Georgetown Fraternities: This is no Animal House

By:
10/25/2001

As a prospective students take their first tours at Georgetown, tour guides tell them that social fraternities and sororities do not exist here. College guides, such as The Princeton Review describe Georgetown as having a “very small frat-sorority scene.” But when students arrive on campus, they see advertisements for events with the business fraternity or the foreign service fraternity, and the number of minority fraternities that have ties on campus is growing. This leaves students wondering why some fraternities exist at Georgetown even though there is no formal Greek system.

There is not a simple answer for why fraternities and sororities do not exist at Georgetown. It is not the University’s Jesuit identity, because other Jesuit universities, such as Saint Louis University, have a social Greek system. Unlike colleges such as Amherst, a Greek system here was never officially abolished because of behavior problems. Neither is it because Georgetown is a small and urban university, because there are numerous examples of Greek systems at similar schools. However, each of these reasons, Georgetown’s Catholic identity, history, demographics and mission contribute to the current Greek life at Georgetown.

History of Frats At Georgetown

According to Manuel Miranda (SFS ‘82), historically fraternities never took root at Georgetown. A former president of Alpha Phi Omega and former president of the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization supporting the renewal of Catholic identity at Catholic institutions of higher education, Miranda attributes this to Georgetown’s Catholic ties. Because fraternities were seen as secular in purpose and “gave students an outlet to alumni and an external support structure [they]threatened the authority of the Jesuit prefects and their later secular heirs.”

Furthermore, during the mid-1800s, Greek fraternities appeared very similar to Masonic organizations, which were often anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant. If members of a Masonic organization pledged an oath to God at all, it was to a generic God, which Catholics saw as a denial of the Holy Trinity. In the mid-19th century, the pope issued an order that forbade Catholics from joining a society that required an oath that denied the Holy Trinity.

“This was aimed at Freemasonry which was highly anti-Catholic, but it was extended in the American context to Mason-like ‘secret societies,’ especially those Greek-lettered fraternities which were spreading on campuses,” Miranda said. “But the issue of the was the denial of the triune God, not secrecy as such. The real issue was the threat to the Church doctrine and authority.” Evidence that the Church did not object to societies is the founding in 1900 of the Knights of Columbus as alternative to Freemasonry among working Catholics.

Until about the 1970s, no organization could exist at Georgetown without the approval of the administration and a Jesuit moderator. However, in the 1920s, some pre-professional fraternities arose with the help of people within the University.

The first of these pre-professional fraternities, Delta Phi Epsilon, was formed in 1920 by four members of the first class of the School of Foreign Service. Delta Sigma Pi, the business fraternity, was formed in 1921 but died out and was re-formed in 1979. Documents in the Georgetown Archives suggest the existence of other fraternities, such as a social society Pi Gamma Mu from the 1940s and Gamma Tau Beta from the 1960s, but information on these fraternities is sporadic, and their life spans are difficult to estimate.

An article in the Nov. 5, 1958 SFS Courier reported that the administration ordered all fraternities to dispose of their homes by September 1960 or lose their recognition. First-years were forbidden to attend any fraternity function and upperclassmen could not join a fraternity unless their academic averages were 80 percent. While the article points to the fact that the University recognized these organizations’ existence, it is unclear what degree of support the University offered them.

According to an Oct. 7, 1965 article in The Hoya, “Up until the middle ‘50s, there were quite a few fraternities on the Georgetown scene. The houses which most of these frats used were, on the large part, leased from the University. Around 1958 Georgetown decided that the image projected by the fraternities was not in line with that of a Catholic university, and it refused to renew the leases of these houses.” However, Delta Phi Epsilon was able to retain its house because the fraternity itself owned it. Fraternities such as Kappa Alpha Phi, another fraternity associated with the SFS, had to give up their houses and died out shortly thereafter.

