This ain't your father's Greek system. Gone are the days of fraternities that inspired Animal House, or even those resembling Yale's Deke house, where a smirking George W. Bush could while away his college years in complete ignorance of the social tumult around him. Instead, at Penn, we find the incredible shrinking Greek system, today smaller in size and influence than any time in recent memory. We came back from summer recess to see that two fraternities, Sigma Alpha Mu and Delta Tau Delta, and one sorority, Pi Beta Phi, had taken down their letters. And another fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, finds itself struggling for survival due to membership difficulties. Add these four to the growing list of Greek houses that have closed or been forced to reorganize over the last three years. Some are just victims of bad luck. Phi Gamma Delta closed last spring after an alumnus fell to his death after a night of heavy drinking. But for all of FIJI's close calls and rumored excesses in the past, what happened to Michael Tobin could have happened to virtually any other Greek organization on campus. Others have been victims of their own stupidity. Phi Sigma Kappa was kicked out in April 1998 -- it would later recolonize -- for a host of risk management violations. Alpha Epsilon Pi had its entire executive board replaced for a pattern of misconduct, including hazing and probation violations. And SAM, which may recolonize next semester, will go down in Penn fraternity lore for the insipid stunt it pulled in January 1999, when it stole hundreds of bowling pins and shoes from a New Jersey alley. But it was kegs that did these amateur keglers in, as SAM lost its charter earlier this year for serving alcohol at a rush event in flagrant violation of University rules and its own probation agreement. These Greek houses, which experienced turmoil as a result of the unwarranted hubris of some of their members, deserve neither our sympathy nor more of our attention. Like parole violators and repeat criminal offenders, they got what they deserved. The interesting cases are those like DTD, Pi Phi and Beta -- chapters that decline and fail because of systemic factors unrelated to their members' actions. The first two closed up shop because of low membership, and the third seems headed for a similar fate. Why, then, do such chapters fail? Part of the problem can be traced to the Greek system's rapid expansion earlier in the 1990s. Between 1991 and 1997, a dozen new Greek houses -- 11 fraternities and one sorority, Pi Phi -- were recognized by the University. From 1995 to 1997 alone, at least five new -- or at least recolonized -- fraternities joined the InterFraternity Council. What we may be witnessing then is a consolidation in the Greek system, a Darwinian extinction of the least fit. In its short tenure, for one, Pi Phi was never able to reach the same levels of membership or stature as the seven other Panhellenic Council sororities. And with Greek membership at Penn stagnant -- or, according to some sources, actually declining -- the success of a reborn Phi Kappa Sigma or Psi Upsilon meant that an existing fraternity, like DTD, would have to fail. IFC President Andrew Mandelbaum pointed to another phenomenon -- the move of freshman rush from the fall to the spring semester in 1996 -- as a reason for the decline of a number of houses. However, many houses have flourished since the University forced that change. Mandelbaum does agree, however, that competition between houses has had an overall negative effect. "A lot of houses have the wrong attitude... [and] bad-mouth other chapters," the Alpha Chi Rho brother said. In short, many frats have told potential recruits they should join their house or no house at all. The frats that have not kept up their membership have been the ones not winning this war for the hearts and minds of cheesesteak-woofing freshmen. So long as college students continue to refuse to take responsibility for their actions, we'll have more fraternities like SAM kicked off campus. And so long as fraternity membership dwindles, more DTDs will be forced into slow, painful deaths. And this rotating door of colonization, collapse and recolonization will eventually undermine the Greek system and the individual characters of its houses. For as long as each house returns to a blank slate, none will be known for either their excesses or their excellence.Comments powered by Disqus
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