SFU’s growing Greek community
Photos by Mark Burnham
Upon hearing the word “fraternity,” most of us can’t help but think of Animal House, and belligerent screams of “Toga! Toga! Toga!” Mention a sorority, and you probably think of immaculately dressed, catty sorority sisters. However, with SFU’s recent lift of the ban on fraternities and sororities, Greek life is slowly but surely making its way onto the SFU campus, and it might be time to rethink how we view these organizations.
On March 7, 1966, just one year since the university’s first semester, the faculty council made a report to the senate that outlined the decision that fraternities had no place on the campus. Later that month, a student referendum was held that concurred with this idea, and on April 4, 1966, senate officially ruled that fraternities and sororities were not to be recognized at SFU. “Since these organizations are primarily concerned with so-called social functions of the student body, it seems very questionable that they be located on a university campus,” read the report. “This does not of course mean that the students are not free to independently organize whatever fraternal society they wish to organize, but if they do, they do so entirely on their own and will not receive the official recognition of Simon Fraser University in any form or manner.” In September 2008, another student referendum was held, and students voted 57 percent in favour of overturning the previous ban. It was not an overwhelming victory, but for the first time in SFU’s history, fraternities were now allowed to officially exist at the university.
With this new allowance, a fraternity has now sprung up at SFU: Omega Epsilon, a chapter of Phi Kappa Pi. Phi Kappa Pi boasts that it is “Canada’s only national fraternity,” and has only four active chapters, which makes it different from every other fraternity and sorority at UBC, which all have numerous international chapters. The SFU chapter is trying to prove to the community that they were not wrong to overturn the ban. “Technically, you don’t have to go through the university since the ban was lifted,” says Brett Montrose, the active president of the fraternity. “But we have chosen to stay in contact with them. For example, some schools have a ban, but can they stop people from wearing Greek letters? No. That being said, we’d way rather be on good terms, so we’ve been in constant touch with the SFSS.”
Part of the negative reputation that fraternities have stems from the idea that they host social events that get out of control (think again of Animal House). Several UBC fraternities have had problems with violence and the police in the past. In September 2010, for example, a fraternity at UBC got into a physical conflict with police officers that had come to the fraternity house to break up a large crowd. There have also been incidents of drunk driving accidents related to fraternities that have fueled this negative image of the Greek life as less than pristine. “Our approach to social events and parties is planning, planning, planning for every single detail,” says Montrose. “Reputation is a big thing, and that’s what we’re building on. The referendum was a close vote, so we’re still trying to prove to the university especially that we are good for the school, and throwing these events is going to be our first test.” Members of the fraternity have made it clear that, because they are a young fraternity and SFU’s first in more than 45 years, they have more at stake than most established fraternities at other schools.
“We’re . . . trying to pave that foundation of fraternities being beneficial,” adds Ben Coles, the fraternity’s public relations representative. “If we have these incidents then obviously we’re kind of hurting the chances of any Greek life establishing, so this is a big responsibility of ours, and we’re really going take it seriously.” Montrose is adamant that the reason that UBC fraternities have a bad reputation due to the behavior of one or two of the fraternities. “There are nine chapters there, and the other seven take a bunch of flack for it,” he says. “So it’s tough because there’s such a negative stereotypes about fraternities.”
While social events are certainly a part of Greek life, the founding members of Omega Epsilon argue that there is much more to it than meets the eye. “We are an organization,” maintains Coles. “Students here all have a role within the fraternity that gives us an extra amount of responsibility, that we can take to any job, and that can benefit us in the future.” For this reason, the young men are adamant that they are a “fraternity,” and not a “frat;” to them, the former represents an organization, while the latter carries a lot of stereotypes and stigma. Doug*, who was part of a fraternity at UBC, agrees that being part of a fraternity is much more work than it is portrayed as. “They are all legitimate organizations with very high standards,” he says. “The partying is a plus ,but the work involved is like taking on another job, assuming you want the best and worthwhile experience.”
A lesser-known Greek organization on campus is Kappa Beta Gamma, SFU’s budding sorority. It’s not having its official crossover until November, but has nonetheless been active in communicating with SFU’s fraternity, and with the SFSS. Maeghan Hermansson, the acting president, says that the idea for the sorority started as a way to build a social network of people that come from different backgrounds and wouldn’t normally get to know each other. It has, however, turned into “this thing where it’s about creating a home for people,” she says. Just as the fraternity doesn’t like to be called a “frat,” so too is Kappa Beta Gamma aware of the stereotypes involving sororities. They too want people to look past their preconceptions and to see their organization as a legitimate one.
The Greek life at SFU is already taking a different path than that of UBC, aiming to be less elitist than the fraternities and sororities there. “We like the idea that [Kappa Beta Kamma] is much more personalized, we like the idea that it’s smaller,” says Hermasson of the choice of sorority. “We’re not a huge school: we’re not UBC; we are Simon Fraser University, and we have our own niche. It’s a better fit for our campus than a National Panhellenic Council sorority.” One of the differences is the “dues,” fees that each member must pay per semester. At SFU, dues for every active semester are $90, while UBC’s Panhellenic Council sororities hover at $900–1,000 per semester. Furthermore, they have a larger network, which results in concentration on each individual chapter. “It takes an incredible amount of money to start, maintain, and grow a fraternity,” agrees Doug. “There are annual fees for brothers, which are put into anything and everything, much like a small business would.” The steep prices at UBC’s sororities are part of what makes them so selective, and SFU’s Greek organizations are trying to steer away from this, and make it something that benefits the entire campus.
