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The House that Beta Tau Built

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The new Beta Tau chapter home was a project of over eight years in making.

 

By Merritt Onsa

Eight years ago, the alumni of Beta Tau Chapter at North Carolina State University formed a committee to pursue new house construction in the university’s redeveloped Greek Village. The goal was to design and construct a grand chapter house that would exemplify Sigma Nu’s legacy as the oldest fraternity on campus.

Brother Randall Ward pledged the initial one million dollars to kick start the campaign in 2007. Howard Pickett, Richard Vaughn, and Johnny Mack Alexander also made additional financial commitments that year. However, the U.S. economy faltered shortly after early fundraising efforts began, which hindered the expected progress of the campaign intended to fund the $4.6 million home.

Finally, in 2011, with $2.3 million in pledges, the committee began searching for bank financing to get the project started. For 18 months there was no progress. That’s when Steve Ratterman (Indiana) referred Howard to Jennifer Henson of Residential Capital for help in sourcing a bank loan.

A member of Alpha Xi Delta and former President of the organization’s national housing corporation, Jennifer is skilled at helping Greek organizations navigate the complexities of securing financing for the acquisition or renovation of their chapter houses.

Jennifer has focused her career to this end. She endeavors to translate the Greek experience to bank officials whose only perspective on the topic may have come from watching Animal House. “Unfortunately, a lot of loan officers don’t understand how the Greek system not only strengthens college campuses but also that the chapter house living experience is critical to the development of our young men and women,” she says.

The new Beta Tau chapter home is only one of four in the Greek Village with a basement and two stories. At 24,500-square-feet, it is the largest house that can be built on campus. Inside there’s a full commercial kitchen, an elevator, dining hall and classroom for LEAD events.

The new Beta Tau chapter home is only one of four in the Greek Village with a basement and two stories. At 24,500-square-feet, it is the largest house that can be built on campus. Inside there’s a full commercial kitchen, an elevator, dining hall and classroom for LEAD events.

She understands the value of a chapter being able to provide a suitable living environment for its members. “Whether through CHIA (the Collegiate Housing Infrastructure Act) or other initiatives, we have to keep providing safe, affordable housing that our alumni can be proud of visiting. In this day and age, with millennials having a different opinion of housing than I did when I graduated in 1976, we have to keep it fresh and new in order to keep our chapters strong,” she says.

When Jennifer brings together the university, the lenders and the Greek chapters who wish to build new housing, she focuses on alleviating concerns for all parties involved. “It’s just a matter of bringing everyone together to figure out how we can accomplish this,” she says.

Assembling the Team

In the case of Beta Tau, once Jennifer gathered all the interested parties in a room, including university representatives Dr. Luckadoo, Vice Provost for Campus Life; Mary Peloquin-Dodd, CFO; Laura Ratchford, General Counsel, it took only two hours for the lender to agree to go forward on Beta Tau’s loan.

Afterwards, the committee went right to work and hired Omega Construction and Gontram Architecture to proceed with the project. Sigma Nu was the first to select its plot of land and begin construction in Phase I of the Greek Village. As a result of their experience, Sigma Nu paved the way for the other Greek organizations to follow in their footsteps with their own housing projects in the Village.

Beta Tau’s house is one of two newly completed Greek houses at NC State. The undergraduate members moved in last January to the new house, located on two-thirds of the original lot where the previous Sigma Nu house was positioned, at the highest point on the campus.

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The House Tour

The facility is only one of four in the Greek Village with a basement and two stories. At 24,500-square-feet, it is the largest house that can be built on campus. Inside there’s a full commercial kitchen, an elevator, chandeliers in the dining hall and a four-story high open staircase that, when lit at night, can be seen all across campus.

While the building is brand new, the committee took care to install pieces of Sigma Nu history that would live on with future generations. In the front left corner of the yard, a piece of the original rock where Sigma Nu was founded in 1869 rests on a pedestal, honoring the Fraternity’s rich history.

In addition, the front steps of the house are framed on either side with two coins and nine bricks from the old Carolina Inn, where Beta Tau was founded in 1895, which was torn down in the 1970s. The bricks were salvaged from the Inn and used in the hearth at Beta Tau’s previous house. “Now, any brother who enters the new house will walk a pathway of where Beta Tau was founded,” says Howard.

This ADA compliant facility sleeps 37 of the current 89 initiated brothers. The rooms have double sound-proofing between the walls, a speaker system and surround-sound in every room. Bedrooms also provide one electrical receptacle per student where they can quick-charge an iPhone, iPad or laptop computer. Most of the rooms are doubles, except for seven singles reserved for officers and corner rooms that house three men each. Bathrooms are shared by just two brothers. While the rooms are priced differently based on size and accommodations, rent is comparable to what the university charges.

Downstairs, the brothers have access to a classroom, designated for LEAD events, chapter meetings and studying, when not otherwise in use. There are two 65” televisions that work simultaneously for viewing meeting agendas or Power Point presentations.

The house also boasts an activity room with a home theater set-up and a 70” television as well as a beautifully furnished Alumni Library, which is used for Alumni Advisory Board meetings and other alumni gatherings.

Recognizing Those Who Made it Possible

Every room in the house is named for an alumnus based on amount he pledged to the campaign. The house is named in honor of Susan and Randall Ward, for their generous lead gift. The study room is named for Richard Vaughn, the Alumni Library for Howard Pickett and the LEAD classroom for Johnny Mack Alexander.

One hundred twenty-five Beta Tau alumni made financial commitments to bring this project to fruition. Of those, the following men also served on the original fundraising committee: Eddie Gontram, Daniel Gunter, Dr. Gerald Hawkins, John O’Keefe, Howard Pickett, Matt Skidmore, Braxton Smith, Rick Tate, Reece Walter, and Doug Yopp.

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Ribbon cutting at the grand opening. From left to right: Barry Hemmings (Omega Construction president), Howard C. Pickett (Beta Tau House Corporation president), Bobby Porter (collegiate Commander), Randall Ward (Lead Gift for Beta Tau housing campaign), and Randy Woodson (North Carolina State University Chancellor).

 

In addition, Howard asked Richard Vaughn to consult on the project throughout the design, fundraising and construction phases because of his 45-years of experience in commercial construction. Richard was involved in every aspect, including negotiating the contract with the builder and overseeing the quality of their work.

“In my opinion, there won’t be another fraternity house built on the campus that is any nicer or has finer amenities than the Sigma Nu house. I’m quite proud of it whenever I go there. The current brothers are bound to be proud of it as well as all the guys who contributed money to build it,” says Richard.

New Home Make Bonds of Brotherhood Stronger

There’s no question, the brotherhood has benefited from the new house. Eminent Commander Connor Pilgrim says the members enjoy eating two meals a day together at the house; the entire membership is on the full meal plan. “People are at the house a lot more than before. As a result, we’ve gotten a lot closer as a brotherhood,” he says.

The house has also been a selling point in recruitment. The most recent candidate class drew 31 men. “I’m excited because Sigma Nu at NC State has never been over 100. These young men have done a great job recruiting a variety of men who are now involved in the student senate, IFC and elsewhere on campus,” says Howard. The chapter also excels at philanthropy, raising $40,000 last year for St. Baldrick’s to fund childhood cancer research at St. Jude.

Finally, this housing project was successful in bringing alumni and collegiate members together to work toward a common cause. Unlike any other organization on campus, fraternities and sororities offer an opportunity for cross-generational involvement. Alumni, like those from Richard Vaughn’s era, have a chance to give back in a meaningful way; and collegians witness the longevity of the brotherhood through those supportive alumni.

