Game of Homes

Sept. 24, 2019, 10:14 p.m.

When Stanford removed and then restored the Theta Delta Sigma (TDX) fraternity’s housing privileges in a matter of days in January, the University pointed to a “procedural flaw” in its evaluation of TDX’s standing. Kappa Alpha (KA) wasn’t so lucky. Its members lost their house in June for boarding residents without Stanford’s knowledge. 

While Stanford points to policy violations and harmful environments as reasons for booting Greek chapters from their homes, some believe the University has taken an adversarial stance on Greek life in general, pitting chapters against each other in a competition over housing privileges that for many such groups are deemed part of their legitimacy.

Vice Provost for Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole announced in spring that she supports Greek life and intends to maintain 10 Greek houses on campus for the foreseeable future. But with 26 Greek chapters on campus, some view this cap as arbitrary and limiting of social groups whose communities revolve around their houses.

These concerns have been amplified by the fact that housing has been in flux for multiple Greek chapters, with several fraternities losing housing privileges in the last five years. 

In May 2015, Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) lost its housing at 1047 Campus Drive indefinitely and was placed on a three-year probationary status. The penalty followed two Title IX investigations: one into intimidation and retaliation by fraternity members and another into concerns that SAE “caused, condoned and tolerated” a “sexually hostile environment” at its Roman Bath toga party in May 2014.

As a result of the first Title IX investigation,  SAE was placed on alcohol suspension, social probation and a two-year housing suspension effective spring 2015. But the results of the second, March 2015 investigation superseded this punishment. SAE members unsuccessfully appealed the results of both investigations.

In May 2018, the Sigma Chi fraternity lost its charter and housing at 550 Lasuen Street after Sigma Chi International conducted an investigation over an alleged drugging by a non-Stanford affiliate. The organization released a statement that there were “few members who would carry the chapter forward in a positive manner.” 

Though the charter removal was approved by Sigma Chi International, Stanford and the Alpha Omega Housing Corporation (AOHC) have since sued each other amid disputes over use of the former Sigma Chi fraternity house. AOHC wants the house to be reserved for Sigma Chi members once their charter is restored, whereas Stanford wants to give the house to another Greek chapter in the 2020-21 school year.

The process by which unclaimed Greek houses will be assigned is to be determined in conversations this fall. Greek houses are currently held almost exclusively by members of Stanford’s Interfraternity Council and Inter-Sorority Council, with only one Multicultural Greek Council chapter being housed, and none from the African American Fraternal and Sororal Association. Some Greek leaders see a new process for assigning houses to chapters as an opportunity to change such discrepancies.

Still, the future of housed Greek life at Stanford is unclear. Student leaders of past and present have shared with The Daily their thoughts on recent housing changes and how Greek housing can be sustained in a way that is beneficial for the University community.

How Greek chapters are rated 

The Standards of Excellence (SOE) is a set of criteria implemented in the 2014-15 school year and since used to evaluate the standing of Greek chapters. Each organization submits a lengthy, annual report that highlights its positive contributions, diversity programming, alcohol and drug education efforts. 

If a chapter is given the lowest score, “Needs Improvement,” it is placed on probation and given time to fulfill missing criteria, according to the University’s published SOE guidelines. If it fails to address concerns after the probationary period, the chapter may stop being recognized by Stanford and, if applicable, may be removed from its house. 

Many Greek students have criticized SOE, citing a lack of objective standards for holding chapters accountable. 

“The punishments for not meeting the subjective standards of SOE are quite clear,” wrote KA President Patrick Gilligan ’20 in an email to The Daily. “What has yet to be cemented is what [the University] actually wants our houses to be.”

One difficulty posed when selecting a new house was the “ranking” system implemented by the Standards of Excellence. 

“It’s hard to weight every chapter’s ‘rank’ against others,” said TDX President Nico Garcia ’20. 

Sigma Psi Zeta (SYZ) President Katie Mansfield ’20 suggested that a clearer connection between the Standards of Excellence and privileges such as priority housing status would provide more incentives for a chapter. 

The 2018-19 school year saw not just KA’s housing loss and two-year ban from applying for housing, but also the TDX housing loss and subsequent restoration. TDX had originally been set to lose its house due to four years of failed SOE reviews. 

Harrison Hohman ’19, a former Kappa Sigma member and Daily columnist, said he spent hours helping members of TDX go through their SOE appeals. 

“It was a nightmare,” Hohman said. “With TDX, it wasn’t clear what issues the university was trying to get them to fix. Every year they needed improvement, but each year SOE had new criteria for what they had to improve on. Once they fixed one issue, magically something else popped up.” 

