The first Greek fraternities at Lafayette College, Phi Kappa Sigma and Delta Kappa Epsilon, were organized secretly in the 1850s. The administration opposed these early Greek letter societies because of the College’s strong affiliation with the Presbyterian Synod of Philadelphia. Fraternities were viewed as semi-religious organizations, operating at variance with College regulations. Despite a pledge instituted by the Board of Trustees in 1857 to prevent students from joining fraternities, approximately one half of the students continued to do so. New chapters developed throughout the 1860s and maintained secrecy by meeting in rooms off College Hill. Eventually the Board’s pledge requirement was dropped and the Greek system grew rapidly. Brothers began to live in groups of adjoining rooms in residence halls, formed eating clubs, and met openly in downtown quarters.
As was the case in many colleges and universities across the county, Lafayette’s growing Greek population began to lobby the administration for fraternity residence houses on campus. The first petitions to build chapter houses were submitted to the College in the early 1890s. The Board postponed making a decision on their construction for nearly a decade while Greek housing on other American campuses was investigated. Concerns regarding construction standards, financial control, and the impact on the morals of the students were discussed by the Board. By 1900, the continued rise in enrollment caused an acute housing shortage on campus and College president, Dr. Ethelbert Warfield, determined that the solution was to board students in fraternity chapter houses. The Board appointed a Fraternity House Committee, comprised of Dr. Warfield and five fraternity alumni, to develop policies governing the quality of construction and the financing of the new buildings. The Board shifted its position on fraternity housing and began to encourage chapters to build houses by offering to help finance construction. This decision enabled the College to suspend construction of new dormitories for much of the early part of the twentieth century. Only minor modernization and maintenance of a small number of existing residence halls was required by the College for many years.
By 1916, twelve national fraternity chapters had colonized at Lafayette, nine of which were permitted to build large residences on campus. Throughout much of the twentieth century, these Greek letter fraternities dominated the social life of the College. As a result, other than intercollegiate and limited intramural athletics, the College contributed little to the extracurricular life of the campus. Freshman were introduced to the Greek system even before arriving on campus, sometimes rushed by fraternity members as soon as they arrived at the Lehigh Valley Railroad Station in downtown Easton. The Interfraternity Council (IFC) was established in 1916 in an attempt to bring order to the rushing system. The IFC drafted Rushing Agreements, endorsed by all the fraternities, regulating rush during the first semester of freshman year. All prospective fraternity men were required to visit a minimum number of houses on and off campus and investigate their options before pledging. At this time, the best living and dining accommodations available to Lafayette students were in the fraternity houses. The majority of freshmen joined the Greek system and eventually moved into chapter houses. Those men who remained independent found it difficult to participate socially and politically on campus. The organization of a Student Council in 1922 provided independents with only limited voice because most members were fraternity men. Fraternity members also dominated student publications and clubs. By the 1930s, Greeks represented approximately 60% of the student population.
Besides providing room, board, and extracurricular activity for many Lafayette students, fraternities offered other important services to the College during this time period. Greek chapters kept their respective alumni actively involved with the College and developed much of the alumni donor base. Because fraternities were so successful in mobilizing their alumni to return to campus for reunion, the College did little to develop alumni relations and postponed the appointment of an Alumni Secretary until 1928. Fraternity alumni also played an important role in the management of fraternity chapter houses, thus enabling the College to remain involved in student housing on a limited basis for many years. The College relied heavily on the volunteerism of alumni fraternity brothers, who incorporated to build, purchase, or rent residences for much of the undergraduate population. Alumni fraternity corporations managed the finances, housekeeping, and renovations of these chapter houses.
In 1940, the Board of Trustees granted permission for a local fraternity, the Towers, to become the nineteenth national fraternity at Lafayette College. This non-sectarian, predominantly Jewish fraternity was subjected to nearly ten years of study by the Board before it was permitted to go national as Pi Lambda Phi. Along with the approval of Pi Lambda Phi, the Board resolved that no further national fraternities be permitted to colonize at Lafayette and the total number of chapters remained at nineteen. Growing concerns of the faculty regarding the fraternity system and its negative impact on academics were voiced in a report prepared by a College Post-War Planning Committee during WWII. Many faculty members believed that early rushing and hazing created an anti-academic atmosphere for students. Discussions of reforming the Greek system were postponed as the war ended and the College’s need for living space was reinforced. Students left the armed forces and returned to campus in large numbers during 1945-46 and fraternity houses provided much needed rooms and dining facilities. Under the administration of President Ralph C. Hutchison, the first non-Greek letter social living groups such as Soles Hall, Watson Hall, and Kirby House were finally introduced in the late 1940s. While some fraternity men feared the competition of these alternative social dormitories, the student population settled around 1500 and the twenty-two living groups remained the norm for many years.