Connor summarized it well. “Seeing this house built and getting to live here cements the idea that this is a lifelong commitment and not something we’re doing for just four years. It’s a huge blessing and a great honor to get to be part of something so large and to see the dedication from alumni who are willing to build a property like this for kids still in college,” he says.

Brothers Times Two

Adrian House (UC Davis), left, with brother James (UC Santa Barbara).

Adrian House (UC Davis), left, with brother James (UC Santa Barbara).

By Merritt Onsa

Although five years apart in age, Adrian (UC Davis) and James (UC Santa Barbara) House are as close as brothers can be. Both men were Founding Fathers of their respective chapters, served as Eminent Commanders, and in January 2014, Adrian finally got to pin a Sigma Nu badge on his younger brother at UCSB’s chartering.

Shortly after Adrian House enrolled at UC Davis, Sigma Nu began re-colonizing Zeta Xi following a 17-year absence from campus. He had lots of friends joining fraternities that year, but none of them stood out to Adrian. That is until he bumped into a high school friend who encouraged him to come to a colonization meeting for Sigma Nu.

There, alumnus Mike Wheeler (UC Davis) shared the values of the Fraternity and the opportunity to create something from the ground up. Adrian was sold.

But his parents weren’t so sure. Neither had gone to college, and a fraternity was not what they had in mind for their son. Adrian shared the LEAD binder with his dad, including examples of all the things he wouldn’t learn in the classroom but would learn at Sigma Nu—things like how to write a speech, time management, conflict resolution, how to motivate people, and especially the values of the Fraternity. Adrian says it was those values that helped him convince his parents to let him join.

Like any Founding Father, Adrian was involved in all aspects of the colonization process. Just two months in, he decided to run for Eminent Commander and, to his surprise, was elected. Adrian says it was a scary time, since he knew nothing about starting a fraternity from scratch. But he felt tremendous support from Headquarters staff members Chris Healy (Fresno State), Jake Welshans (Indiana), and Andrew Meeks (Kent State) as well as alumnus Mike Wheeler. “I feel like I couldn’t have done it without them,” says Adrian.

Director of Expansion and Recruitment at the time, Andrew Meeks recognized Adrian’s leadership potential from the start. “He always focused on the legacy of the group over his own legacy. As Commander he gave individual committees freedom and ownership. ‘I’m relying on you as leaders to build these plans,’ Adrian would say. That made everyone in the chapter buy into the effort. He’s a very thoughtful and quiet leader, but when he had to speak he made the words count,” says Andrew.

Brian Woodall (Virginia) served on the advisory board during Adrian’s tenure at UCD. “I was impressed with Adrian the first time I met him. He’s a really sharp young man. All of the guys who were part of the colony gravitated towards him,” he says.

Making Rock Chapter a Family Tradition

After 13 months of hard work and a 398-page application, Zeta Xi was chartered in May 2009. That summer Adrian was selected to serve as a Collegiate Grand Councilman. The chapter went on to earn Rock Awards in 2012 and 2014.

“With Adrian’s leadership and the dedication of all of the guys there, you really couldn’t have asked for a better result. What they’ve done over the last five years—becoming a Rock Chapter that quickly—it’s just really impressive. It goes back to the foundation that those first brothers laid. It was really all built around integrity and doing the right thing,” says Brian.

Adrian says his Sigma Nu experience changed him. “I feel like I really grew into my role as a man. I graduated high school at 17 and came to Davis. I didn’t know who I was. For whatever reason, Sigma Nu crossed my path, and I attribute a lot of who I am today to the values and skills I learned there,” he says.

The impact of Sigma Nu on Adrian also touched his younger brother, James. “When I left for school, it was hard for me and for him. We are very close, almost like twins. But now I was in a new place and didn’t have my best friend. He came out and visited me all the time,” says Adrian.

Though he was still in high school, James was enthralled with his brother’s Sigma Nu experience. “Ever since Adrian was Commander, I always knew it was the fraternity for me,” says James. As a high school sophomore, James even approached then-Regent Joe Gilman (Morehead State) at Zeta Xi’s chartering ceremony and asked when he could join.

James and Adrian at the UCSB house_no watermark

Following Big Brother’s Lead

From that point on, James was determined to go to Davis and become a Sigma Nu. Unfortunately, he didn’t get accepted to UCD. He was put on the waiting list and was required to select another UC school. James reluctantly selected UC Santa Barbara and eventually received an email saying he wouldn’t be accepted from Davis’ waitlist. That’s when he learned UCSB didn’t have a Sigma Nu chapter.

“I was pretty down about that. My brother always said he’d fly back from med school to pin me at my initiation. Knowing I was going to a campus that didn’t even have a Sigma Nu chapter meant that was never going to happen,” says James.

Little did he know the Sigma Nu expansion team would be at UCSB that spring, recruiting men for the re-colonization of Kappa Eta.

When James arrived at UCSB in the fall of 2011, he saw “Sigma Nu” penciled onto the fraternity rush schedule, so he went to check it out. The interest group was small—maybe 10 men at the time—without a house. James consulted his brother who encouraged him to consider the opportunity to be a Founding Father. “Not everyone gets that chance,” Adrian told him.

Adrian flew out from Boston, where he is attending medical school, to finally pin a Sigma Nu badge on his brother.

James decided to give it a try. The fall quarter was unremarkable in terms of the colony’s progress, but James says it was clear things were faltering when he returned from Christmas break in January 2012.

Meetings were cancelled. Momentum waned. Nothing happened with the colony. Not willing to let it fall apart, James posted on the group’s Facebook page asking to meet with anyone still willing to be involved. Eight guys showed up.

That night James learned about a several-weeks-old email from Headquarters expressing concern about the lack of response from the group. James reached out immediately to Josh Green (Arizona), Sigma Nu’s Director of Expansion and Recruitment at the time. A week later, the colony elected James to serve as Commander. “That was the beginning of Kappa Eta in my mind,” he says.

The group got permission to continue and went into spring quarter with just 10 guys—four of whom would graduate at the end of the term. Over the next year, the six who remained slowly began to build interest on campus about the opportunity to build a fraternity from the ground up.

Discovering a Recipe for Success

In talking to prospective members, they focused on friendship, brotherhood, and the idea of being part of something new and different from any other fraternity on campus. They even spent a weekend calling 150 guys who had gone through formal recruitment but didn’t end up joining a fraternity. “We knew we didn’t have to sell Greek life to them. They’d already signed up for recruitment but, for whatever reason, didn’t join,” he says.

A year later, in spring 2013, they had 33 guys on their rolls. “That was a make-or-break year for us. There were times when we felt like it wasn’t going to happen. It was really hard not to give up, but in the long run it paid off. It was the greatest achievement of our lives,” says James. And their success with recruitment helped built momentum, courage, and motivation within the group.

In November 2013, James was elected to a second term as Commander. That same month Kappa Eta got the call saying their petition to charter was accepted.

“When we got our charter in January 2014, it was the single greatest weekend of my life,” says James. There were 200 people at the chartering ceremony, including representatives from Sigma Nu Headquarters and local Division Commanders. Adrian flew out from Boston, where he is attending medical school, to finally pin a Sigma Nu badge on his brother.

