Op-Ed: Preserving Stanford’s funkiness

Feb. 21, 2012, 12:15 a.m.

On such a well-manicured campus, Chi Theta Chi can seem a misplaced relic, a reminder of some bygone time in the school’s past. Yet the continuing story of XOX, and that of its bowtie-sporting cousin Sigma Chi, symbolizes both the past and future of Stanford University.


In 1960, housing for Stanford students was far different than the system we know today. Many students lived off campus. With sororities banished in 1944, on-campus females lived either in dorms or all-female homes. For men, campus housing consisted largely of privately owned fraternity homes (24 in total) that were run by alumni boards, or “house corporations.” Two of those fraternities were Sigma Chi and Theta Chi.


The 1960s, however, reshaped Stanford’s student culture, and thus student housing preferences. The fraternity system was nearly halved by 1970, with low recruitment and debt forcing some chapters to close, with others disaffiliating to protest the backwards racial policies of the national organizations (chief among these was Sigma Chi, whose fight against the national fraternity sparked significant controversy).


The void left by the Greek system’s decline was quickly filled with a diverse array of alternative housing. Beginning in the late 1960s, co-ops and themed houses began to pop up. Sigma Nu, after disaffiliating to protest the national’s barring of Asian and black students, became a co-ed fraternity titled Beta Chi. Androgyny, the spiritual fore-runner of the co-op Terra, existed at 620 Mayfield Ave, now home to Haus Mitteleuropa. Ultimately, Theta Chi would transform into the self-owned co-op we now know as Chi Theta Chi.


Since the reshuffling of the 1960s, building styles, administrative preferences and bureaucratic turf wars have collided with the Farm’s eccentric history to give us the school’s somewhat incongruous, but entirely diverse residential culture.


With 95 percent of undergraduates living on campus, a large difference between Stanford and her peer institutions is a housing system that offers students the choice of Greeks, apartments or co-ops named “the Enchanted Broccoli Forest.”


Indeed, look no farther than the exhaustive and comprehensive Study on Undergraduate Education at Stanford (“SUES”) for validation of this claim. The final report “confirmed our belief in the absolute centrality of residential experience to a Stanford education… living in residences promotes integrative learning, offering students a wealth of opportunities to test and refine the knowledge, skills, and values they are acquiring in their classes.”


The controversy surrounding Chi Theta Chi should concern co-ops, Greek partisans and any staunch supporter (student, alum or family member) of a rich student culture. While liability and risk management issues must be addressed, bureaucratic wrangling should not trump support for what is truly one of the school’s great assets.


Standing seemingly at polar opposites, Chi Theta Chi and Sigma Chi, the last two privately owned houses, embody the richness and variance of what the Farm has to offer. Though aggrieved middle managers in Residential & Dining Enterprises might disagree, Stanford needs the rogue bastion of pirate libertarianism that is XOX, just as it needs a proud, self-owned Sigma Chi, and the full range of strange and wonderful housing options in between. To steal a line from a good friend, “be deeply funky” – Keep XOX self-owned, and defend the quirkiness that makes Stanford great.


Zachary Warma, B.A. History ’11

Former Community Manager, Haus Mitt ’11

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