Changing the face of fraternity life

The Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity says its members are on a journey of brotherhood.

The national organization quotes famous men and anonymous sources who say things like wise is the person who fortifies his life with friendship.

Sigma Phi Epsilon is one of five fraternities to join GW’s community in the last six years. Its members are part of a larger group as well – fraternity men who are seeking to disprove Animal House stereotypes.

While fraternities around the nation are closing after a slew of tragic hazing incidents and antics gone awry, GW’s fraternity system continues to expand.

Fraternity leaders say GW’s community can grow because chapters, like Sigma Phi Epsilon, are focusing on core values – philanthropy, academics and brotherhood.

Interfraternity Council President Seth Greenberg says the community grew more during the last two years after GW enforced the prohibition of alcohol during rush – the time fraternities recruit new members.

(Today’s members) want more than a social club, Greenberg says.

But alcohol-related incidents and negative stereotypes continue to mar the reputations of other fraternities around the country.

Fraternity membership has plunged 30 percent since 1990, according to a Jan. 7 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle cites several reasons for the decline. In addition to alcohol problems, fraternities faced a decrease in membership and changing demographics.

In 1997, about 28 percent of colleges reported fewer fraternity members than two years before. GW’s statistics tell another story.

The percentage of students joining the Greek-letter system increased as GW’s total undergraduate population grew. In the fall of 1995, 746 students were part of GW fraternities and sororities, and by the fall of 1999 the number had risen to 1,013, according to statistics from the Office of Greek Affairs.

For the men, the number rose from 406 in 1995 to 532 in 1999. The Greek-letter community makes up about 14 percent of the student body and includes 14 men’s fraternities, ranging in size from seven to 85 members.

Fraternity leaders have many reasons to explain why GW is rebelling against national trends by taking on new organizations.

Greek life on this campus brings a non-urban aspect to college life, says Scooter Slade, IFC vice president of Risk Management.

Slade says the Greek-letter community is becoming more cohesive and fraternities are beginning to support one another. In the past, competing fraternities vied for membership and sometimes turned on one another, IFC leaders say.

But GW fraternities are not free from worry.

In 1996, GW women’s groups criticized fraternities that owned shoe trees. The women alleged that fraternity men placed shoes in trees to represent every time two brothers had sex with the same woman.

In 1997, Pi Kappa Alpha’s GW charter was revoked by their national organization following an alcohol-related hazing incident that nearly resulted in the death of a pledge.

Phi Sigma Kappa and Sigma Chi faced one-year suspensions from the IFC for hosting parties without proper permission. Both fraternities returned to the IFC under strict stipulations.

Last semester, the IFC continued to struggle with Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a fraternity that remains suspended from the University and the IFC. Sigma Alpha Epsilon lost recognition after numerous conduct violations from GW. In a letter written last semester, the IFC asked Sigma Alpha Epsilon members to curb their behavior after alleged altercations and misbehavior.

But IFC members say times are changing. Greenberg says today’s men are less concerned with parties and beer and more concerned with making friends and shaping values.

David Shaw, the vice president of finance for GW’s newest fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, says he refrained from joining the Greek-letter community at first. He says he thought fraternity life might get in the way of his studies and other aspects of campus life.

Shaw soon became a believer.

The guys were great, he says. They seemed to be interested in each other more than alcohol.

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