There is no doubt; Adrian is proud of what his younger brother has accomplished. “He had a rough time. I feel like I had it easy recolonizing at Davis. There was work to do, but the infrastructure was there. When James started out, it was just him and a handful of others. I’m surprised they got it rolling. I give him a lot of credit for being able to stick it out,” says Adrian.

Today, the House brothers are relishing the success and momentum of their respective chapters—both at California schools, both of which closed for various reasons but are now thriving. Today, Kappa Eta has 70 members.

Adrian says, “It’s incredible that our chapters have taken off. A lot of who I am is because of that experience—the failure, the success and the emotions that are at play. I feel fortunate and blessed to share that with my brother and for him to have this opportunity as well—it’ll radically change the trajectory of his life.”

Learning to Face Their Challenges Together

A bench on the Duke campus in memory of Chris "Stewie" Sanders.

A bench on the Duke campus in memory of Chris “Stewie” Sanders.

By Merritt Onsa

On April 3, 2007, tragedy struck the Gamma Chapter at Duke University. Suddenly, a brother was gone. Chris ‘Stewie’ Sanders took his life, and his death shook the chapter to its core. Stewie’s decision surprised everyone including his girlfriend, his parents, and the men who called him their brother.

An incredibly popular and well-liked guy, Stewie never gave any signs that he was depressed or considering taking his life. He was an accomplished diver on the Duke men’s swimming team, active in his Sigma Nu chapter—serving as Marshal at the time of his death—and elsewhere in leadership roles on campus.

Brothers remember his kindness and enthusiasm for Sigma Nu. “He was one of those guys with the gravitas to pull you one way or another,” says former Commander Teddy Jones about meeting Stewie during rush. Doug Lawson, who was Stewie’s roommate and close friend at the time of his death, says, “You couldn’t ask for a better friend or a better brother.”

Stewie was one of the reasons Doug wanted to join Sigma Nu in the first place. “He made me feel really welcome. He was always looking for ways to make sure you were doing well,” he says.

As devastating as Stewie’s death was for the chapter, their loss cut even deeper as the brothers wondered how they could have had no inkling about his later-discovered mental health issues.

Doug recalls feeling deeply impacted by the loss for a long time. “It was hard to be in a good mood. I thought, ‘How can I really enjoy anything when Stewie was going through so much pain and we didn’t even know about it.’”

However, in the midst of tragedy, the brothers bonded together in their grief, first, to support one another and, later, to try to figure out what they could have done differently.

Deciding to Live Differently

Several months after Stewie’s death, brothers began discussing how they might honor his memory and hopefully prevent something like this from happening again. Dave Mainella, alumni advisor, gathered a group to talk it out, including the Commander (Teddy Jones), former Commander (Michael McHugh), and Dr. Gary Glass, from Duke’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Dr. Glass had been Duke’s counselor on duty in the days immediately following Stewie’s death.

The first challenge they identified was the self-described “alpha-male” culture of the chapter. Teddy describes it this way: “Alpha males don’t need help with things; they don’t need to talk to a therapist because of image problems, or because they feel fat or depressed, or worry that they are bordering on alcoholism, or aren’t as good as their peers, or because they can’t keep up with social and academic expectations set for them.”

But that culture wasn’t unique to Sigma Nu. Duke’s current Director of Fraternity & Sorority Life, Clarybel Peguero, says it’s prevalent across campus. “There’s a strong sense of perfectionism that exists in the community—a belief that you can work hard and party hard and that the stress is not getting to you. You don’t show it; you work through it by partying. The students do both at such extremes,” she says.

In addition, competition at Duke is thick. Students strive for the best internships, top spots in high-ranking graduate schools, or high-paying jobs after college. “There tends to be an emphasis placed on succeeding in every facet of your life. Everyone is pushing to succeed, and it’s frowned upon to admit defeat, that you want to stay in tonight, or that you are burned out,” says Kraig Knas, who was a freshman in the chapter at the time of Stewie’s death.

At the time, Teddy says he believes Sigma Nu didn’t have the culture in place to empower someone like Stewie to seek the help he needed. “There was this façade that people would put on that [I believe] contributed to their reluctance to deal with problems if they had them, whether they were image problems or mental health problems, like Stewie dealt with,” he says.

Chris "Stewie" Sanders' death shook the chapter to its core.

Chris “Stewie” Sanders’ death shook the chapter to its core.

Learning to Face Their Challenges

Gamma Chapter’s loss provided the motivation the brothers needed to begin to shift the culture and attitudes in the chapter. They started by learning how to deal with grief. Instead of avoiding difficult topics, brothers began to share their feelings with one another; and several went to CAPS to talk things out.

They implemented additional brotherhood building activities and sessions throughout the LEAD Program to help members learn to open up more. “The tools in the LEAD toolbox really helped continue the conversation,” says Dave.

To reinforce opportunities for more vulnerable conversations amongst the brothers, they also implemented a peer coaching program—modeled after a session Dave led at College of Chapters. It’s still a part of chapter life today, giving brothers an outlet to talk about real issues instead of pretending everything is okay or talking about superficial topics.

Plus, that initial meeting with Dave and Dr. Glass inspired a larger movement called Face Your Challenges (FYC)—a campaign to help college students deal with life challenges. The taglines they came up with for the program were a direct result of those early conversations.

Today, FYC’s marketing materials include statements like, “Let yourself be who you actually are,” and “It’s okay to admit that you don’t have all the answers,” and “One phrase can change your life, if you let it: ‘I need to talk.’” That kind of dialogue was what Gamma brothers hoped would permeate their chapter.

“We wanted FYC to bring awareness of everyone else’s feelings and how certain people handle stress in different ways. We wanted all the guys to know that in the darkest hour of the day that their best friends were there to help them out and stand for them,” says Kraig.

In addition, the brothers created an FYC website to serve as a hub of resources for people outside of Sigma Nu. There they posted “Stewie Stories” written by a few members shortly after Stewie’s death. A group of brothers also began visiting the other campus fraternities to share those stories, talk about their experience, and suggest students seek help if they or a brother are struggling.

Teddy recounts visiting other fraternities with the FYC program while he was still at Duke. “I would talk about how, if someone were there or we’d had programming or an organizational attitude in place that made it easier for someone like Stewie to seek help, his death might have been prevented,” he says.

One time, a friend approached Teddy after his talk and admitted to feeling depressed. As a result of what Teddy shared, this friend said he’d try to set up a meeting with Dr. Glass the next day. “It was one of those experiences that made everything worth it,” Teddy says.

Since her arrival at Duke in 2008, Clarybel says she’s seen the impact of these efforts on the chapter. “While Sigma Nu understood their social capital before, they didn’t know how to use it for good. Today they are the highest functioning fraternity in every aspect. They have become an overall great organization. I have seen their connectivity become more and more strengthened,” she says.

Clarybel confirms a rise in mental health issues on college campuses in the last twenty years and says men in particular tend to have more difficulty seeking help. “But when a group like Sigma Nu says, ‘Hey, it’s okay to go to CAPS. It’s okay to talk about how hard this is.’ I think it really sets a tone for people to say, ‘If they went, I’m going to go too,’” she explains.

A poster the chapter created to promote the Face Your Challenges program.

A poster the chapter created to promote the Face Your Challenges program.

What Stewie Taught Us

After Stewie’s death, Doug went on to study psychology and then the law, both of which afforded him a growing base of knowledge about mental health issues. Teddy went to medical school where he gained an understanding of psychological issues like bipolar disorder. Personal experience and their educational pursuits have inspired both Doug and Teddy to fight against the stigma attached to mental health issues.