Both fraternity and sorority go through a recruiting process called “Rush,” which is usually a week or two long. “Rush is a really big deal on campus,” says Amy*, a fourth-year UBC student. “It’s everywhere, just omnipresent. For the first few weeks of school, everybody’s just asking you if you’re rushing that year.” At SFU, the process has been relatively low-key, as
the organizations are still getting on their feet. It involves activities and events that are an opportunity for the fraternity or sorority and the potential pledge to gauge interest.
Once an individual is a pledge, the initiation and education process begins. “After your pledging period you are to prove yourself to your fraternity and its values,” explains Doug. “In turn, you literally become part of a family with your brothers.”
The question on everybody’s minds at this point is that of hazing. We can accept that these organizations are philanthropic, that they have academic and networking benefits, and that they provide a sense of community. However, most of us have a hard time accepting that no embarrassing initiation ceremonies are taking place. Needless to say, both the sorority and the fraternity have denied that their pledges undergo hazing. “We have a strict no-hazing policy, like, if you don’t want do it, you don’t have to do it,” says Hermansson. She admits, however, that she has no idea what the initiation ceremony consists of, having not gone through initiation herself yet. “It’s kind of a secretized organization, which is kind of what the mystery is,” she says. “You hear horror stories from other universities about hazing gone awry, but I don’t want to have to deal with the repercussions, and I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype. I swear that is not what we stand for, that is not us at all. The organization, they want to further us academically, socially, philanthropically, they want to make us into well-rounded people.” It appears that if hazing is truly a component in the initiation process, then there will always be a certain mystery to it to those on the outside. The only indication that hazing is indeed an aspect of SFU’s fraternity is a photograph on their Facebook group (Phi Kappa Pi-Omega Epsilon Chapter) of the brothers standing together, several with paddles clearly in view. There is a comment on the photograph that says, “My cheeks hurt looking at this picture.” A common interpretation of this has been that the comment is referring to ass cheeks, implying that the paddles have been used for spanking. Coles, however, has defended the picture. “There is no implication of hazing in this photo,” he argues. “The paddles that you see are from our pledge process, but they are not meant as a weapon; rather, they have a higher symbolic meaning.” As for the comment, he insists that it is not referring to ass cheeks, but rather to face cheeks. “The comment in question is in regards to the excitement around the situation presented,” he says. “This photo was taken moments after we officially became brothers, as well as a chapter.”
Doug, a former UBC fraternity brother, further perpetuates the enigma surrounding initiation. “All pledges are there voluntarily,” he says on the topic. “All I can say is that fraternity initiations abide by all Geneva Conventions, and isn’t that all we could ask for?”
Our history, however, is different from that of schools like UBC, which have fraternity houses dating back to the 1950s. SFU’s history is one of proud radicalism, and of political activism. The question — one that only time can answer — is whether the concept of fraternities and sororities can even be established at SFU. The University of Victoria had a similar situation several years ago, when a fraternity started without initial university recognition; the University was holding a referendum that year, and it got denied. However, since then, there is a bigger Greek presence on campus, and while not quite the magnitude of UBC’s, it has nonetheless sparked interest at UVic. Will SFU have a similar response? Our campus is notorious for its lack of student life, which is part of the reason that both the fraternity and sorority decided to form their organizations; but will the apathy that they are trying to fix be the very thing that gets in the way of their goals? That we cannot know until the organizations become a bigger presence on campus. However, it’s unlikely that SFU’s Greek life can ever get to the scale that UBC is renowned for. “We’re definitely a different campus. I know UBC has a huge residence population,” agrees Hermasson. “I don’t think it’s going to negatively impact SFU.” The founding members of SFU’s new fraternity also have big goals, but are realistic about the scope of their power. “Part of our goal was to make social life here better,” says Montrose. “It would be great if it could spark a whole Greek community. But that being said, it’s never going to take over the entire campus.” One of the big factors that makes a UBC-style Greek life impossible at SFU is simple where the school is situated, which makes it hard to have a fraternity house on campus. “The house is crucial. It is a symbol of how serious this organization is,” says Doug. “Understandably, they are not at the point where getting one is feasible, but the house is central to the attraction for more brothers and true fraternity mindset.” The founding members of the fraternity agree that it is important, and would like to work on getting a house somewhere in the future, but do not see it as essential to their goals.
The active Greek life on campus been cited as one of the reasons that UBC’s social life is so developed (another is that they’re not on a mountain). However, it doesn’t seem to be so for most students. “The frats and sororities are very active and present on campus, but they don’t particularly appeal to me,” says Amy, who has no affiliation with a sorority or fraternity. “I’ve been to a few frat parties, but otherwise, the Greek life doesn’t really affect me.” This seems to be the general consensus of most students, which is surprising in the face of the hype about UBC Greek life. If the average UBC student is unaffected by the fraternities and sororities, then we must wonder how it will affect the notoriously apathetic SFU student population.
To be honest, I have had a difficult time shaking my preconceived ideas about Greek life. My only reference points are movies such as Animal House and House Bunny, and my one experience in first year going to a UBC frat party. That doesn’t do the concept of fraternities and sororities the justice that its members are asking for. The young men and women involved in these organizations, however, are desperately trying to prove that this is not what they are about, and that their work — be it social, academic, or philanthropic — will be beneficial for the SFU campus. They have their work cut out in proving this, but as a community, SFU must also put aside its judgment and give them a chance. “If there was a Greek community here, that would be beneficial for those who are interested, and it wouldn’t negatively affect anybody that’s not,” Coles says. “There might be people in the future that are interested in the Greek life, and we’re just trying to provide that option.”