The world of a college student and the world of a first responder rarely coincide, with the exception of those times when the student is in some sort of trouble.
But Wednesday at the Atherton Hotel, the Penn State Interfraternity Council brought ranking members of various fraternities together with the first responders of the borough and the university, including State College police, Penn State police and Alpha Fire Company, for a meet and greet to break the barriers between the groups.
The IFC recognized the need to have more conversations with the different entities of the downtown area, IFC President Daniel Combs said. A number of different programs had been created to improve and increase fraternity relations within the communty.
“(The meet and greet) is a great opportunity for fraternity leaders to meet some of the first responders in a setting like the hotel,” he said, “instead of encountering each other on the street.”
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The event was based around a new position created within the IFC — the vice president for community outreach, a position held by Garuth Acharya, a State College native — and to identify key areas for local and IFC involvement in the community and capitalize on relationships with the borough, police and school district.
The IFC heads several programs which encourage fraternity involvement in the community, Acharya said, including the neighbor to neighbor program, in which local families have agreed to mentor fraternities.
“It’s great to see a lot of the families I grew up with taking care of the fraternities,” he said.
Several high-profile members of the borough and county were present, including District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, who said it was great to see fraternity members willing to build bridges of respect within the community.
“That they’re thinking we need to be partners in the community and not just doing their own thing,” Parks Miller said, “I think speaks volumes about their responsibility and integration into the community.”
State College Police Chief Tom King said in his 34 years with the department, he’s seen fraternity involvement and leadership step up in ways that never existed before, noting that curbing an event like the infamous State Patty’s Day, where both the bars and the fraternities shut down, wouldn’t have been successful if only the bars were taken out of the equation.
The biggest challenge, he said, is building sustainability between the outgoing leadership and the new leaders elected every December, saying “How do we sustain the momentum we’ve got?”
One way to keep this momentum is through earlier elections, according to Delta Upsilon President Chris Farrell. This gives the executive board a period of transition and allows the old board to work with the new board.
“Getting new guys into office earlier means younger board members can attend events like this,” he said.
Centrice Mulfinger, with the borough’s Office of Community Engagement, said an event like the meet and greet adds a lot of value to building relations with long-term residents and student residents.
“I think we need to have more of these events,” she said, “otherwise, without them, people would only meet during unfavorable circumstances.”
Four State College Area High School students benefited from the IFC’s outreach, as Alex Banerjee, Eric Suchanec, Michael Hilton and William Cather all received $500 scholarships from the council recognizing their outstanding leadership qualities, academic performance and involvement with the community.