“It makes no sense that people treat disorders of the mind completely different from disorders of the body. Both of them need to be addressed as serious issues. If you broke your ankle, of course you’d go to the doctor. If you have a chemical imbalance in your brain, of course you’d go to the doctor. It makes no logical sense that there would be a stigma for one and not the other,” says Doug.

Jack Riker, who served as Commander in 2012-2013, says if there was one piece of advice he would offer to Sigma Nu brothers it would be to open up. “Remember that people are people, and people aren’t perfect. It’s tough to talk about what you’re struggling with, but it’s also kind of unhealthy not to. Don’t be afraid to speak out. Once I open up to someone, I’m amazed at how much easier it is for the other person to reach out. It just takes one person to break the ice first,” he says.

While it was born out of great pain, the implementation of FYC and the change in culture has been extremely positive for the chapter. “Stewie’s death was incomprehensible. That’s why I think FYC is such a great initiative. If there’d been any sign, or he had spoken up at all, or even if we were more aware of what to look for when someone is struggling with mental health issues, something could’ve been done,” says Doug.

As chapter advisor, Dave has had the benefit of watching the chapter morph over time. “I’ve seen a new level of comfort, especially in the seniors who graduated in 2013 and 2014. They are willing to share and ask for support, and they are able to talk about their challenges in a completely different way than what I saw five or six years earlier.”

He believes other Sigma Nu chapters can learn from Gamma’s experience. “This program has allowed brothers to feel comfortable saying they have an issue and that they need some help. I hope other chapters will consider bringing it to their campus because I think it is very valuable for the fraternal movement as a whole,” Dave explains.

The Legacy Lives On

Now that seven years have passed since Stewie’s death, all the brothers who knew him have long since graduated, but the culture established by those deeply affected by this loss still lingers. And his legacy lives on in FYC.

Every year, during rush, the brothers make a formal presentation about FYC. Then, on the anniversary of Stewie’s death in April, they hold a ceremony in his memory. The brothers read Stewie Stories and the newest initiates and candidates get a better glimpse of the wake-up call that shaped their brotherhood.

He may be gone, but Stewie’s memory is still attracting new brothers. Jack says it was the openness of the members to talk about their struggles that drew him to Sigma Nu. “It made me feel comfortable to know that everyone is cognizant of the fact that people need to get their feelings out,” he says.

The effort to promote awareness, beyond the walls of Gamma Chapter, continues. Over the last three years, they co-sponsored a Break The Silence benefit concert with To Write Love on Her Arms, a national nonprofit dedicated to hope and help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. Fifty-perfect of the concert’s proceeds are invested in the local community for mental health awareness, education, and care.

In addition, at least one other Sigma Nu chapter has expressed interest in the Face Your Challenges program. Jack was approached at College of Chapters by a Commander whose chapter was dealing with a similar incident. With the assistance of Gamma Chapter, the Delta Phi Chapter is launching a Face Your Challenges program at the University of Maryland.

While he wouldn’t wish it on any chapter, Dave describes the experience of going through this tragedy, helping the chapter learn from it, and coming out on the other side as incredibly powerful and extremely impactful for the brotherhood. “Stewie has been gone for a while now, but I have to think that his parents would get some comfort by knowing what has transpired since we lost him,” he says.

Currently, Gamma Chapter is working to get FYC registered as an official student organization in an effort to impact the greater Duke community with mental health awareness programming.

Bound by Honor

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After announcing a new theme for the biennium, Regent Joe Francis (Oklahoma State) talks about the High Council’s ambitious agenda, including what fraternities must do to remain relevant over the next five years.

Your inauguration speech in Nashville referenced a walk you took with some fellow volunteers during the 2007 College of Chapters in Lexington. What has been the significance of this walk in setting the course of the fraternity since then?

That walk proved to be a turning point in my willingness to serve at this level. That walk was impromptu and developed without plan. In hindsight it’s interesting that how all three of us – Robert Durham, Lee Perrett, and me – have or will serve in the role as Regent. It’s significant to note that we started out by talking about our vision for what the fraternity could be. It was on that walk that we realized a like-mindedness that we all wanted our fraternity to be committed to having the strongest chapters on every campus where we operate. Our strength as a national organization, we all agreed, relies on the strength of the collegiate chapters.

During this walk around the Washington and Lee campus we ended up verbalizing what I had felt for a number of years on the local level. I thought that if there is this focus on chapter strength then I might be able to offer valuable service to the fraternity because we followed this same mindset at the local level with my own chapter. The message of chapter excellence started with Robert’s term as Regent, and the focus gained momentum through Charlie’s term and continues today.

How would you describe the Bound by Honor theme for those not in attendance in Nashville?

The chapter excellence mindset focuses on what excellence looks like at the local chapter level. The concepts of bound for excellence and bound by honor are not mutually exclusive – those commitments are intertwined. Within the excellence imperative is an inherent sense of honor. If we provide an ethical chapter environment it must be based on our core values. Given all that’s going on with higher education and in society, bound by honor and the work of the Due North Task Force are critical. Our values of Love, Honor, and Truth must guide everything we do.

What advice would you offer to a collegiate officer with hopes of transforming a struggling chapter? Where does he begin?

If you have an opportunity to have dialogue with collegiate officers you have to focus on identifying their struggles. Their vision of struggle might be different than the actual source of their struggle. You have to remember we are working with officers who are college age men. Get them to verbalize what they are struggling with. They need to be honest about their deficiencies, and then set clear and attainable goals for improvement.

What about the officer of a Rock Chapter? How does he inspire his chapter to avoid complacency?

Every chapter can improve – whether a new colony, a struggling chapter, or a perennial Rock Chapter. That’s always been my mode of operation – raising the bar. An additional GPA point, stronger philanthropy, a better advisory board? Every chapter has a chance to be better no matter how good they are now. I always ask chapter officers, How will you do this job better than it’s ever been done? I challenge chapter officers to do something that will forever change their chapter in a positive way. The best chapter officers make it their own and raise the bar for that position. Then, you evaluate performance at the end of their term to see how they did.

Your speech made reference to this idea at the national level. Could you talk more about your pivot from expecting excellence to sustaining excellence? What does that look like at the national level?

Just as the collegiate chapters should evaluate their performance each year, so must the national organization – from the board level to the staff level. If you don’t constantly evaluate your programs you’re going to miss opportunities to improve or to remediate deficiencies. Strategic planning is a must. There needs to be transparency and dialogue. Reporting on milestones and exceptions is critical.

How can we reassure chapters that their performance will be judged fairly and appropriately?

Looking backwards often gives a clear vision for explaining current success. I’m proud of the process we go through with historical data to assess our chapters’ performance and identifying the underlying factors in their success. If you look back at Robert’s vision, the process for identifying, measuring, and remediating deficiencies – each stage followed a logical progression. There was never an intention or a desire to close deficient chapters. It was an opportunity to measure and remediate. When you do that you give them a chance to tell us how they are performing. If this process reveals areas of concern, the logical next step is to explain. We offer counseling and feedback, remediation and action plans. These are all consistent with a plan to improve and make chapters stronger, not plans to close small or struggling chapters. Look at the record number of Rock Chapters. And look at the very small number of chapters that have not turned the corner. That’s the message: until you have been handed a mandate to improve, you’re not going to see movement in the right direction. There was a concern that all chapters needed to fit a certain mold and look a certain uniform way. But that concern was unfounded. The focus has been on chapter strength and that mindset has now been institutionalized in our fraternity’s DNA. Each chapter is expected to be strong or on a path to reach that status.

