As year begins, frats cope with change
September 8, 2009
Fraternity life at the College of William and Mary has many traditions — fall rush, community service and life in the units.
One of those traditions was disrupted this year when four fraternities moved out of their special interest housing, ending over 30 years of occupancy.
“It was a numbers issue,” Chairman of the Council for Fraternity Affairs David Cooper ’10 said. “The units were built twenty-odd years ago. They were designed for bigger fraternities of 36 brothers. Smaller fraternities couldn’t manage the 36.”
According to Associate Director of Student Activities Anne Arseneau ’89, the changes in Greek housing are not as remarkable as many students believe.
Seventy-seven percent of fraternity members lived in on-campus housing last year, and 71 percent live on campus this year, but not all of them are in special interest housing.
“We have always had groups that are not housed,” Arseneau said. “The perception [is] that this is a dramatic change. It is not as if we haven’t had groups before that weren’t housed.”
Originally, Residence Life required fraternities to have 29 brothers live in on-campus housing and to fill 33 of 36 spots to retain the unit.
For the past four years, the other three spots could be excused through a buy-out program that accounted for half of a double room.
The program ended last year, requiring fraternities to fill every spot in their unit or be forced to move off campus.
“The buyout policy changed,” Cooper said. “It had been for four years that Res Life would split the difference [50-50] … But the College is [now] getting more students, who take up more beds, and they’re dealing with budget cuts.”
Sigma Pi’s Journey
The change in the buyout policy hurt many fraternities’ prospects of maintaining special interest housing. Organizations that struggled to fill vacancies under the old policy found the new standards unattainable.
“Sigma Pi anticipated a membership review, [and the] anticipation was that they would not have enough members to fill the space,” Arseneau said. “[They] didn’t think they would have enough members to be lease-compliant … so they didn’t turn in a lease in March.”
For Sigma Pi, the loss of on-campus housing was one more setback in an already tumultuous year.
“We had a lot of stuff we wish hadn’t gone on,” Sigma Pi President Brian Apkarian ’11 said. “We got in a lot of trouble; we had a lot of sanctions go against us [and] we owed a lot of money to Res Life. We had a
membership review that kicked out about 12 people. The only place we really had to go was up.”
While the decision to give up on-campus housing was difficult, fraternity members are doing their best to make the transition a smooth one by renting homes off campus and coordinating their on-campus living situations.
“We have some off-campus housing, which definitely helped,” Apkarian said. “All of our members who live on campus live near each other, and that helps in terms of everything. If I need to talk to one of them or all of them, they’re right there.”
Cooper said fraternity brothers have consistently used the block-housing option in the past to maintain the sense of community created in a fraternity house.
“I think the best thing about fraternity life is living with your brothers,” Cooper said.
The move off campus has created other complications for fraternities. Members who once had friendly interactions with familiar William and Mary Police Department officers must now create new connections
with a different police force.
“The truth of the matter is you’re dealing with a different police presence,” Apkarian said. “We didn’t mind [William and Mary] police because we had a good relationship with most of them. They always seemed civil.
It’s rougher now because we’re in an environment where we don’t know the police.”
In addition to tenuous relationships with the Williamsburg Police Department and new neighbors, many fraternities also face the possibility of declining membership. Without easily accessible on-campus housing to display their fraternities, members are finding rush more difficult than in previous years.
“Recruitment has definitely been affected,” Apkarian said. “It’s a lot different. You don’t have the unit anymore, which is where a lot of the freshmen flock to, so you have to create a different environment. When you’re off campus, you’re shortening your rush list.”
A Move On Campus
Not all of the College’s fraternities are facing problems with recruitment and housing, however. In the confusion that struck many Greek organizations last year, one fraternity, Delta Chi, actually moved on campus for the first time in their history at the College.
“We’ve never had special interest housing on campus since we were chartered in 2005,” Delta Chi President Alex Guzman ’11 said. “We’re in unit G with Kappa Alpha … [Sharing a unit] hasn’t been done before.”