In 1981 the University separated itself from Delta Phi Epsilon because of bad behavior within the fraternity. The Voice reported on Sept. 9, 1981 that a student was taken to the emergency room due to alcohol poisoning during initiation. The group’s charter forbids the use of alcohol during the six-week initiation period, and Delta Phi Epsilon temporarily lost its national charter.

Currently, the business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi is recognized through the business school. The only fraternity that is recognized through the University and eligible for benefits through the Office of Student Programs is Alpha Phi Omega. Granted a charter in 1956, Alpha Phi Omega is a service fraternity that has been admitting women since 1977.

Selective organizations

The 2001-2002 edition of the Student Handbook states that, “Membership in a club or organization must be open to the entire Georgetown University undergraduate student community. Neither the purpose for a club nor its entrance requirements may be based on discriminatory factors … Georgetown University does not permit single sex fraternities or sororities to operate on its campus and does not affiliate with groups under the auspices of the Panhellenic Association, Interfraternity Council or Panhelenic Council.”

This means that fraternities and sororities can’t have access to funding or advertise themselves as a student organization. People at Georgetown are allowed to be associated with these groups, but the groups are not allowed certain benefits such as participating in the annual Student Activities Fair on Copley Lawn. Individuals can reserve rooms to hold meetings, but because they are not able to do it as a group, the process takes longer.

Responses concerning Georgetown’s policy point back to the University’s mission of diversity and equality.

“There isn’t an organization that is based on selectivity or in which you have to prove yourself to belong,” Vice President for Student Affairs Juan Gonzalez said. “Your passion is the critical variable for becoming part of the organization. Other students aren’t given permission to judge you or exclude you. This University is based on inclusivity, it has welcomed diversity, and all religions and races are welcome. Establishing organizations that are fundamentally selective in nature seems to be a contradiction.”

“Fraternities are expensive,” said Martha Swanson, director of student organizations. “They would create a further economic divide within Georgetown, and we don’t need that.”

“The key reason that we don’t have fraternities is that they have selective membership,” said Mary Kay Schneider, director of student programs. “Even with club sports, while you may not be a starting player, everyone has the right to be on the team.”

“When looking at fraternities, one of the questions you have to ask is whether are they able to meet student needs so well that they are able to justify the negative aspects,” said Joseph McDermott, S.J., rector of the Jesuit community. “They can be divisive in way that doesn’t allow students to benefit from the diversity of the student body. Certain kinds of fraternities and sororities can encourage an unhealthy way of living, such as binge drinking.”

“Women in sororities tend to have better grades and participate in service,” Schneider said. “But fraternity men tend to have worse grades, alcohol problems and have more conduct problems.”

Greek life at Georgetown

Due to the fact that only Alpha Phi Omega and Delta Sigma Pi have any type of recognition by the University, the number of fraternal organizations that Georgetown students are involved in is difficult to determine. Many students are involved in minority fraternities and sororities that are city-wide and meet at other area universities such as Howard or American. There are roughly nine fraternities and sororities with Georgetown students involved, and they are minority, service and pre-professional organizations.

The newest fraternity is Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity. Formed by Eli Kaploun (CAS ‘02) and 20 other founding fathers, their goal is to bolster Jewish student life on campus. After this year’s pledge process, there will be 37 members.

According to Daniel Spector (SFS ‘04) the fraternity isn’t seeking University recognition. “We are doing just fine without University support, and recognition wouldn’t happen without a lot of restrictions on us.”

The interest in fraternal organizations is growing. According to Liz Evans (SFS ‘03) a member of the foreign service sorority, the number of rushes has increased in the last three to four years. Latino fraternities and sororities have arisen in recent years, and while these organizations remain small, they are growing. “There must be three times more fraternities and sororities now than 20 years ago,” Miranda said.

“The University needs to ask the question why students want fraternities and sororities,” Sociology Professor Joseph Palecios said. “The question is not why we should prohibit fraternities and sororities but what needs of students are not being met.”

