The Greek system has produced graduates including the first female astronaut, 85 percent of Fortune 500 Executives and 18 Greek U.S. presidents since 1877, according to The Atlantic. At the same time, Greek life has also been the center of nationwide scandals: the death of a Clemson University student rushing Pi Kappa Phi on a pledge run, a Cornell University Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledge dying during a trivia game and Dartmouth University pledges swimming in kiddy pools of human feces and vomit.
Georgetown University has stood strong against the recognition of Greek life since the 1950s, maintaining that these organizations are incompatible with the Catholic ideals that serve as the basis for the university. But during this generation of Georgetown students’ time on campus, Greek life has seen a resurgence on the Hilltop, challenging the notion of Georgetown as a non-Greek school.
Recent Rise of Greek Life
Georgetown tour guides, students and college analysis websites repeatedly assure prospective parents and students that Georgetown University does not recognize Greek life and that the presence of Greek life on campus is minimal, but the rise in popularity of social fraternities and sororities on the Hilltop over the past few years has begun to threaten the university’s Greek-free ideals.
The resurgence of fraternities and sororities on campus began with SAE, a well-known national fraternity, during the 2011-2012 academic year. Georgetown’s chapter of the fraternity, started by Christian Keenum (MSB ’15), a freshman at the time, was colonized on Feb. 11, 2012, with the help of the George Mason University SAE chapter, and officially became a chapter on April 28, 2013.
The fraternity has steadily gained popularity in its nearly four years on campus.
“It [SAE] immediately enhanced my connection with the school because I felt like I had something I could relate to and bond with immediately — without being an athlete, without being an extreme academic. We really try not to be the stereotypical fraternity. I think despite us being categorized as that lifestyle, I think we have some great things going for us that are really outside the cookie-cutter frat guy.” Michael Hart (COL ’15), head of education at SAE, said.
Kappa Kappa Gamma was the first National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) organization for sororities to establish membership at Georgetown University in 2013, after 42 women demonstrated interest and approached NPC and the nationwide Kappa organization.
“Kappa Kappa Gamma’s strong national reputation plus their academic and social support network, philanthropy and connections through friendships are the main reasons we looked into being affiliated with a national organization,” original member Carrie Cosgrove (NHS ’16) said in a press release on the KKG organization official website.
Kappa Alpha Theta, another social sorority, established a chapter at Georgetown in spring 2014, joining already existing social sororities and fraternities, including Zeta Psi, Alpha Epsilon Pi, Sigma Phi Epsilon, SAE and KKG.
Morgan Shear (COL ’18) said that she saw the absence of Greek life as a draw when she was applying to Georgetown.
“It was definitely a positive factor when I applied to GU. I liked how the social life here didn’t have the pressures that come with the Greek scene and that you could hang out with people who genuinely share your interests rather than just members of your sorority,” Shear said.
Greek Life’s History on the Hilltop
Historically, Greek life never found a home among the Jesuits or the Hoyas. By 1958, the university had severed its connection to and eliminated its recognition of all Greek life, claiming the Greek system’s tenets contradicted Catholic and Jesuit values. Dr. John Parr, dean of the School of Foreign Service at the time, issued a statement in fall of 1958 dictating that all fraternities affiliated with the SFS relinquish their houses. Any fraternity who refused would no longer be recognized by the SFS. Of the four existing foreign service fraternities, three successfully transitioned into independent student groups: Delta Phi Epsilon, Alpha Phi Omega, and Delta Sigma Pi. Delta Sigma Pi was replaced by Alpha Kappa Psi in 2006.
The current Division of Student Affairs’ policy continues to honor Georgetown’s 200-year commitment to the Jesuit ideals of inclusiveness and non-discrimination, stating that the university will not provide university benefits to student groups whose principles do not line up with Georgetown’s values, including fraternities and sororities, defined in the policy as “single-sex groups with ritualized, demeaning or secret membership practices, and specifically those organizations affiliated with the national Intrafraternity Council, Pan Hellenic Association, and Pan Hellenic Council.”
However, this has not stopped limited forms of Greek life from carving out a niche on campus over the past 50 years, and more generic forms of Greek life from emerging in the past five.
Before the emergence of social fraternities in recent years, most Greek organizations on campus were associated with a professional theme or a common purpose, such as Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity, Delta Epsilon Phi, a foreign service fraternity, and AKPsi, the business fraternity.
In May 1956, over 20 students took part in a petitioning process, led by John Buckley, to become a university-recognized a program of service. The Georgetown Petitioning Group became the 265th chapter of Alpha Phi Omega after a process of fundraisers and was granted special permission to be recognized by Georgetown University. The regent of the School of Foreign Service, Father Frank L. Fadner, S.J., was initiated as an honorary brother.
Georgetown’s Division of Student Affairs continues to recognize this group as it focuses solely on community service and is all inclusive of those who complete 30 hours of community service, according to the fraternity’s president, Thomas Pigott (COL ’15).
“At APO there is no selection process, and I think this is one of the great strengths of APO, because it results in a broad diversity of people, not just in races, but diversity of personalities, which makes us a stronger organization,” Pigott said.
