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Pi Lambda Phi's chapter house at 3914 Spruce Street

Credit: Son Nguyen

Penn’s chapter of Pi Lambda Phi has been removed from their chapter house on 3914 Spruce St. and will be replaced by Drexel's chapter starting in the fall semester. 

According to John Matthews, a College senior and the current president of the Penn chapter, the fraternity’s national organization as well as the chapter's alumni association (which presides over the house's lease) decided to eject the members of the Penn chapter from their house in March 2018, after years of financial struggles and problems adhering to their fraternity’s national all-male charter.

Monica Yant-Kinney, a spokesperson for the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said in an email that the chapter was "not evicted." Several members of the chapter described the removal as an eviction, however. 

While the Pi Lambda Phi organization is oriented as an all-male fraternity, Penn's chapter of  “Pilam” unofficially shifted towards a more gender-inclusive model years ago and began to take on informal female members. 

The fraternity currently has roughly 14 official male brothers and a comparable amount of what Matthews described as "honorary female members."

Years ago, Pilam attempted to officially register as a “gender inclusive” organization on campus, according to Matthews. However, the fraternity’s umbrella organization denied that appeal. 

Regardless, the chapter continued to freely operate as co-ed. Matthews said Penn's Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life has not only known that the chapter has been operating as an unofficial co-ed fraternity, but has been supportive of the group's culture. 

"I'd say that it is more that they don't even mind," Matthews said. "I think they are supportive of at least some parts of Greek Life being gender inclusive in general because it think it helps them communicate that it is not just about fraternities and sororities, but it is about community."

Regardless, the lack of male membership has compounded long-standing financial problems. 

Ray Saunders, the chapter's alumni advisor and a brother from 1998 and 2001, said the chapter house suffered massive internal damages from a fire in 2004, and the group continued to be burdened with debt from the resulting renovations. While Saunders was not able to specify the amount of outstanding debt that the chapter has, he said the house's renovations cost close to a million dollars and the chapter "still has a substantial amount of that debt."

Anton Relin, a College senior and Pilam brother who acted as the chapter's treasurer until December 2017, said the chapter house made a deal with Apartments at Penn – who manages the property – to pay their debt incrementally over the course of around 30 years, but has struggled to make up that deficit due to its lack of members. To Relin's knowledge, the house was owned by the Pi Lambda Phi organization prior to the fire. 

Relin said the chapter house is designed to house up to 18 members with rent costing anywhere from approximately $800 to $1100 per month. However, in recent semesters, the house was occupied by between 15 to 17 male brothers and "female boarders," with some members not contributing full rent. 

"That led to basically a situation where our ability to collect our payments to continue to pay off our debt became an issue," Matthews said. "We've been working with our national organization to try and solve that, but they were not particularly open to us with that [because we were not conforming to the charter]."

In recent times, the house gained a reputation as one of the most socially open and alternative Greek spaces on campus. 

Over the years, the house's graffiti walls have become an underground punk-rock venue and the setting for their annual Pilam BBQ – or “Human BBQ” – which celebrated its 40th anniversary this past year.

Saunders said the chapter's alumni board and the national organization will reconsider allowing the Penn chapter back into the chapter house in three years, once the chapter has enough male members to make a chapter house financially feasible. 

In the meantime, their chapter house – which is sandwiched between Penn’s chapters of Pi Kappa Epsilon (“Pike”) and Sigma Alpha Epsilon (“S.A.E”) – will be handed over to Drexel’s chapter of Pi Lambda Phi. The Drexel chapter was re-founded last year after being dissolved years ago due to what Architectural Record described as "an arson incident."

"Chapter activities will continue and registered events can be held at third-party venues," Yant-Kinney said in an email. "Chapter leadership will continue to talk with alumni and the national organization about whether a house makes sense in the future."

Drexel's Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life was not involved in the talks about moving their chapter of Pilam to its new location, according to Todd Sullivan, the office's director.

Ryan Philp, the Vice President of Communications for Drexel's chapter of Pi Lambda Phi, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Matthews said that Penn Pilam members will now migrate to two or three off-campus houses. In addition, he said current members are still committed to keeping the fraternity together and have no intention to splinter off or to rebrand as an off-campus group.

“We are going to continue to try to be that alternative space that is open to people from all backgrounds,” he said. “But we are also going to need to, I think in a very serious sense, make our environment more comfortable for men from Penn. I don't think that necessarily means sacrificing our values."

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