From your observations, what characteristics do the best chapter officers all have in common?

The best chapter officers all have a strong sense of personal ethics. They have clear and inherent understanding of right from wrong and they are willing to act courageously if the situation arises. The best chapter officers are strong in their approach, but they find a way to earn the support of the chapter. They’re organized and smart with their time. Effective officers tend to be mature for their age. They’re able to communicate their vision and their goals, and they build a coalition within the chapter to achieve these goals.

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How did Tom Mason become a mentor and hero to you? What has he taught you?

He modeled alumni service in the best possible way. There was nothing beneath him. He is the type to roll up his sleeves and do whatever it takes to make the chapter as good as it could possibly be. When I was a young alumni advisor I didn’t know what that level of service was supposed to look like. In hindsight, I realize now how much his example influenced me. I’ve tried to mirror him, the way he conducts himself. As a fellow attorney, I’ve also admired his commitment to ethics and integrity. He is the true definition of a mentor for his ability to bring out the best in the people around him. Just last month he rallied the chapter alumni around the capital campaign and the attainment of the matching gift.

Above it all, Tom instilled in me a sense of obligation to serve the fraternity in whatever role I was called on to fill. This sense of obligation was the impetus behind the current High Council’s push to get outstanding alumni leaders to serve in leadership positions where they can really make a difference.

We need our alumni to view fraternity at a broader level. When we have those people who can think strategically, we should encourage those members to think in terms of service at the national level. The most effective High Council members are those who would be hesitant because they are busy and have many other opportunities to serve. We need those who are equipped to serve at national level. A lot of the time those people have to be encouraged. It wasn’t my aspiration to do this, but I felt an obligation.

What must fraternities do to stay relevant in the next 3-5 years and beyond?

What higher education looks like, and what it could look like in the future, will be totally different than what I experienced as an undergrad. As long as we focus our programs on living our values and teaching ethical leadership then we will be providing a positive, out-of-classroom experience for the young men who seek to join our brotherhood. Given all the scrutiny Greek organizations are under now, we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate what we stand for and provide an experience that is unsurpassed by other groups. When you look at lifelong brotherhood and ethical leadership growth experiences, those are very powerful opportunities. That experience can be powerful in a young man’s life. We want to develop ethical leaders who in turn become better elected officials, citizens, husbands, fathers, etc. We’ll be offering something that’s not only relevant but also positive and powerful.

As the classroom experience continues to evolve in the direction of online remote learning, face-to-face interaction will become increasingly important for developing young leaders who can be effective in the real world. Our LEAD Program needs to be mindful of these changes and visionary in our approach to providing this opportunity to interact with other students.

What are the most critical issues facing higher education right now? How can fraternities be the driving force behind solving these problems?

Higher education has come under increasing scrutiny lately for a number of reasons, including safe environments, pressure to control ballooning costs, foster an environment of inclusion, and comply with accreditation standards. If we’re going to continue as a leading fraternity we need to step out in these arenas and be proactive. But these are complex problems and finding a solution to each one will require considerable resources, patience and resolve. At the board level, we are taking steps to do what we can to make sure we’re providing an environment conducive to a positive learning experience. The thing we battle in fraternities is the behavioral issues of a minority of our members. People always shrug their shoulders and say “Boys will be boys.” But we can’t settle for lazy excuses like that. Once we step foot into the world of Sigma Nu we are expected to conduct ourselves as men.

What steps is the High Council taking to execute upon these goals?

Part of the Due North Task Force will be refocusing our chapters’ attention on the fraternity ritual. We will focus on the role the Chaplain can play as the gatekeeper of ritual. It all goes back to my time working with past Regent Robert Maddox and focus on ritual. Show me a chapter that’s casual about ritual and I’ll show you a chapter that’s struggling with focus on our values. Ritual is a great tool that will return us to focus on our founding values.

Sigma Nu: Alpha Xi Delta’s “Alpha” Males?

Lombard College

By Ruth Goodman, Editor of The Quill of Alpha Xi Delta

[Editor’s Note: The Delta recently had an opportunity to assist Alpha Xi Delta Sorority research the historic connections between our two organizations.  The resulting story, published by Alpha Xi Delta in their Fall/Winter 2006 issue of The Quill, offers a unique glimpse into an interfraternal relationship Sigma Nu is proud to be a part of.  What follows are edited excerpts from their original article.]

When 10 young women, whom Alpha Xi Delta members now know as their Founders, attended Lombard College in the late 1800s, they were hard-pressed to find activities to keep themselves busy outside of class. The lack of social support was not unique to this Galesburg, Ill., campus. In fact, female students across the country were finding it difficult to locate social opportunities, especially when women were admitted to college and merely tolerated instead of being welcomed as an integral part of the student body.

A local sorority called I.C. Sorosis, which later became Pi Beta Phi sorority, had been permitted to install a chapter of its organization at Lombard in 1867, which brought the fraternity system to campus and expanded the number of social opportunities for women. This was a good beginning, yet not all of the women at Lombard were interested in, or chosen to become, Pi Phis.

Harriet Louella McCollum became a Lombard freshman in 1892, surveyed the social scene and longed for something more. Harriet envisioned a new fraternity that would encourage personal friendships, promote friendlier contacts with the entire student body and actively serve the college. She shared her idea with friends Cora Bollinger, Lucy Gilmer, Eliza Curtis, Frances Cheney and Almira Cheney. In early March, 1893, this fledgling group met to consider the possibility of founding a fraternity that realized these ideals.

The women of Pi Beta Phi and the men of Phi Delta Theta, one of the two fraternities on campus, were closely aligned, so the idea of another women’s group was enthusiastically welcomed by our men at the Delta Theta Chapter. In fact, Sigma Nu had been founded at Lombard just a year earlier, so Harriet and her friends eagerly talked with our men about how to establish a new group on campus.

Attempts by other groups to organize societies on campus had failed, so the young women made sure their organization was running smoothly before it was officially unveiled to the student body. On April 17, 1893, the group of 10, which now included Bertha Cook, Julia Foster, Lewie Strong and Alice Bartlett, met a few minutes before chapel time to pin on knots of double blue ribbon and long-stemmed pink roses, which had been smuggled into the room. With sparkling eyes, flushed cheeks and proud postures, the women entered the chapel after the faculty and students had been seated and sat quietly near the back of the room. After a moment of startled silence, our Delta Theta Chapter members led congratulatory applause, welcoming Alpha Xi Delta to campus.

Sigma Nu members wanted to do something nice for our new Greek sisters to mark this special occasion, so two of our brothers outraced two Phi Delta Thetas by five minutes to buy the remaining box seats for a performance of Othello, which was being presented at the auditorium on April 25.

 Faithful Friends

This outing was the first of many that the Alpha Xis and Sigma Nus enjoyed. An article in our February 1902 issue of The Delta stated, “The swellest social event of the season so far took place on Saturday eve, January 25, in the [Lombard] college gym. It was a dancing party given to the Sigs by our most faithful and loyal friends, the Alpha Xi Deltas. The gym was prettily decorated in light and dark blue, their colors, and the gold, black and white of Sigma Nu. Inviting cozy corners were arranged here and there, which of course, were always occupied. The music was excellent and everything was first class. At the last waltz the gym rang with the two frat yells. Words cannot express our appreciation of this party or tell of the delightful evening we spent.”

