It hasn’t been a good winter on Rugby Road, the center of Greek life at the University of Virginia. But the start of rush was surprisingly normal.

Just days after U-Va. lifted a ban on fraternities and sororities — imposed after publication of a later-discredited article in Rolling Stone magazine described a gang rape at a fraternity house — the number of freshmen choosing to rush fraternities on campus this spring was just about the same as it was last year, a little over a thousand. The number of women rushing sororities went up.

And nationally, more and more people are going Greek.

“Overall what we’re seeing is huge growth in membership across the country,” said Mark Koepsell, executive director and chief executive of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors.

Every year for the past decade, the number of fraternity members has increased an average of 4 percent, according to the North-American Interfraternity Conference. Almost 98,000 men were initiated in 2013-2014. There are more than 270,000 undergraduate members in the 74 fraternities in the conference, and there are about 6,100 chapters on 800 campuses nationwide.

Sorority numbers have risen dramatically over the last decade as well, according to the National Panhellenic Conference: New members increased from about 80,000 to more than 140,000 nationally, and the number of chapters increased from about 2,900 to nearly 3,200.


Well, an increasing number of students are going to college. And one story about a fraternity slipping a “date-rape drug” into drinks, as happened at Brown University this fall, gets a lot more press than the volunteer work that many fraternities and sororities do routinely.

Koepsell has some theories, too. Membership ebbs and flows, but he thinks it’s increasing now at least in part because of this generation of students, “joiners,” wanting to be connected to their communities.

The culture changes, too, he said.

“If you go back and look at what the culture was like when the movie ‘Animal House’ came out and what that did to perpetuate what people thought about fraternities and who it attracted – it has changed considerably since that point in time.”

There has been a dramatic culture change in the last 25 years, he said, “and really even more so in the last five to 10 years. There’s a much stronger emphasis on leadership and leadership training and service.”

Many university administrators are also re-examining their relationships with fraternities and sororities, he said, and talking about ways to change the culture by making sure all Greek houses are safe and positive places. “For a long time no one really wanted to talk about it.”

Sometimes that means taking strong steps after there are problems, such as kicking fraternities off campus, as Amherst College did decades ago, suspending them, or, as Wesleyan University did recently, ordering fraternities on campus to either admit women or shut down.

Whatever the reasons, more and more students are finding the organizations attractive options.