positions

During a campaign, the life-long friendships members are promised in fraternities and sororities may come in handy when they need votes.

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Greek life members hold most of Student Government’s top positions

Nine of the past eleven student body presidents have been involved in Greek life. 
Graphic by Israel Fontoura.

Nine of the past eleven student body presidents have been involved in Greek life. Graphic by Israel Fontoura.

Nine of the past eleven student body presidents have been involved in Greek life. Graphic by Israel Fontoura.

Nine of the past eleven student body presidents have been involved in Greek life. Graphic by Israel Fontoura.

Israel Fontoura, Student Government Editor

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Editor’s note | The number of Greek life members in SG reflect those only in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. House speaker Noah Goldberg assisted in counting the Greek members in SG. The print version of this article states that Kathryn Edmunds was in Alpha Delta Pi, but Edmunds was in Phi Mu. The statement has been corrected.

This story is a part of our April 2019 issue on Greek life at FAU. To view the whole issue, click here.

All students have the opportunity to be elected and to serve in Student Government positions, but some may get a little help from their Greek brothers and sisters.

There’s no way to know which students voted for who, but in the past decade, nine of the past eleven FAU student body presidents have been involved in Greek life. SG’s current top leaders, who the student body votes into power, are also Greeks — and this may not be a coincidence.

“I can [understand] where you can see the correlation of being Greek and having access to a system of people that know you, that will listen to you. It might assist you with that,” Director of Fraternity & Sorority Life Rafael Zapata said in reference to campaigns.

In SG’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches, only 14 out of the 82 members are Greek. There may be more than that, but Owl Central doesn’t have an up-to-date roster of Greek life members, and Zapata couldn’t provide such a record.

But unlike the presidency, many of those 82 positions aren’t voted on by the students, while the positions that are voted on are filled with Greek members.

For the Senate, only three seats are on the ballot — and all of the people currently filling them are Greek. In the President’s Cabinet, three out of six members are Greek, and all are appointed by the president.

But in the Boca House, candidates don’t need student votes to be a part of Student Government. Candidates are either elected during Fall or determined by in-House elections, where only representatives can vote.

In elections, some non-Greeks attribute their defeat to not having as large a network of influence as members of fraternities and sororities do.

Former presidential candidate Neasha Prince believes students in Greek life have an advantage in being elected to Student Government positions — and that it looks great for both their chapter and themselves.

“Once an individual is affiliated and a prominent member within a Greek organization, they are supported indefinitely by their sisters or brothers,” she said via email.

Many Greek organizations and national councils require their members to be affiliated with organizations outside of Greek life, so some students turn to Student Government for the highest leadership roles, according to Vice President-elect Celine Persaud.

And the trend is continuing into the future with Kevin Buchanan elected as the ninth consecutive president involved in Greek life.

Last election, Buchanan from Pi Kappa Alpha and Persaud from Alpha Delta Pi were elected as student body president and vice president, respectively. Alex Zand from Alpha Epsilon Pi was elected as the Boca campus governor.

Kevin Buchanan (left) and Celine Persaud (right) are FAU’s next student body president and vice-president, respectively. Photo courtesy of Buchanan and Persaud’s campaign Instagram

Although running for different platforms, the candidates all shared one thing in common: Greek life affiliation.

Pledging to SG

For the student body president and vice president-elect, the Greek presence in executive positions should not be discouraging to non-Greek students who want to get involved.

But others argue that it’s discouraging anyways.

Prince believes that in order for a campaign to be successful without the Greek vote, it requires a candidate to network for months before the campaign starts, whereas Greeks have the upper hand.

“It’s important to make yourself known and human to the community at FAU that feels neglected and overlooked by the university,” she said.

And last year’s gubernatorial candidate, Chase Fitzgerald, said that most students perceive membership in Greek life as a prerequisite for involvement in Student Government.

“It’s kind of become a problem where people in high leadership positions are affiliated with Greek life when over 90 percent of the student population is not Greek life and every other candidate is affiliated with a Greek life organization,” he said.

This may happen because involvement in Student Government tends to be encouraged in fraternities and sororities, according to some members.

For Buchanan, it was former student body President Michael Cairo (2016–2017) who persuaded him to join both Student Government and Cairo’s fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha.

Buchanan believes that joining Student Government is about an individual’s desire to make a change within their communities, rather than being about personal affiliations within an organization.

“Involvement in any type of organization is always an opportunity to showcase your leadership and commitment, which are two skill sets that anyone would look for when hiring,” Buchanan said.

Celine Persaud belongs to Alpha Delta Pi, sharing a line of sisterhood with former presidents Kathryn Edmunds (2015-2016) and Emily Lawless (2017-2018), and former vice presidents Juliana Walters (2016-2017) and April Turner (2012-2013).

For Persaud, it was these members who motivated her to apply for leadership positions.

“I believe that Greek life does a great job of encouraging their members to be involved in other aspects of the campus, mainly to improve their overall leadership skills, and be well-rounded students,” she said.

And even if their term is complete, former Student Government leaders still endorse candidates at FAU.

Last year, presidential candidates Jacqueline LaBayne and Kyle MacDonald posted an endorsement from their fellow Greeks, Cairo and Walters, through social media.

Jacqueline LaBayne (left) and Kyle MacDonald (right) are the exiting Governmental Relations Director and student-body president, respectively. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline LaBayne

The post read, “Former Student Body President and Vice President Michael Cairo and Juliana Walters are #TeamLaBayneMacDonald, are you?”

MacDonald is from Sigma Phi Epsilon and LaBayne is from Alpha Kappa Alpha.

In 2016, former Student Body President Patrick Callahan (2014) endorsed his Pi Kappa Alpha brother, Michael Cairo, for president. He changed his profile picture to a photo of Cairo and Walters with the caption, “You have my vote.”

The bigger picture

Greek life and Student Government may be intertwined in other Florida universities, too.

“The elephant in the room is that Greeks are overwhelmingly more involved on campus, and thus may have a larger incentive to vote,” student body president-elect at the University of North Florida John Aloszka said. He isn’t involved in Greek life.

At UNF, approximately 11 percent of the student body voted in the most recent election — about the same amount as the Greek population.

The University of Florida shares similar statistics. Approximately 19 percent of the student body voted in the most recent election, while their Greek population is just a little bit higher.  

Former UF candidate for student body president, Zachariah Chou, who ran in their last election, lost to his Greek opponent, Michael Murphy. Murphy is a member of Alpha Tau Omega, UF’s oldest and most prestigious fraternity.

Chou said he believes that appointed positions are rarely based on merit, but on Greek affiliations instead.

“Unfortunately, this often leads to us having very incompetent student ‘leaders,’” Chou said. “Being affiliated with a Greek organization doesn’t just at times improve their chances of getting the job — it gets them the job.”

Greek life connections and leadership are also associated with each other beyond college. According to a study by the University of Iowa, fraternity and sorority members head 43 of 50 of the largest corporations in the nation. They also made up 85 percent of Fortune 500 Executives.

And according to the Atlantic, 76 percent of Senators and 85 percent of Supreme Court justices were in Greek organizations, as well as 19 presidents since the first fraternity was founded in 1825.

Student Government is just the beginning for some of these future executives and politicians. And Greek life may offer an opportunity that can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on who you ask: a ready-made package of supporters for your campaign.

“Greek organizations produces leaders, infiltrate change, and do whatever they can to improve their community. It’s no surprise to me our Greek members on campus are mirroring the same behavior,” Prince said.

Israel Fontoura is the student government editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, follow him on Twitter @israelofontoura or email [email protected]