The following year, Alpha Xi Delta’s first convention was held at the same time we held our fifth division convention in Galesburg. It seemed only natural that our two groups would get together for a reception and dance in the Lombard gymnasium, which had once again been decorated in the colors of both organizations. As noted in their fraternity’s magazine, The Alpha Xi Delta, Vol. 1, No. 1, “The reception was set for an early hour, 5:30, and soon after that time the orchestra commenced an attractive program of waltzes and two steps. At 9 o’clock, cars were waiting to take the merry crowd downtown to their respective banquets. The boys filled one car and the girls another, but by a seemingly prearranged plan the car the girls were in ran off the track and the gallant young men offered their seats. When the cars started again, they were filled with a mixed crowd of girls and boys who enlivened the trip with fraternity songs and yells. The Alpha Xi Deltas went to Spake’s banquet hall where an elegant banquet was served. The convention closed Saturday evening with a joint rally at the Sigma Nu house. College songs were sung and several songs composed for the occasion were rendered.”

Lending a Helping Hand

The Lombard Alpha Xi Deltas became increasingly interested in becoming a national fraternity and sharing their organization with women on other campuses. The women realized that expanding Alpha Xi Delta beyond Lombard would require a constitution instead of the few simple rules they had been using to function on a local level.

Chapter member Edna Epperson asked her father who, among his attorney friends, could be trusted to keep their plans confidential and help draft a nationalization plan and a preliminary constitution. He referred her to James J. Welsh, a Sigma Nu alumnus from Lombard. On April 17, 1902, their Alpha Chapter celebrated Founders’ Day by adopting the constitution that declared the organization a national fraternity. And, that constitution, with amendments, still guides their fraternity today.

Albert H. “Bert” Wilson, an iconic Sigma Nu alumnus from our Beta Iota Chapter at Mount Union College in Ohio, was gifted at (among other things) helping local fraternities and sororities affiliate with national organizations. Therefore, and not surprisingly, he was instrumental in helping broaden Alpha Xi Delta’s reach. Brother Wilson began his association with Alpha Xi Delta in 1902 when the S.L.C. Club at Mount Union petitioned for a charter to become Gamma Chapter of Alpha Xi Delta. Brother Wilson and Mary Emily Kay, a member of S.L.C. Club, sat on her front porch and helped write that successful petition. Mary was initiated into Gamma Chapter in 1902 and became Alpha Xi Delta’s fourth Grand President (now known as National President) in 1909.

Throughout the years, Alpha Xi Delta and Sigma Nu continued to establish chapters across the country, often finding themselves at the same colleges and universities. And, since Alpha Xi Delta’s founding, our two organizations have coexisted, or currently coexist, on 109 campuses.

Could Alpha Xi Delta have become a thriving organization without receiving help from the members of Sigma Nu? Given the strength and fortitude of their 10 Founders, the probability is quite high. Regardless, the next time you talk with an Alpha Xi Delta friend, or meet one of their sisters for the first time, tell her how proud you are that Sigma Nus at Lombard College were able to extend a helping hand.

This version of the article originally appeared in the Summer 2007 issue of The Delta.  

From Passive to Powerful

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Mike Dilbeck is the founder of RESPONSE ABILITY and speaks to audiences around the country about bystander intervention and courageous leadership. Brother Dilbeck is an initiate of Sigma Nu’s Lambda Epsilon Chapter at Texas Christian University.

Like many of you, I have been paying close attention to all the news regarding the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma. As someone who visits campuses and speaks to tens of thousands of college students each year, I often think I have heard it all. However, I wasn’t prepared for this. Maybe it was because I had just seen the inspiring footage over the weekend of the tens of thousands of people marching in Selma, Alabama. Maybe it was because of the tears I shed as I listened to our president’s remarks in front of that bridge. Maybe it’s because the actions were just outright abhorrent and, as OU President Boren swiftly and powerfully said, “disgraceful.”

Even amidst all of my personal feelings, I know this is not who we are as members of the national fraternity and sorority community. I know this is not what Sigma Alpha Epsilon is truly about. I know this is not what represents the millions of us committed to dignity and respect for all. However, this is an opportunity for all of us all to pause and reflect on why something so divisive and offensive can happen at all.

There are many different ways to look at this incident and, rather than address the actions of the perpetrators, which most people will do, I want to explore the actions of another group of people involved: the bystanders. Anyone who was on that bus at the time of this racist chant and wasn’t participating in the activity is a bystander. Whether they wanted to be or not. Whether they chose to be or not. Whether they liked it or not. The simple fact is: when we see or hear something — anything — being done or said, we are a bystander.

What kind of bystander are you?

Now, here’s the question for them and all of us to ponder: what kind of bystander are we going to be? When we witness or hear anything that is inappropriate, offensive, unsafe, unhealthy, unlawful, dishonorable, or just plain wrong, we have a momentary choice to make. Are we going to stay silent, walk away, or laugh along? In other words, be a passive bystander? Or, are we going to choose to stand up, step in, and speak out for what’s right? In other words, be a powerful bystander? This is the choice we have — and we do make a choice, whether we experience making one or not.

We don’t know everything that happened on that bus this past weekend, but what has already become clear is there were both types of bystanders in reaction to the offensive and hurtful actions of a few. First, we know of at least one powerful bystander — someone who chose to take out their smartphone and record video of the chant. Then, hand that video over to someone who could do something with it to make a difference. By now, you already know that this video has gone viral and caused the SAE chapter being closed, all brothers moving out of the house, and the expulsion of two students. This action has also elevated the already-existing national conversation on race.

The reality is that we are expecting college students to do something that many will argue they are not developmentally ready to do.

As the founder of RESPONSE ABILITY, a program on bystander intervention and courageous leadership, I share various actions available to each of us in being a powerful bystander and intervening to prevent, end, or diffuse a problem situation. One of these actions is to do exactly what this bystander did — record video. This can be a powerful and safe alternative to direct, in-your-face confrontation to a behavior (which is also sometimes appropriate). They made the momentary choice to go beyond whatever fear they may have had and take some form of action to intervene. What this bystander did was brilliant and very effective. What this bystander did was demonstrate courageous leadership.

Which brings us to the other bystanders on the bus that evening. I want to believe there were more students who had a gut response that this chant was wrong. Granted, there will be more details to come out and we may very well find out that others did do something. However, my skepticism — even my own cynicism — doubts that anyone did. I fear that every other bystander that evening chose to be passive.

The reality is that we are expecting college students to do something that many will argue they are not developmentally ready to do. We are asking them to go beyond a deep-seated and real fear of standing up to their fellow peers and taking great risks in doing so. We are asking them to be bigger than they know themselves to be. Yes, we are asking this — not only of them, but of us all. Even though these students are at a distinct time in their lives, it takes something from all of us to do what we are not comfortable doing. There is nothing comfortable about intervening, regardless of age. Nothing! For many of us, this may be the greatest fear we have. Yet, none of this excuses us from tolerating the abusive, offensive, hurtful, and violent behavior we witness in our lives.

Are you going to give yourself permission to go from passive to powerful in order to be the man you have committed yourself to be?

To be clear, I am not telling you what choice you should make — this is up to you. My mission in life is to wake us all up to the opportunity we have to go past that which stops us in making the difference we are out to make. To empower us all to stand up, step in, and speak out for what’s right. To give us all permission to go from passive to powerful.