“You get confidence, motivation and a support system in a fraternity that a club can’t give you,” said Rashid Darden (CAS ‘01), a member of Alpha Phi Omega. “I could do service with any club, but I wanted to find an organization that was fraternal, have a life-long commitment and have a modern rite of passage that people aren’t afforded now. I can go to a brother with a problem and know that I can trust them.”

Kaploun wanted that same sense of brotherhood.

“You count on everyone to watch your back, and you have theirs.”

However, Schneider believes that those types of relationships are achieved through student groups. “Greek systems can lead to divisions between Greeks and independents that are antagonistic. Some people begin to feel alienated. Student organizations are open to all.”

“Your organization becomes your social life and the difference is that you don’t get locked in there,” Swanson said. “If you are in a fraternity or a sorority, that is all that you do. You get pigeonholed and that is your identity. Here, you can move from activity to activity.”

Some students feel that organizations do take the place of fraternities and sororities in Georgetown’s campus culture and even adopt some components of Greek life such as initiation. Bill McGonigle (SFS ‘03), a member of Students of Georgetown Incorporated said that the Corp does have many features similar to a fraternity. His was initiated and made friends through the Corp.

“I see a fraternity as a place where you sleep and eat and where your friends are, and over the summer I lived in a house where five guys that lived there were involved with the Corp. That pattern happens a lot within the stores, especially as people move up in the management level. It’s an environment which forces people to become really Corp-intensive in their lives.”

The future of Greek life at Georgetown

Some students at Georgetown came to the University because there was not a Greek system. “I heard horror stories of rush and didn’t want to join,” Koa Shino (SFS ‘03) said. “I wouldn’t have ruled out a school because it had a Greek system, but Georgetown was ideal because it had a good academic program and I wouldn’t have to rush.”

Some students within fraternities are glad that there is not a Greek system at Georgetown. “I didn’t want to go to a school where fraternity life dominated,” said Eduardo Reguiera (SFS ‘03), a member of the foreign service fraternity. “I didn’t want to be limited to just that fraternity and its functions. It’s not an issue here because I’m not limited by my fraternity at Georgetown, I am friends with who I want to be, and there are no rival fraternities.”

“Fraternities can teach you things about patriotism and loyalty that you can’t learn in class,” Sean Kulkarni (SFS ‘02) said. “But at schools like Vanderbilt, if you want to have an identity you have to belong to a fraternity. I’m glad we don’t have that at Georgetown. You can do a variety of things on the weekend, social life does not have the one-dimensional aspect of fraternities. For me it worked out perfectly in that Georgetown is not a Greek school, but I was able to be at a fraternity.”

“Georgetown is too small of a school for fraternity life,” McGonigle said. “They wouldn’t work on a campus that is in the middle of a city, and we couldn’t house a good-sized fraternity because of housing issues. What we have instead are organizational frats like the Corp, The Hoya, Escape, GPB and GUSA.”

Matt McWilliams, a junior at William and Mary agrees that certain campuses are better suited for fraternities. “It comes down to the tradition here [at William and Mary]. We are 251 years old, we used to be all male until 1985 and fraternities have been condoned by the school. We have one of the most homogenous student populations. A more diverse student population would not foster the Greek system well.”

However, other students wonder if Georgetown isn’t that different that schools that do have Greek systems. “I think the forces that produce the Greek system are inescapable,” said Redding Cates (CAS ‘03), a transfer student from the University of Georgia, a university that has a large Greek system. “People find ways to get what is appealing about the fraternity system when there is no fraternity system. In terms of mentality, when there is a keg party, there is a frat party. There is one reason why the people are there, and that is a big silver cylinder. I think it is misleading to have the notion that because there aren’t fraternities at Georgetown that it is a much more open social community and that it isn’t exclusive and that it doesn’t push people out. A fraternity system just might be a more honest, up front way of doing that.”

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