Sparse amenities and the smell of stale beer may typify many Greek-letter living experiences. Beginning in fall 2003, however, several Greek organizations on campus will be able to enjoy new accommodations in the $16 million townhouse complex currently under construction on the corner of 23rd and G streets.
Encouraging a growing trend
The University broke ground this summer on Townhouse Row, a group of eight townhouses on the old Smith Center parking lot on 23rd Street, set for completion next fall. Fraternities and sororities have until November to sign up to live in the townhouses.
The new townhouses will accommodate what the University hopes will be a growing number of students interested in fraternities and sororities, Associate Vice President of Student and Academic Support Services Mike Gargano said.
“This will be perhaps the greatest addition to Greek life that this campus has ever seen,” he said. “Other universities around the country are taking steps to separate themselves from Greek life, but I think these groups can make a very valuable contribution to the student body.”
Gargano said GW’s urban location presents opportunities other than Greek life for students, but despite this, numbers in fraternities and sororities have gone up in recent years.
About 15 percent of the student body are members of Greek organizations, according to U.S. News and World Report. Officials said GW’s goal is to increase the number to a quarter of all students.
The complex will be considered “affinity housing,” which means any student organization can apply to live there after Greeks are given first priority, International Fraternal Council President Anthony Morris said. Among Greek groups, Morris said Sigma Phi Epsilon, Sigma Kappa, Kappa Kappa Gamma and Beta Theta Pi have already expressed interest.
“The main thing we’re looking at is membership,” said Laura Taddeucci, director of the Student Activities Center. “We want to know which fraternities will have enough to fill a house.”
Two of the townhouses will have 30 beds each and the other six will have 24 beds, totaling more than 300 beds. Gargano said each chapter’s national organization can commit to a 12 or nine month lease, allowing students to live in the rooms for just the academic year or for the summer as well.
Gargano said fraternity or sorority members at other universities can stay in Townhouse Row over the summer if they sign up for classes at GW, because the national chapters are responsible for filling all beds and paying the University if all beds they reserved are not full throughout the year.
If the Greek organization cannot fill at least 70 percent of the house’s beds, Gargano said other students would live in the extra spaces. The University will choose groups with “philosophies and missions” similar to the Greek organizations’ to live in the houses, he said, or smaller fraternities and sororities will share houses.
“There will never be a situation in which 15 or 30 beds are empty,” Gargano said. “My impression, after talking to these national groups, is that we’ll be over-capacitated.”
A first for GW sisters
Sororities currently do not have any houses on campus. Many sororities are excited about the project, said Brad Bishop, Greek advisor for the Student Activities Center.
“Sororities see this as an opportunity to take Greek life to the next level,” he said. “They are very much behind this project.
Phi Sigma Sigma President Fiona Conroy said she hopes the new Townhouse Row will improve common misconceptions about Greek life on campus.
“It will create a more positive Greek image on campus, because we’ll have the University there to supervise,” she said. “It will help create the insight to non-Greek students and the GW community in general that we actually do have a strong brotherhood bond, as opposed to just wanting to party.”
Townhouse Row could have a major impact in sorority and fraternity recruitment in coming years, said Miguel Ayala, assistant program coordinator for the Student Activities Center.
“Sororities or fraternities might mention during recruitment that GW is going to have Townhouse Row, and I think that is going to draw a lot of attention from the incoming freshmen,” he said.
Sororities and fraternities who do not currently have housing will be given first priority in filling Townhouse Row. Beta Theta Pi President Zak Babcock said smaller fraternities and sororities should be excited about the privilege of living in one house, something only larger Greek groups have been able to afford and enjoy until now.
Five recognized fraternities currently have housing in older townhouses. Tau Kappa Epsilon, which owns a house at 621 22nd St., will evaluate the merits of living in Townhouse Row, though they are “content with their current location,” chapter President Jeff Consoletti said.
“My brothers love this house,” he said. “We are willing to explore the options of Townhouse Row . we want to make sure it’s a house for the organization, not just for the 24 or 30 members living in it.”
GW does not own the Tau Kappa Epsilon house, but it is flanked by the Smith Center, Funger Hall and University offices.
“We have free reign here – to an extent,” Consoletti said. “We’re always careful of what goes on in our house. Whether we’re in this house or another one, we would still uphold that.”
A question of responsibility
Because GW is leasing the houses to student organizations, questions have surfaced regarding the University’s liability for accidents or underage drinking. Angela McCarthy, an associate executive at Sobel Affiliates insurance company, said GW should protect itself through a clause in the townhouse leases.
Gargano said the criteria for living in the complex includes a clean judicial record and good academic performance throughout the chapter, philanthropy and overall contributions to GW and leadership development will also determine what chapters may live in the townhouses.
Gargano said security will resemble other upperclassman residence halls, with locks on every room’s door. Members of each fraternity or sorority will only have access via GWorld card readers to their own chapter. There will be no community hosts or security guards in the buildings.
“There won’t be a free flow between Greeks within the complex,” Gargano said. “Students are still subject to GW as well as IFC and Panhellenic conduct codes.”
He said parties will still have to be registered with the University and violation will be cause for losing housing in Townhouse Row.
“We treat students as adults unless they prove otherwise,” Gargano said. “I’m confident that students are going into this with a fresh perspective. I don’t think we’ll see those ‘Animal House’ Greek parties.”
Taddeucci said the University is still working out some details of student access.
“The chapters have been very firm in saying that if they sign on for this, they want the whole chapter to have access,” Tadeucci said. “We need to find out if there is a way to give everyone access to the common area, but not access to the rooms.”
Adding to the competition
Some sororities fear that groups with houses may now have an advantage in recruiting freshmen over organizations without housing.
“Students will decide between sororities with houses and those without, and that will help organizations with houses because they will have something to sell during recruitment,” Conroy said.
Organizers are optimistic Townhouse Row and its ability to help Greek life on campus grow.
“It shows great progress, and it shows that the University is committed to the Greek world and the Greek society,” Bishop said.