During the academic year 1957-58, the faculty attempted to impose a delay on fraternity rushing because of increasing concerns about the average academic records of their members. These were consistently lower than all college averages. But the Board observed that delayed rushing could not be instituted until adequate commons, particularly dining facilities, were provided for freshman. The last year of first semester rushing took place in 1959 when 67.5% of the freshman class pledged a fraternity. The opening of Marquis Hall in 1960 as a freshman residence, commons, and cafeteria finally enabled the college to move rush to second semester of freshman year. As a result, freshmen could spend the first semester evaluating fraternity life before pledging in the second semester, while continuing to eat meals in Marquis Hall for the entire school year. After this change in rush, the number of independent students grew but still remained a minority.
After coeducation in 1970, the College increased its student population to 2000 and in time the number of male to female students equalized. Coeducational residence halls and residential suites were opened and membership in several fraternities waned. While five fraternity chapters lost Board recognition due to low memberships, more lost standing because of delinquencies. As the number of fraternities decreased on campus, local sororities began to form. The Board surveyed national sororities and in 1980 the first three were officially colonized. By 1992 six National Panhellenic Conference sororities were present on campus. Sorority chapters lived in college-owned houses but were not permitted to offer board. Because the College’s primary dining facility, Marquis Hall, catered to freshmen, most upper class women joined meal plans at fraternity houses. Another major change in the Greek system occurred in May of 1995 when the faculty recommended that the Board postpone fraternity and sorority rushing until sophomore year. Statistical analysis had shown that freshmen grade averages for fraternities generally declined in the second semester. The Board accepted the recommendation and rushing was moved to sophomore year starting the in the fall of 1995.
Governing councils of the fraternity and sorority community also evolved over the years. In 1972 the original IFC disbanded after several sponsored rock concerts left the organization in debt. In the absence of the IFC, the Association of Social Living Groups (ASLG) was formed in 1974 to organize rushing and coordinate joint social service events for fraternities. In 1984 the ASLG changed its name to the Presidents’ Council and included fraternities, sororities, and Kirby House. Sororities developed their own Panhellenic Council (Panhel) to provide opportunities for leadership, community service, social interaction, personal development, and academic support for members in the early 1980s. The IFC was revived shortly thereafter with a mission to maintain an environment fostering unity, representation, communication and governance amongst the fraternities of the College. The IFC currently works to improve the Greek image on campus and the local community through service and philanthropy projects. In addition, Compass, Lafayette’s Greek evaluation program, was started in 2004 after its predecessor, S.T.E.P.S., was redesigned. Annual Compass reviews are intended to help fraternities and sororities evaluate their successes and failures in the areas of scholarship, leadership, service, community building, management and development, and educational programming.
At present, approximately 40% of the current Lafayette upper-class population has been affiliated with the Greek system. When freshman are included, this number drops to 30%. Now that the College offers a wide variety of extra-curricular and co-curricular clubs and activities as well as vastly improved dining, residential, and recreational facilities, students view the Greek system as an option rather than the only viable social alternative on campus. The number of nationally-affiliated fraternities has dropped to five in the last year, while the number of sororities remains at six. The current role of fraternities and sororities to enhance the social, intellectual and cultural life at Lafayette College is summarized in their mission statement on the College’s website. In partnership with the College, Greek chapters work to uphold their founding values of brotherhood/sisterhood, scholarship, leadership, and service. Chapters are also charged with enhancing the quality of life for all students on campus by providing a wide range of opportunities for meaningful individual growth and development. These expectations continue to challenge Greeks at Lafayette College.
For most of the College’s history, the Greek system has been an integral part of the Lafayette experience. Those associated with the College have voiced both condemnation and praise for the Greek system for over 150 years. Long-standing criticisms of the Greek system include charges of elitism, lack of diversity, discriminatory membership practices, hazing, alcohol/substance abuse, and negative impacts on academics. Disciplinary issues continue to plague chapters each year and almost every group has been in violation of the College’s hazing policy. The findings of a recent Lafayette Substance Use Survey are troubling as well, indicating that Greeks drink more frequently than independents and are therefore at greater risk of developing harmful consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. On a positive note, Greeks are now exhibiting improved performance in the classroom. The All-Greek GPA has been at or above the All-College GPA in recent years and All-Sorority and All-Fraternity averages were above All-Women’s and All-Men’s averages for 2008.
The Greek system does provide significant opportunities for social growth, leadership, community service, philanthropy, and career networking for both students and alumni. In 2007, Greeks on campus completed over 7,000 hours of community service and raised over $25,000 for local and national charities. The annual Pi Phi/Kappa Delta Rho Dance Marathon has provided the campus community with a popular social event while raising funds for children’s charities in Easton for over thirty years. Other Greek chapters participate in long-standing fundraising efforts for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the American Kidney Foundation, and cardiac care research and education. Greek volunteerism extends throughout the Lehigh Valley and benefits many local organizations, including the Girl Scouts, various Easton-area children’s centers, the Third Street Alliance women and children’s shelter, and local seniors. Many alumni appreciate their Greek affiliations well after graduation and credit their fraternities and sororities with many positive undergraduate experiences. Career networking opportunities through fellow brothers and sisters are also valuable to graduates as they enter the workforce.
Elaine McCluskey Stomber ‘89
Associate College Archivist
1 March 2010