Nevertheless, according to TDX President Nico Garcia ’20, “The housing removal brought to light a lot of places in our organization which are lacking and we got out of it a good model for how to progress and develop so we can improve.”

Despite this bright side of things, Garcia maintains that SOE is not clearly defined.

Stanford must “continue to work towards being more transparent and communicative with students to set realistic criteria that is more applicable to the organizations it evaluates,” wrote Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) sorority President Sloane Maples ’20 in an email to The Daily. She is concerned, but believes Stanford has listened to complaints regarding SOE and has begun making changes to clarify the guidelines.

Ten Greek houses

Since Brubaker-Cole announced her plan to maintain 10 Greek Houses on Stanford’s campus, Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris has reiterated the plan to The Daily. But neither Harris nor Brubaker-Cole has offered more details on how the evaluation of Greek housing arrangements may change from SOE moving forward, other than by saying that Student Affairs’ Greek steering committee is organizing a working group to discuss housing privileges this fall.

“Everything connected with the assignment of Greek houses is pending the working group,” Harris wrote in an email to The Daily. “This means we’re waiting for students to return this fall, so their voices can be incorporated into our work going forward.” 

Many Greek leaders have expressed that maintaining the goal of 10 Greek houses seemed promising, but is perhaps infeasible. 

Gilligan said the 10 house cap seemed arbitrary, especially for a University that says it supports Greek life. There are 26 Greek chapters on campus, many of which want housing, and currently missing groups like Sigma Chi may return in the future.

“Why not allow students more voice in how they would like to live at Stanford? By capping [houses] at 10, I worry that with the current policies in place, turnover is going to happen annually,” Gilligan wrote. “That results in shattered Greek experiences and an inability to create shatterproof organizations.”

AOHC Chair Bob Ottilie ’77 agrees. After years of working with Stanford and its Greek chapters as a Sigma Chi alum, he said that this year is the first in which he’s decided that the Stanford administration is “hostile to Greek.” He pointed to new leadership — Brubaker-Cole, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell specifically — as drivers of this change.

“What’s happened to Greek under the new leadership is dramatically different from what happened to Greek under prior leadership,” Ottilie said, accusing Brubaker-Cole of being less communicative with Greek organizations than her predecessor.

With regard to the 10 house policy, Ottilie said, “It is going to create stress among every student at a housed organization that they are constantly on the edge of losing the house.”

He predicted the policy would result in not only a decreased number of Greek students, but also decreased engagement between Greek alumni and the University.

“Thirty years from now … Sigma Chis might go back to five houses, KAs might go back to seven houses,” Ottilie said. “No one is going to go back to a house where the chapter is. They’re going to go to a house they lived in.”

Gilligan echoed Ottilie’s statements.

“We’ve had hundreds of alumni come through and share similar experiences in the house,” Gilligan wrote. “We’ve bonded with alumni 50 years older than us because of it.”

It was often challenging to work with an administration that creates and implements the policy regarding the Greek system despite its leaders having not been Greek Stanford students themselves, he wrote. He also cited a lack of communication of expectations.

“KA has nearly 125 generations of alumni who have lived together at Stanford and 55 generations who have lived at 664 Lomita … To put it into context, when we went through the Provost’s [appeal] process over 140 alumni spanning 5 decades took time out of their lives to write thoughtful letters about their time in KA and specifically in our house defined their experience at Stanford,” Gilligan wrote. “I can guarantee you that when Wilbur is demolished no one will write a letter of concern about its demise.” 

Some students viewed the 10 house cap as reflective of changing perceptions of Greek life on campus. For instance, Brubaker-Cole has heard students express concern regarding the lack of diversity and unequal access to housing opportunities among campus Greek chapters, as well as “hazing, unsafe drinking and drug-use culture, and unsound recruitment practices.”

“Greek organizations tend to be single-sex, which is politically fraught this day and age, so they are the organizations largely shamed on campus,” Hohman said.

He has doubted the longevity of Greek life at Stanford, echoing a common sentiment shared by many that, as Stanford attempts to become more progressive as an institution, it is also trying to lessen the influence of single-sex Greek organizations. 

This is similar to a recent trend at Harvard University, where single-sex organizations such as fraternities, sororities, and finals clubs have had to choose to go co-ed or lose endorsement from Harvard for outside scholarships and leadership opportunities. A Harvard task force found that final clubs, exclusive and all-male societies created a strong sense of sexual entitlement.

Yet, many Greek leaders have also expressed that the Stanford administration seems generally supportive of Greek life. 

