Garuth Acharya isn’t the first person to hold his office, but the 22-year-old State College native said he hopes he helped pave the way for other young men who aim for the sky in bridging the gaps between Penn State’s fraternities and the communities they’re a part of.
“Across the country, you see many tenuous relationships between the Greek community and the town, but I can say at Penn State we’ve had good interactions between both,” Acharya said.
He’s the first to admit, it’s not all him. He’s just the latest guy in the position of Interfraternity Council Vice President for Community Outreach. The IFC, a representative body of Penn State’s social fraternities, created the position last year as a way to build relations among the fraternities, the town and other university communities.
Those initiatives include the Greek Sweep after homecoming, in which fraternity members cleaned up around town following the football game, as well as a meet-and-great luncheon between fraternity members and the town’s first responders.
Acharya is a Phi Gamma Delta brother and senior with a double major in nuclear and mechanical engineering, and minors in political science, history and Middle Eastern studies. He will graduate in May and anticipates employment at General Electric. Acharya spoke to the Centre Daily Times recently about fraternity-town relations, his IFC board position and tackling that job as a State College native.
Q: What prompted the Interfraternity Council to create this new vice president of community outreach position?
A: It was created last year so I’m the second guy to hold the position. Community relations was something the IFC really cared about. ... It was really a collective effort of many different people. There wasn’t a centralized job running point, running logistics on bettering the community. ... What it came down to was the creation of the position of community outreach program to have one man being the face of the fraternities to the local community and to different areas of the university, whether it was diversity or meeting with the school districts, or bettering relationships between fraternities and their neighbors. It was very open-ended. We really just knew we needed a guy running point, so my position was born. And being a local, I’ve had an amazing advantage, knowing the wonderful nature of State College and tapping the resources, that symbiotic relationship between the town and gown.
Q: Was there a particular event or confrontation that pushed the IFC to do something different in terms of its position within the community?
A: I wouldn’t call it an event or confrontation. ... The IFC wasn’t doing a good job of building the strongest relationship it could with the local community. ... So having one person do that, we have better reach with the community. It’s just a more organized effort, as opposed to having everyone on the board do it. Everyone on the board takes a proactive approach toward bettering outreach to the community, it’s just that having this position is broadening that area.
Q: How do you think the community perceives the university’s fraternities, and how do you want them to perceive you?
A: One of the things I stress when I meet people is that fraternities started at Penn State in the 1880s, so we have a rich tradition in State College. So the question of whether we’re here four or five years, that’s not really true. We’ve been here for over a century and our goal is to continue that for the next century. ... You look at all the fraternities at Penn State, you’ll see the primary focus of community service, service to area as one of the primordial values. It’s an important thing to the fraternities. So I want them to see that we’re co-equal members of the community, number one. And now, with the creation of my position, I want them to see that we’re at the table and an active member of the community. We’re trying to be proactive about it and really engage the community. ... The creation of my position has really taken a proactive position toward that. Some of our fraternity houses have 100 brothers or 80 brothers, so we take up a large portion of the population. When we participate in the community, its more meaningful to the fraternities and the local community because its the big picture of who lives there.
Q: You’re a State College native and a university fraternity member. What is it like to be a person with a foot in both worlds?
A: Coming from State College, it’s amazing because I already have a support group here. And to be honest, Penn State is a big school. You can make a big school small, but you can’t make a small school big. So coming from that small-town State College and going to that 45,000-student school, you already know what to expect. You’re already getting accustomed to a college lifestyle. ... I pledged a fraternity because I wanted a family environment and a home away from home. Granted, my home might only be a mile away, but my fraternity is my home and family on campus.
Q: Does being from this area make it more important to push for better community relations?
A: Absolutely. Coming from being a local, it’s about open-ended communications. I don’t think it’s critical that the vice president of community outreach be a local. I have to give a lot of credit to the IFC president Dan Combs for his support. The president is really responsible for overall direction of the IFC. Dan and I sat down and talked about what has to be done to move this forward. ... Whether it’s about Greek Sweep, and we’re out there cleaning after the football game or cleaning the islands or the community luncheon to better dialogue with the community and the first responders, that’s important. It’s about open lines of communication. ... Now that dialogue has been opened, it’ll be advantageous for future executive board members because my term ends next month.
Q: Was it difficult to convince the various members of the fraternities, many of them who are not from this community, to be a part of this effort and make a better community outreach?
A: When you pledge a fraternity, there are certain ideals you pledge to. There you take away service to others, selfless service to community and you learn to be a better person. It wasn’t difficult. It’s all about mobilization. If you give a cause to the fraternity members, they’ll rally behind it. Like Greek Sweep. These kids were passionate, and they weren’t dragging their feet out of bed. They were jumping out of bed and saying lets get on board.
Q: Has there been any pushback from the community?
A: I’m very happy to say that we’ve had nothing but overwhelming support. ... The local community is really happy to see the fraternities taking a proactive approach in the areas they live, and I think that’s an amazing step forward. To be honest, if you look at Greeks at Penn State, they tend to be the most active. And when you have a group of active students, the sky’s the limit. If this is what we can accomplish in a year, what can we accomplish in the next five years?