So, whether you are a college student, a parent, an employee, an employer, a spouse, a community activist, or any other role in life, you are a Sigma Nu. You are a man who has given your oath to the values of Love, Honor, and Truth. No matter how long ago it was when you were initiated as a Knight in Sigma Nu, you took a lifelong oath to uphold — and live by — these values.

Which brings us to my final question: are you going to live these values in your life at all times — or just when it is convenient and comfortable? Are you going to let these values guide you and empower you to stand up, step in, and speak out for what’s right — or turn your back on them and experience the shame and guilt from doing so? Are you going to give yourself permission to go from passive to powerful in order to be the man you have committed yourself to be?

When we do live from these values and make the choice to take an appropriate, effective, and safe action to intervene, I call this courageous leadership. And, I do truly believe in our ability to respond to any form of discrimination, sexual violence, corruption, cheating, bullying, hazing, and other issues by going beyond our shame and fear to demonstrate courage in momentary choices.

For colleagues. For family. For friends. For strangers.

In organizations. In business. In community. In life.

If you would like to empower yourself — and others — in making this kind of difference, I invite you to join The Revolution for Courageous Leadership by visiting our website. Here, you will get exclusive access to valuable and free resources, including the recently-published eBook, “The Manifesto for Courageous Leadership.” Mike’s personal website is mikedilbeck.com.

Mike Dilbeck

Chris Graham on Memorizing the Long Creed

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Division Commander Chris Graham (Lamar/Stephen F. Austin) recites the Creed on stage at College of Chapters 2014.

 

Division Commander Chris Graham (Lamar/Stephen F. Austin) recited the “long Creed” of Sigma Nu at both College of Chapters and Grand Chapter in 2014. The staff of The Delta spoke with Brother Graham and asked him about the story of how he came to memorize the Creed and what it means to him.

After I was initiated, one of the first things I did – using the old merchandise form – I bought a copy of the long Creed, the short Creed, and a copy of A Serpent, A Rose and A Star. I framed the long Creed and hung it on my wall not long after I was initiated. The Creed was always something I was impressed with – the elegance and beauty of it.

Graham first saw the Creed recited in long-form at College of Chapters by then Division Commander Joe Cannon (North Texas). The experience was an inspiration to Graham who began to memorize the Creed while an undergraduate.

Fast forward a year or so before I graduated, I was living in the fraternity house between my sophomore and junior years. In the house we had the long Creed hanging on the wall in our room of honor. One evening I was there cleaning the room and I sat down and read the Creed. I realized that I had about a third of it memorized, without ever really trying to memorize it. Then I said, “I want to do this for me.” I never intended it for anyone other than myself.

Before I graduated college, I had the whole Love section memorized and I pretty much had the Honor section memorized. I would stumble with it but with those two sections I was close to having half of it.

After graduating, Graham set aside the Creed. During this time, Graham began his career and got married. Tragically, Graham’s young wife was stricken with cancer and she passed away not long after their marriage.

After she passed I sank into a depression or whatever you want to call it. You try to find a reason to get up every day. It wasn’t long after that I became Chapter Advisor at Lamar. I watched these young men reach out to me and engage me to be involved. I realized Sigma Nu was very important to me at that time because it was giving me something to live for. I don’t want to sound so morbid but it gave me a purpose beyond just getting up and going to work. It was just another extension and a reason to keep moving forward. And it truly reminded me of what was in our Creed, the concept of brotherly love, truly being there for others.

So I started reading the Creed again and really decided I wanted to finish memorizing it because it gave me such peace and solace. So within a few years I pretty much had it. I only recited it to myself as it was a personal thing, and I never saw myself being in a position to recite it for someone else until there was a death of one of our chapter’s charter members.

Graham was approached by the family of the deceased brother and they asked for some token of appreciation that could be provided during the service. Graham offered to recite the Creed at the wake which the family accepted. Additionally, the Funeral Ritual was performed just for the family prior to the burial service.

It was the first time I ever recited the Creed for anybody other than myself. As I was saying it, it was emotional because I knew who I was doing it for: the family, in honor of their father and husband who was such a great Sigma Nu and inspiration to me. I realized that I really did know it but I knew it because of what it meant to me.

After reciting the Creed at the funeral, Graham was approached by Zeta Psi (Lamar) to recite it at their formal. This started a series of recitations that included the charterings of chapters at Oklahoma, Stephen F. Austin, and Houston. Finally, Graham was approached by then Regent Charlie Eitel to recite the Creed at College of Chapters and Grand Chapter. At both conventions Graham recited the Creed before hundreds of Sigma Nu brothers.

People have asked me “Why?” and I always say that it was an inspiration to me and it still is today. There have been days where I have had the most rotten day and I’ll turn off my radio and just recite the Creed on the way home from work. It relaxes me; it reminds me of why I’m a Sigma Nu and the great things our fraternity stands for. I’m pleased that I have had the opportunity to share it with others and at College of Chapters and Grand Chapter.

To have so many students come up to me and tell me that I have inspired them reminds me of why I am a volunteer. I want to give back, I want to inspire those young men, just like I was inspired as a young man to be something more, to be better than just average. It was just one of those things that came into my life at the right time that I’ve been able to share. And it’s been an honor to be able to share, on whatever stage whether it be at a small chapter gathering or Grand Chapter. It was just something that I am honored that I have the ability to do and to share.

 

 

On Knighthood

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

By Drew Logsdon (Western Kentucky)

There is one particular facet of our great Fraternity’s Ritual that I have always loved. Unfortunately, it is not something I often see discussed. This might be because the term itself, “Knight,” harkens back to a much different era than the world we live in today. Our members, Knights of the Legion of Honor, do not go riding around on horses brandishing swords or serving noble lieges.

Today our world has no need for the knights of a bygone era. However, it is in desperate need of the modern embodiment of knighthood. As Knights of the Legion of Honor, we are not nobles. We are not automatically granted honor, titles, or knighthood as a birthright. Instead, we are products of a society that provides individuals the opportunity to make themselves what they want.

The QuestAs Knights of the Legion of Honor, we have earned our title through the virtuous choices we made. The Legion of Honor ensures that those who have been granted the title of Knight have lived (and take an oath to forever live) the values of Love, Honor, and Truth. The Legion of Honor also jealously protects its reputation. Our Fraternity dictates that those who sully the values they swore to uphold have their knighthood removed. As was discussed at the recent College of Chapters, honor that is guaranteed is not honor at all. We, as Knights, hold ourselves to our oath and strive daily to exemplify our values; for this great privilege is not guaranteed.

As previously stated, we do not serve a liege in the traditional sense. However, we do serve each other. I carry my knighthood for my brothers today, those before me, and those yet to come. We are required by oath to serve our Legion of Honor and to never besmirch its honor or glory. This goes far beyond the typical example of “My brother, right or wrong.” It means that I am committed to conduct myself as my fellow knights would expect me.

But what does all of this have to do with the need for knights today? Look around us. Intolerance of minds, shallowness of soul, a gaping abscess of buffoonery, and a lack of care for the world we live in continue to plague our society. Our Legion of Honor is not the only solution. To believe it is would be to ignore the size of our problems. But our Legion of Honor is most assuredly a part of the solution.

We are Knights of the Legion of Honor and we will honor our commitment every day.