Katie Duncalf (COL ’17) joined the unrecognized Georgetown chapter of AKPsi Fraternity, a coed professional business fraternity, during her freshman year.
“When I joined AKPsi, I became so close with a lot of different people. It was interesting to see this organization pull so many friend groups together and unite. My pledge class is so close — and we didn’t know each other at all before pledging,” Duncalf said. “It just goes to show that there are so many people around campus that you have no idea exist and then you’ll meet them in some sort of outlet and become the best of friends.”
Tension Between Greek and Jesuit Values
While most Georgetown students have not objected to the status quo, in which Greek organizations play a role in student life outside of the university’s official purview, there exists a disconnect between students and Jesuits about the role Greek life should play on campus.
Fr. Christopher Steck, S.J., rejected the social dynamic he believes Greek life to encourage, believing social fraternities have no place on Georgetown’s campus.
“The emphasis that social Greeks place on fostering a sub-group identity requires that they define who is in and who is out, and they make that distinction based not on some aspect of the student — for example, the student’s commitment to a professional ideal, their ability in some intellectual practice, their talent in athletics or the performing arts — but on the person himself or herself. That exclusionary dynamic goes against Georgetown’s values,” Steck wrote in an email.
Fr. James Walsh, S.J., noted the competitive attitude Georgetown students already bring to campus, and worried about spillover into the social scene. He also highlighted the outdated aspect of discriminating by gender.
“It’s wannabe. It’s like the old school tree house — no girls allowed,” Walsh said.
Greek Life Across Catholic Universities
Not all Catholic universities share the Hilltop’s stance on Catholicism and Greek life. In fact, Catholic universities such as Creighton University, Seton Hall University, St. John’s University, DePaul University and St. Joseph’s University boast recognized Greek systems, and universities around the country have developed unique ways of handling the looming specter of Greek life around college campuses.
Though the Catholic University of Notre Dame, like Georgetown, boasts a zero-tolerance policy for Greek life, the university has used a replacement tactic, developing a housing system to keep its social scene vibrant.
“ND replaces the lack of Greek life with its unique housing system. With all single-sex dorms that consist of very close communities, hold events and parties, and have students live in them or at least be affiliated with the same dorm even when/if they move off campus, it is as if ND has created a Greek life culture throughout the entire school,” Notre Dame freshman Stefan Page said.
Villanova University, an Augustinian Catholic university, has taken the opposite approach to Greek life, allowing for 25 different fraternities and sororities. According to the College Board, 18 percent of male students and 37 percent of female students are involved in Greek life at Villanova.
“It has been a positive thing on campus for students at our institution,” Villanova Administrative Assistant for the Office of Fraternity and Social Life Marian Moran said.
Villanova freshman Hannah Raymond agreed.
“Greek life here is pretty cool. … There are only nine sororities on campus, which are filled with really sweet girls that genuinely care about you. We rush second semester here so that people can settle down before having to decide whether they want to rush,” Raymond said.
Future of Greek Life at Georgetown
No plans exist to recognize Greek life at Georgetown in the near future, and both students within and outside fraternities appear content with the current arrangement.
Duncalf said she liked the minor role Greek life plays on campus, preventing social opportunities from being dominated by the fraternities and sororities. Instead, organizations like Students of Georgetown, Inc., are able to play a greater role in campus social life.
“I think if they were recognized on campus, the presence of Greek life would be more present, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing. I like how things are now. If people don’t want to be involved you don’t have to be,” Duncalf said. “If you look at other schools, if you aren’t a part of Greek life then you don’t have a social life, and I feel like it’s nice to have the flexibility and availability here to pick and choose which aspects of social life you want to be a part of here at school.”
For the fraternities and sororities themselves, Pigott, the president of APO, questioned whether recognition would backfire, since official university recognition brings increased supervision.
“There are certain limitations that some groups wouldn’t necessarily fit with,” he said. “So, it’s probably better that certain fraternities and sororities are not recognized by Georgetown because then they’d have to adhere themselves to certain limitations and Georgetown would be more involved in monitoring their activities. They would have to change their nature.”
Member of SAE Eric DeShields (MSB ’18) said he believes Georgetown’s Greek life is on the rise, adding that university recognition seemed inevitable.
“I think eventually the university will have to recognize Greek life because it is growing exponentially, and is something that is a huge part of the culture across the United States,” DeShields said. “Currently, Greek life is definitely not as big of a presence as organizations like The Corp, but we’re definitely growing, so I think in the next couple of years it will be exponentially more present.”
Despite the rise of Greek life on campus, Steck said that he expected that Georgetown will maintain its Jesuit ideals — and its view of those ideals as incompatible with a Greek system.
“If they ever decide to approve social Greeks, I hope I’m long gone. I think it would be a loss to part of our identity, something that makes Georgetown distinctive,” he wrote. “Once at a basketball game, I saw a sea of students proudly wearing their WAG T-shirts. In their midst, however, were four guys wearing their fraternities letters. I think that scene is symbolic of an ethos counter to Georgetown’s own: the T-shirts of one group declaring ‘We Are Georgetown,’ the other ‘We Are Greek,’” Steck said.