“I think Stanford realizes the importance of Greek life to the undergraduate experience and beyond,” Garcia wrote. “It’s a great way to make connections in a different context at school and from speaking to alumni it remains a part of life after graduation. Given this I think Stanford is supportive of Greek Life and understands the place it holds at the university.”

However, according to Kim, if an accident occurs during an event when a student drinks too much, Stanford tends to be strict with what the Greek chapter can do in the future. These administrative changes have coincided with what many students described as decline in the Stanford social scene and fewer all-campus parties.

“One of the things that historically set Stanford Greek houses apart is that they acted as a safe, open, and inclusive social outlet for everyone on campus,” Gilligan wrote. “However, it’s clear that everyone on campus is restless about the changes that have been made to all RSOs [Registered Student Organizations].”

“If the university continues to expect houses to be able to manage everything on their own, while at the same time penalizing them for even the most minor infraction, then it will further drive campus culture underground and foster increased exclusivity,” he added.

Selecting chapters for unclaimed houses

Some Greek leaders have joined a University steering committee and are working with administrators, alumni and professional staff to help shape the future of Greek life at Stanford. The same steering committee is forming a working group that will meet this quarter to discuss the future process of determining how unhoused chapters are selected for housing, including the KA and Sigma Chi houses. 

Interviewed Greek leaders shared the belief that criteria for determining which Greek chapters will get housing should include regular philanthropy and compliance with  rules and guidelines set by the Stanford administration.

“Any organization that has demonstrated an earnest commitment to their values and would foster a strong sense of community should be considered in receiving a house.” Maples said. 

Minju Kim ’22, vice president of external relations for the alpha Kappa Delta Phi (aKDPhi) sorority, said she would like to see more new multicultural organizations in Greek housing. Of the five organizations on Stanford’s Multicultural Greek Council, only one — Sigma Psi Zeta (SYZ) — is currently housed.

“Many organizations are deserving, but multicultural organizations are seriously underrepresented in Greek housing,” Kim said.

Not one chapter of Stanford’s African American Fraternal and Sororal Association is housed. The Daily reached out to each chapter’s president but did not receive any responses in time for publication.

She added that, ultimately, selecting which organizations get housing seems to be a numbers game. SYZ shares 1047 Campus Drive with the Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp) fraternity.

“Many multicultural organizations don’t have enough people compared to other organizations, so combining organizations may be an option,” Kim said.

Combined Greek houses: a feasible model? 

The 2017-18 school year saw the introduction of a combined Greek House model. 1047 Campus Drive, formerly the residence of SAE, was given to the SigEp fraternity and two Multicultural Greek sororities: SYZ and Sigma Theta Pi (STP), the latter of which is not currently active. 

These organizations were selected from a group of six organizations that decided to apply for 1047 and “Exceeded Expectations” under SOE. Four other Greek chapters that had “Exceeded Expectations” at the time did not apply for housing.

Despite using similar language in their visions for the residence, the three chapters selected for 1047 had a rocky start and faced divergent attitudes. This was ignited by racist comments from a female SigEp guest and allegations of a lack of STP staff member responsibility and involvement in house functions. 

Since the 2018-19 school year, a preassign program has been operated at 1047 to foster more interaction between members of the house through a certain number of mandatory events. Additionally, the theme of intersectionality has been emphasized through luncheons discussing gender and sexuality, as well as the course FEMGEN107P: “College Culture & Masculinity.” 

Mansfield, SYZ’s president,  said housing at 1047 has had its pros and cons. She appreciated that she and many of her sorority’s members learned about communication and compromise through multiple perspectives. However, she said these skills took a significant amount of work and patience to figure out. 

“We would not recommend it for groups that are not already familiar with each other’s priorities, mission, culture, etc.” Mansfield said of the shared Greek housing model.

Facing forward

Given the scarcity of houses under Brubaker-Cole’s 10-house cap, the shared housing model may become more common moving forward. Even if the model isn’t supported, Greek chapters may view shared housing as better than no housing.

Whatever organizations Stanford chooses to house in the future, and however it is done, the Greek community is wary of its role in a changing campus environment. Upcoming changes to residential life, such as Stanford’s planned neighborhood system, are further complicating factors. 

Still, many students remain optimistic that Stanford is trying to close the gap between Greek members and university administrators through regular communication, such as the steering committee.

“I think Greek life at Stanford has also become more aware of its role on campus,” Garcia said. “Through extensive meetings I think the community has come to a better understanding of its influence on the surrounding communities and university and I think this is crucial if Greek life is to remain a presence on campus.”

Holden Foreman contributed reporting.

Contact Fan Liu at fliu6 ‘at’

Fan Liu is a staff writer for the Stanford Daily. She was also a summer desk editor. She is currently studying biomedical informatics.

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