Ghosts of fraternities past

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A map showing the locations of Greek houses at Lafayette. [Graphic by Mari Otto ‘17]

Mari Otto

In honor of Greek Week: A walk down memory lane with Lafayette’s fraternal life

Many Lafayette students have heard the tales of fraternities past, of alumni’s glory days as one of the top party schools in the U.S. But how did Greek life on this campus go from 27 fraternities to three?

Early fraternity life at Lafayette dates back to 1832, six years after the founding of the college itself. Wishing to better their college experience, Advisor to Fraternities and Sororities Dan Ayala. Also, the students wanted to rebel against the college’s treatment of young men, students formed secret societies to renew ideals of nobility, dignity and service, according to “Lafayette College and the Greek Experience” written by Albert W. Gendebien.

The first two recognized chapters at the college were Phi Kappa Sigma, which appeared in 1853, and Delta Kappa Epsilon, which followed in 1855. Lafayette retaliated, requiring entering students to sign a pledge of agreement not to join secret societies. Few students abided by the pledge, however, and with the years to come Zeta Psi in 1858, Iota Alpha Kappa in 1863 and in 1867, Theta Delta Chi, and Sigma Chi all arrived on College Hill.

In the years 1866-67, the board of trustees tried to reinforce the pledge one more time, and soon after, it was dropped altogether. In the following year, Phi Kappa Psi and Upsilon Beta were welcomed on the Hill.

The school appealed the first petition to build a fraternity house on campus in 1891, marking the beginning of fraternity houses at Lafayette. The relationship between the school and the houses, however, was to remain one founded on rebellion, suspicion, and distrust for years to come, according to “Lafayette College and the Greek Experience.”

By 1940, a total of nineteen fraternities gained prominence on campus. All extracurricular activities emanated from the fraternities, who additionally served as the students’ sole decent living and dining quarters at Lafayette.

The 1960s mark the beginning of the end for Lafayette fraternities. With a renewed emphasis on student life happening nationwide, rushing delayed until sophomore year, the introduction of coeducation and new regulations at Lafayette, the fraternities’ reign on campus was coming to a close.

So was it the changing of the times then that triggered the domino downfall of Lafayette fraternities?

“The Greek organizations became somewhat insular and didn’t evolve and engage in a constructive way in the broader Lafayette community,” J.B. Reilly ’83, an alumnus of Delta Kappa Epsilon said.

In 1972, Theta Xi became the first fraternity to lose its recognition with the school, due to lack of membership setting in motion the slow demise of Greek life at Lafayette. By 1997, nine other fraternity chapters bid adieu to College Hill, several of them due to waning membership. In fact, a large majority of the 24 fraternities once present on campus were closed due to low membership and not disciplinary misconduct.

“For the Greek system to survive they must view and conduct themselves as being part of the Lafayette community,” Reilly said. “I think today’s Greek organizations understand this.”

It is now 2015 and only three fraternities remain. When asked if there could ever be no fraternities on campus, Ayala said the future of fraternities lies in their own hands.

In order to stay, fraternities must “…contribute something positive back to the college campus,” he said. “They can’t be seen as just a social organization. We are all founded based on a social premise, but we all have to do more and our founders expected of us to do more.”