From the moment he set foot on campus, Brian Apkarian ’11 knew he wanted to be in a fraternity. Some of that enthusiasm has been dampened, however, by a dilemma he and other fraternity members are dealing with: enlisting enough students to fill on-campus housing units, as dictated by the College of William and Mary’s residence standards.
“Every semester has been a hassle filling the house,” Apkarian said. “Now they’re taking away buy-outs, and it’s going to make it even harder.”
The task was made more difficult recently, Apkarian said, after the College’s Residence Life department ended the popular buy-out policy for Greek organizations housed in the Fraternity Complex. The change in policy may prompt fraternities to lose their housing due to excess available space.
For the past four years, fraternities were allowed three buy-outs — a tool that allowed fraternities to purchase the vacant half of a double-occupancy room for $1,100, rather than incurring the $2,300 vacancy fee. Members said the prospect of a single room created an incentive to live in the units and reduced the financial strain of vacancies.
After much discussion, Residence Life and Student Activities determined earlier this semester that buy-outs were leading fraternities further into housing trouble. Residence Life determined that the vacant spaces seemed unfair to non-Greek students who were denied housing on campus.
“We can’t afford to have openings when people want to get on campus,” Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Mark Constantine said. “It makes it tougher for an independent person get into the units. The decision was made that the buyouts thing had gotten bigger than it ever should have been.”
Every year many College fraternities, whose memberships average around 45, struggle to find enough men to satisfy the College’s occupancy standards. Each chapter is obliged to fill its 36-man facility with at least 33 people. Each vacant spot garners a $2,300 charge. Members of the fraternity must occupy 29 of the spots, and non-members can occupy the rest.
Apkarian said convincing non-members to move into a fraternity house has proved difficult. With brothers going abroad or leaving campus for medical or academic reasons, even reaching the 29-member requirement has been a challenge.
Without buy-outs, frat presidents say they will have an even harder time meeting standards by the March 4 deadline.
“Several fraternities have been forced to cancel their leases this semester to avoid these vacancy charges,” former Lambda Chi Alpha president Ross Sheil ’09 said. “That means they are no longer living in a frat house and will probably not be back in the unit next year. Obviously that’s not good for the individual fraternity, the Greek community in general, and I am not sure how good it even is for Residence Life.”
Pi Kappa Alpha president Will Decamps ’09 is well acquainted with the results of falling short of the College’s occupancy standards. Recently, his fraternity determined that they would be unable to meet the housing requirements for next semester. In response, the chapter was compelled to give up their unit rather than risk financial ruin.
“We couldn’t handle it financially,” Decamps said. “I think this semester alone we were facing close to $12,000 in vacancy charges.”
Options for fraternities in Pika’s predicament are varied. Like all students, fraternity brothers are prevented by Williamsburg’s three-person ordinance from establishing large houses off-campus.
Nonetheless, Decamps said location is critical to organizations that rely on visibility and centrality.
“Kids are naturally drawn to the Units since that’s where the fraternities are,” Decamps said. “Now we’ll have to actively seek them out and bring them to us, whereas before they knew where to find us.”
According to Associate Director of Student Activities Anne Arseneau, an on-campus house is not the definitive factor in a successful fraternity.
“I think the facility helps, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a high functioning chapter without it,” she said.
To avoid losing their units, Arseneau believes fraternities need to take preventative measures, like diligently increasing chapter size and instituting polices that mandate brothers live in the unit. She also feels individual organizations should genuinely consider whether the Units are the best housing option.
“It’s important to ask if entering into a lease agreement every year is in the best interest of your organization,” Arseneau said. “Every chapter wants space made available to them. Unfortunately we don’t have excess space.”
In an ideal world, Arseneau said that fraternities would live in houses similar to those used by the College’s 10 sororities. These chapters, which average close to 90 members, live in facilities that house a maximum of 18 sisters.
“The current size of the facilities is not the perfect fit for our organizations,” Arseneau said. “I get that. Those spaces were built in a time and place that isn’t necessarily meeting the needs of our organizations right now.”
As fraternity presidents continue to struggle with filling their units, all expressed a desire for some kind of change that would lessen the yearly angst.
“I have met with the Res. Life people many times and have found them to be accessible, fair, and consistently clear about the rules,” Sheil said. “My only gripe is that it sometimes seems that Res. Life and the fraternities are not on the same team and I think that’s a mistake.”