My fellow Knights will become doctors, aid workers, teachers, professors, nurses, soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, policemen, volunteers, pastors, priests, entrepreneurs, husbands, and fathers. They will be clad in the heavy commitment of our common oath and guarded against the ills around them by the strength of our values. They will carry the sword of action and compassion to not stand idly by as those around them suffer against injustice or warrantless transgressions.

We do not ride around on horses. We don’t wear armor into work. Nor do we rest comfortably in a falsely guaranteed notion of honor.

We are Knights of the Legion of Honor and we will honor our commitment every day.

And upon our final days we will let them say that we ever bore without abuse, the grand old name of gentleman with the assurance that those ahead of us will honor our mighty Legion of Honor.

Rescuing Our Ritual

Dedication marker in spring snow

By Travis Galloway (Washington)

Something really set me me off the other day. While researching for this article, I made the mistake of entering “fraternity ritual” in the Google search bar. I was expecting to find a convenient Wikipedia page with a general history of fraternity rituals, their inspiration and evolution; how naïve that turned out to be. While a few of the top results pointed to brief histories of specific fraternities’ rituals, those are not what caught my eye. Rather, I was bombarded by headlines like “College Hazing Stories,” “Horrible College Hazing Rituals,” and “Deadly Frat Rituals are Banned Thanks to Technology.” And that’s just on the first page of results.

Is this what we have done to ourselves, our fraternities? Is this the price of maintaining a secret ritual? Are we known only for what we have done to bastardize our rituals? These are just a couple of the questions that surged into my mind. I hope you are as upset as I am.

As fraternity men and sorority women, we have a tendency to think of our rituals as archaic books of secrets. Inspired by men and women who have long since passed, we bring them out of hiding only a few times each semester. And usually, we don’t do it because we want to; we do it because we feel compelled. To many of us have a tendency to dust off The Ritual for the Candidate and Initiation Ceremonies, and perhaps for chapter meetings and the occasional Affirmation of Knighthood Ceremony. But the ceremony ends, The Ritual goes right back into hiding, and we don’t think about it again until the next ceremony. Robes, candles, ribbons, badges, perhaps blindfolds, and a lot of talking by a few officers: this is what most of us remember.

DSC_1044If we expect to be taken seriously as an organization that seeks “to develop ethical leaders,” then we need to do a better job of acting like it. If we are going to keep complaining that Greek-letter organizations get too much bad press, we need to stop simply talking about how we encourage great development opportunities, ethical leadership training, and adherence to a core set of values; we need to start doing it. If you are as frustrated as I am by the headlines I mentioned earlier, then you need to help me reclaim our Ritual.

Toward the end of the Initiation Ceremony, our Ritual challenges each Knight to “strive to live and die in Honor…that in life and death men may truly say of him: ‘He ever bore, without abuse, the grand old name of gentleman.’” That last part is inspired by a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, written while Tennyson was mourning the loss of a very close friend, Arthur Henry Hallam. To paraphrase, Hallam was an excellent man, above the “churls” and “charlatans” who claimed the “name of gentleman” but did not deserve the distinction of such a title. So, what are you doing to live up to your commitment to live and die in honor? Do you deserve to bear the “grand old name of gentleman”?

I’m not going to try to define “gentleman.” Plenty have tried, but I believe that the word has a certain “it” factor, as in “you know it when you see it.” Here is one way to help you “see it”: over the next few weeks, pay attention to your behavior and the behavior of those around you. Each time that you notice yourself or one of your brothers or candidates do something gentlemanly, take note of it. Each time you hold the door open for somebody; each time you help someone pick up something they’ve dropped; each time you help an elderly lady across the street, add a note in your phone or on a piece of paper. Make a conscious effort to be a better man, and you’ll feel good about it. Challenge your brothers to be more considerate of others, to try to make someone’s day, every day. Keep track of gentlemanly behavior, and recognize brothers who excel at your chapter meetings. During National Ritual Celebration Week, use the hashtag #NRCW to acknowledge excellent brothers who live according to our Ritual.

We are all too accustomed to calling each other out for our shortcomings, but we need to do a better job of encouraging excellent behavior rather than chastising our flaws. By making a conscious effort to acknowledge our brothers who “excel with honor,” we will encourage the development of transformational habits. These habits, in some small way, will help us rise above the tide of mediocrity, selfishness, and conceit that have diminished the credibility of our Ritual, and by proxy, our organization. Brothers, join me in rescuing the reputation of fraternity and sorority rituals everywhere by living up to the aspirations of ours so “that in life and death men may truly say of [us]:

[We] ever bore without abuse the grand old name of gentleman.’”

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

UC Davis Sigma Nu Co-Founds Latin American Film Series

Juan Paul Varela2

Juan-Paulo Varela (UC Davis), co-founder of the Crisol Latin American Film Initiative.

Founded to increase the appreciation of Latin American arts and culture, the Crisol Latin American Film Initiative will offer Spanish language cinema and a variety of artistic mediums that highlight the similarities between Latinos and their non-Latino peers. The Film Initiative, co-founded by Brother Juan-Paulo Varela (UC Davis), will host its inaugural run over four weekends beginning Saturday, March 14 through Friday, April 3, 2015. All screenings will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Varela serves as the program director, while co-founder Karem Orrego, a fourth year film student at the University of Utah, serves as executive director.

When asked why he co-founded the Film Initiative, Varela said he wanted to create a platform through which Latin American arts and culture could be both appreciated and critically examined in the context of shifting demographics in the United States.

“Crisol is an olive branch similar to the fraternal love that we as Sigma Nus experience–we want to extinguish tired stereotypes and elucidate a modern Latin America in juxtaposition with the United States,” he said.

The Crisol Film Initiative is expected to attract an audience of more than 1,200 people over its first four weekends and an additional 600 during its second screenings in late April. Such prominent attendees for the opening reception will include University of Utah administrators, including the dean and several department chairs of the College of Fine Arts.

Likewise, Utah State Senator Luz Escamilla and Utah State Representative Angela Romero will attend the closing reception along with leading members of Salt Lake’s arts and culture community at the Urban Arts Gallery in downtown Salt Lake.

Founded to increase the appreciation of Latin American arts and culture, Crisol will offer Spanish language cinema and a variety of artistic mediums that highlight the similarities between Latinos and their non-Latino peers.

Founded to increase the appreciation of Latin American arts and culture, Crisol will offer Spanish language cinema and a variety of artistic mediums that highlight the similarities between Latinos and their non-Latino peers.

To accomplish Crisol’s mission, Varela has actively engaged both leading individuals and organizations within Salt Lake’s political, artistic, and cultural spheres over the past six months.

The Sundance Film Festival, held in Salt Lake City, helps create a receptive attitude towards artistic endeavors but also creates a competitive market for funding and recognition. As such, Varela and the team at Crisol have worked diligently to gain the necessary support to make Crisol a reality.

Following a successful inaugural run, Varela hopes to continue the Crisol Film Initiative as an annual event.

Alternatively, the team at Crisol is weighing offers from two of the leading arts festivals in Utah to merge Crisol with their events. In either case, Varela is excited with his opportunity to promote the arts and enhance the quality of life in Utah through the production of the Crisol Latin American Film Initiative.

Recently used Sundance Film Festival venues will play host to film screenings as well interactive art performances in partnership with the University of Utah’s prestigious Ballet School.

Second screenings will take place in the weeks after the Initiative’s closing reception at the Sorenson Unity Center.

The first film will be screened on Saturday, March 14th at 7:00 p.m. at the Post Theater on the University of Utah’s campus.

For more information, visit the Initiative’s website and Facebook page.