Their agreement came out of necessity — Kappa Alpha did not have enough resident members to keep their housing, and Delta Chi wanted to move on campus. Guzman said the two fraternities decided to share housing to satisfy both of their needs.
“Being off campus, we kind of started exploring on-campus [housing] in November, but realized we wouldn’t have enough members for a unit,” Guzman said. “Kappa Alpha didn’t have the members to fill a unit either, but they wanted to keep their housing. They’ve been on campus since they were founded, when the units were constructed.”
Guzman said that, while Delta Chi functioned well off campus, the opportunity to occupy a unit could not be ignored.
“There’s a prestige about having a house chapter on campus,” Guzman said. “It helps with recruitment … It helped us meet a lot of new guys that we might not have met otherwise.”
New Policies, New Problems
While the units may help increase fraternity membership by facilitating events like rush and dance parties, some fraternity members say the units could actually inhibit the growth and health of the College’s Greek system. Members also see a double standard in the enforcement of the College’s alcohol policy.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Apkarian said. “The administration says the units are the best place for the fraternities. The truth is, policies they set up hurt the frats. It looks like they’re trying to catch you for stuff everyone does. It doesn’t help the frats.”
Guzman said that the units cannot provide the resources fraternities need to achieve their goals of scholarship, service and brotherhood.
“We have to worry about things fraternities on other campuses don’t have to worry about,” Guzman said.
“To be in debt to Res Life — what good does that do? That’s what we constantly have to worry about.”
Apkarian said the expansion of fraternities at the College and the continued colonization by new Greek organizations on campus dilutes the strength of existing fraternities and prevent many from fulfilling membership requirements for special interest housing.
“The number of fraternities continues to grow, and it’s just going to stretch out the Greek population,” Apkarian said. “It makes it harder for frats to meet their residency requirements in the house. For a frat like mine, we can’t meet those requirements.”
New Housing Plans
The disadvantages of the units have led many members of the College’s administration to explore new options for fraternity housing.
“We have square pegs [for] round holes,” Arseneau said. “We have 36-man facilities that were built 20 years ago to fit a chapter size of 90 to 100. But, nationally, chapter sizes for frats aren’t 90 to 100 anymore.”
Fraternity members see new housing options as a possible solution to the units’ inadequacies.
“This shows that the [College’s] one-size-fits-all policy doesn’t fly,” Cooper said. “The Council [for Fraternity Affairs] has been working with Res Life for solutions. Some of the lodges have been discussed, so have locations in Ludwell and Randolph.”
The possibility of fraternities occupying the College-owned homes along Jamestown Road is unlikely and impractical, according to Cooper.
“A lot of brothers want to use the houses along Jamestown Road, but that’s not feasible to renovate them and make them liveable for brothers — it would be too expensive,” he said.
Cooper said that the Council for Fraternity Affairs had spoken with Director of Residence Life Deb Boykin and other members of the College’s administration about the possibility of building a new Greek housing community resembling Sorority Court.
“In the far-term, we’re looking into new Greek housing,” Cooper said. “But it’s far too preliminary for a location or number of buildings. More students makes it obvious that we need housing, [and] Res Life has been receptive for more Greek housing.”
In the interim, Arseneau said that the College administration is looking for practical solutions to the Greek housing issue.
“We are trying to identify viable solutions,” Arseneau said. “The short-term solution requires groups that are willing to look at … a block in Jamestown, or we will take a lodge.”
The future of fraternities at the College remains unclear. At least one fraternity would consider moving back on-campus, but not without reservations.
“I’d like to see what happens this semester,” Apkarian said. “I heard about independent RA’s writing people up. Hopefully we can look at moving back, but I’ll have to see what happens. To say we don’t want to move back would be false.”
Guzman hopes the College and the fraternities can work out an agreement that would bring the fraternities back on campus. Until then, some fraternities must reconcile being on-campus organizations with off-campus facilities.
“The City of Williamsburg is not going to support us,” Guzman said. “The College has the only resource we can look towards in helping us with our mission.”
_Ellie Kaufman contributed reporting to this article._