Greek Life Creates a Culture of Service at York College of Pennsylvania
The institution hosts 12 fraternities and sororities after welcoming two organizations to campus in the last two years.
Political Science major Michelle Ildefonso-Ruelas ’24 never considered herself a leader. As a senior at William Penn Senior High School in York, she dual-enrolled at York College of Pennsylvania to earn college credits early and learned that a chapter of Chi Upsilon Sigma National Latin Sorority Inc. would be coming to the College.
“Greek life was never something I thought I was really interested in,” she says, “but as I researched it more, I realized that it aligned with my own values and morals. It was a perfect fit for me.”
Michelle went through the recruiting process and stepped in as the second member and Vice President of York College’s newest sorority after it became an official chapter in the fall of 2021.
“It has drastically changed me,” she says. “Because of this organization, I’ve enhanced my leadership skills. I’m more social.”
Building leaders, breaking barriers
Michelle isn’t alone in achieving leadership development and personal growth through her involvement in Greek life. Many students who have joined the brotherhood or sisterhood of one of the 12 Greek organizations on campus have had a similar experience.
Jeremiah Sweat ’24, a Film and Media Arts major, joined the historically Black Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. in March 2022 and serves as Vice President and Secretary of the multicampus chapter.
“That idea of leadership has always been instilled in me,” he says, referring to his family’s deep history of involvement in Greek life. “I had never seen it kick into gear until this last year. I have this opportunity. I need to act on it.”
Michelle and Jeremiah, along with Chi Upsilon Sigma President Jenifer Hernandez-Vargas ’22, were instrumental in forming the Multicultural Greek Council. They had noticed a division among people of color on campus and wanted to bridge that gap while creating a sense of unity and fellowship.
The fraternity and sorority have come together to sponsor events and create safe spaces for people of color.
Jeremiah also launched Alphademics, a weekly social study group open to anyone on campus but mainly aimed at people of color. After his first Alphademics event in October, he was surprised by the turnout and feedback. He hopes to continue connecting people of color on campus through informational seminars about Black Greek life.
“I get questions every day: ‘What is your organization about?’ ‘I see you wearing letters. What is this?’” Jeremiah says. “People are so interested but have no idea what it is. It’s not a gang. It’s not a cult. It’s a fraternity.”
A sisterhood, a brotherhood
“I think students really want to do good within the community,” says Alexis Bonamassa, York College’s Assistant Director of Student Activities and Orientation for Greek Life and Leadership. “We have really good leadership. There has been a lot of growth over the last year.”
Bonamassa, who joined York College in October 2021, has been involved in Greek life since she was a student. She serves as advisor to the 12 Greek life chapters on campus, is an advocate for the students, a liaison to the institution, and meets monthly with each organization president.
She says one of the most important aspects of Greek life is the sisterhood and brotherhood bond that forms among members.
“I think that this gives students a place where they feel at home,” she says.
During college, Bonamassa was involved in numerous campus activities and organizations, and also served as a Resident Advisor (RA).
“I never felt connection to my other organizations and student groups like I did to Greek life,” she says.
She sees that same connection in students at York College. When she’s greeted almost daily by Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) brothers on campus, she gets a sense of the concern they have for one another.
Senior Justin Trotta, a Nursing major and President of ZBT fraternity at York College, has experienced that brotherhood firsthand.
“I believe that the most important thing when joining a fraternity is connecting with people and creating lifelong bonds,” he says, “and I knew that ZBT could offer me that, so I chose to join.”
Psychology major and Sigma Delta Tau (SDT) President Alex Burkhardt ’23 had a similar motivation in joining the SDT sorority.
“I joined a sorority because I was looking for a family away from home,” she says. “I was very close with my family in high school and was looking for a community that I could lean on while I am away from my family.”
What she found at SDT fit that need.
“Greek life has made a tremendous impact on my student experience at York College,” she says. “I found a sisterhood that has my back and is always there for me when I need anything. Besides the incredible sense of community, I have also been able to work on myself from a personal and professional growth perspective.”
Jenifer, a Political Science major, experienced sisterhood when she joined Chi Upsilon Sigma. She knew nothing about Greek life while growing up and didn’t know a Latin sorority existed until coming to York College.
“Once I actually learned more about the organization and attended informational meetings, I could see how close the sister bond was,” she says.
She and Michelle, the York College chapter’s first two members, had grown up together, had gone to the same preschool and high school, and were selected for the York College Community Opportunity Scholarship Program. But they never had been close. Through their involvement with Chi Upsilon Sigma, they have become best friends. They’ve begun mentoring students from their alma mater and are working to elevate and empower women.
“It’s the best decision I’ve made,” Jenifer says of joining the sorority.
Community across distance and time
The fraternity and sorority bond extends beyond campus. Once a member of a Greek organization, always a member. As Jenifer and Michelle work to increase awareness about Chi Upsilon Sigma at York College, they know they have the support of sisters around the country.
“There are a lot of trials and tribulations,” Michelle says, “but I feel like with the support from other sisters from other chapters, we’ll be able to overcome the challenges.”
As Chi Upsilon Sigma sisters, Jenifer and Michelle are encouraged to support other sisters through life’s biggest events, such as weddings, home warmings, and gender reveal parties.
“It’s a lifelong commitment,” Michelle says.
For members of a Greek organization, “You have hundreds or thousands of sisters and brothers across the nation,” Bonamassa says. “You share these commonalities with people.”
That “Esprit de Fraternite” is written into the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. code. Jeremiah knew when he joined Greek life that he wasn’t just committing to community service and brotherhood. He was becoming part of a group that spanned decades and included such members as civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and Olympian Jesse Owens.
“It’s not how much you derive from the fraternity but how much you do for the fraternity,” Jeremiah says, quoting the Alpha Phi Alpha code. “It automatically benefits you, but more important is how you can benefit the community.”
For Alpha Men, that might include coming together to comfort family members when a brother dies. It’s a network of support that transcends time and distance.
“I would have never been in the place I am without my journey through Greek life,” Bonamassa says.”
A future of growth
Bonamassa hopes to see Greek life continue to grow at York College. The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on sororities and fraternities, but Bonamassa remains hopeful. She admits that Greek life isn’t for everyone, but she seeks to recruit students who are going to propel the organizations forward.
“I want people to know that what they’re getting into is not something light,” she says. “It’s a big commitment, but if you are committed, you will get something out of it, 110 %.”
Michelle knows the commitment that Greek life demands, but she wouldn’t trade her experience.
“I’m more of the professional person I want to become,” she says.
Jenifer offers a suggestion for those considering Greek life on campus.
“Ignore the stereotypes and do your own research,” she says. “At the end of the day, it could be the best decision you’ve ever made.”