When Chapters Call The Shots – Sig Ep at Tufts

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The final executive board of Sigma Phi Epsilon (from left: Yotam Bentov A17, Adrian Chu E16, Jacob Lebovic A18, Andre Chuong A18, Herluf Gyde Lund III E16, Shawn Patterson A17, Benjamin Kaplan A17, Matthew Masi-Phelps E17, Arman Smigielski A18 and Samuel Berzok A16) pose in front of their house at 92 Professors Row on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, days before announcing their intention to disaffiliate from their national organization. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)
photo from The Tufts Daily

 

You may or may not have heard of Sigma Phi Epsilon at Tufts disaffiliating from their national organization. If not, here’s the story. Why is this important?

A little over a year ago I wrote post that referred to the old tale of the pied piper. In that post, the suggestion was made that we who work in Fraternity & Sorority Life should be mindful of who pays our bills, for there will come a point where members may consider their dues (both IFC and national dues) to be better used elsewhere.

I don’t think that what happened at Tufts will result in a mass exodus from Sig Ep or any fraternity (it seems most campus professionals are biased in favor of [inter]national fraternities), but I do think it may signal to more chapters that they ultimately hold the cards in choosing their chapter’s future.

My personal opinion is that these men, or men in similar situations, may be missing an opportunity. As Sig Eps, they could use their affiliation to call out publicly what they believe is lacking in their network of chapters. They could stand on the floor of a national meeting and call out the behavior or actions of other groups.

As affiliates of a national fraternity, they could graduate as alumni, volunteer for or give to their fraternity, and continue to be the change they wish to see. Still, sometimes things are best handled through separation, and perhaps that is the only way express differences too egregious to ignore.

As a local chapter, they’ll have autonomy, but many other institutions would force the chapter underground. The survival of such a group is limited to its support from Tufts as well as it’s local alumni base. I can’t quantify that (in an earlier version of this post I made some assumptions), but assume it’d have to be excellent support for the chapter to thrive as a local group.

In any case, what has happened at Tufts should serve as a warning, but not yet a precedent. The opportunity cost of going local is still too high for most chapters at most schools, but it’s clear that students on all sides of all isles are going to demand more (or less) of the communities they find themselves in.

Update 3/2018: I’ve edited some paragraphs of this post for clarity. I’d also like to note that since posting this, a sorority at Harvard has disaffiliated with its national office to become a co-ed organization and another chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon at the University of Chicago (where there is a lax relationship between the university and Greek-letter organizations) has split into a local group and the remnants of the SigEp chapter.

In the case of the SigEp groups, I have noticed that the response from higher education groups I am/was involved with was a sort of “good riddance,” vibe. Many critiqued whether the chapters had legitimate reasons to defect (however one defines legitimate), whether or not they can afford insurance, and many have predicted their demise. I’m not too different – the first version of this post made some assumptions about existing as a local fraternity that I’ve come to disagree with.

Much like TFM (which still has a greater base of followers than most fraternities combined), our habit of belittling and ignoring those we think know less than us may end up biting us in the rear. It was mentioned in this post that the former SigEps at Tufts should not be taken as a precedent. . . maybe it’s time to revisit that thought.

4 Responses

  1. Dean

    You actually have this a bit backwards. The Tufts chapter left because the other undergraduate chapters of Sig Ep called for full implementation of the Balanced Man Program this summer, and they declined to change. The deadline for chapters to become BMP chapters is the end of this semester. The heroes in this case are the other chapters, lead by a former chapter president from their South Carolina chapter, these guys just refused to go along with the rest of the fraternity. I can’t say these guys won’t be successful, but their reason for leaving is not that notable. I do agree that we will eventually see a revolution against high dues and restrictive policies, but this isn’t the case study you are looking for.

    • Nik

      Thanks for the clarification Dean. I hope the ultimate point to come across in this post is not necessarily the specific reason behind their disaffiliation as much as it is the reality that such is possible. I don’t necessarily pick heroes and villains in this case, as I don’t endorse or oppose the Balanced Man Program over another form of member orientation, but I appreciate the insight.

    • Nik

      It’s not necessarily difficult or not possible; there are many insured and local groups. The point is that there are many chapters less determined than the chapter mentioned in this post that may be (and have been) turned off to going local due to the additional work/expectations placed on their student or alumni membership.