To many a tour-taker, the strong Jesuit identity on campus seems to promise a refreshing lack of fraternity-related frivolity.

“When I was looking at colleges, the last thing that I wanted was Greek life,” says Mitchel Hochberg (SFS ’15). “That’s what I liked about Georgetown.”

Hochberg, like most incoming freshmen, arrived on campus in August under the impression that the only Greek he would have to know during the next four years was the first half of the phrase “HoyaSaxa.” To his surprise, he discovered a network of fraternities and sororities that is both alive and active.

Now a pledge of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, an international Jewish fraternity with over 150 chapters and 40 members at Georgetown, Hochberg stifled a laugh as he recalled his recent change of heart.

“I didn’t want Greek life to be an essential part of the social life on campus, and yet I wound up joining a fraternity as an essential part of my social life.”

Hochberg is not alone in his newfound appreciation of the Greek alphabet. As the fourth full week of the fall semester begins, pledging is in full swing at the majority of the university’s nearly dozen fraternities and sororities.

Many of these lettered organizations, flourishing despite a lack of formal recognition, will spend most of this month introducing curious new members to a Greek tradition that has existed at Georgetown for almost a century.

From service-oriented to socially focused to pre-professional, 11 fraternities and sororities bring Georgetown brothers and sisters together. But striking today’s balance between university interests and student motivations was no simple task for the first students engaging in Greek life.

 

THE RISE AND FALL

The first fraternity to arrive on the Hilltop debuted shortly after the formal opening of the School of Foreign Service in October 1919. The creation of four SFS students in November of that year, Delta Phi Epsilon (DPE) became Georgetown’s Greek guinea pig in January 1920. Its mission aimed to unite foreign service junkies behind a common banner.

By 1946, 11 fraternities had sprung up to fill the career education needs for a variety of disciplines.

The fraternities operated for more than a decade under the umbrella of university funding but began to run into resistance in 1956 as their members became more social than professional. An increasingly large number of alcohol-related incidents were reported over the next few semesters. By the fall of 1958, Dr. John Parr, the dean of the SFS, had grown weary of empty kegs replacing educational conversation at many campus fraternities.

In a statement issued in September of that year, Parr ordered all fraternities associated with the SFS to give up their houses by September 1, 1960. Those who did not comply with the declaration would no longer be recognized by the SFS, and the remaining Greek life was deflated as the fraternities fell away. Of the school’s four fraternities, three survived the transformation from university organizations to independently operated student groups — Delta Phi Epsilon, Alpha Phi Omega and Delta Sigma Pi — leaving the fourth, Alpha Kappa Phi, to rejoin the Greek alphabet soup.

 

BIG THREE

Fifty years later, Delta Phi Epsilon is alive and well, boasting over 40 members in its fraternity. When the university withdrew its support, the fraternity chose to keep its independently owned house. Breaking from the university payroll, it continued business as usual. In February 1973, the fraternity expanded to include a female counterpart, the Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority, for young women with similar global interests. Today, the sorority is comprised of over 20 members.

Founded in 1956, the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, another of the three survivors, took a different route forward. Working in compliance with Student Handbook guidelines, which stipulated that clubs must be open to all undergraduate students and that there can be no discriminatory entrance requirements, admitted women in 1977.

This change made APO the only fraternity on campus to be recognized by the university. Decades after the decision was made, APO remains the only Greek body to have received the nod from the administration. Today, APO has over 100 students in its ranks.

“We don’t have an application process or any kind of bid process,” says Erin Brinig (MSB ’13), vice president of communications for APO. “If you want to pledge, you can sign up and pledge.”

This pledge process, which began for APO on Friday, differs from typical notions of fraternity life. Requiring pledges to complete a certain amount of community service, fraternity leaders hope the six-week period helps new members realize the importance of friendship, leadership and service — the group’s cardinal principles.

“Greek life at Georgetown is different,” Brinig says. “A lot of fraternities, in addition to APO, offer more than just hanging out. You have the professional sorority and fraternity, the foreign service ones, the business ones. They have focuses too, and that adds to those organizations.”

Kelsey Steele (MSB ’12), vice president of marketing for Alpha Kappa Psi, would have to agree. The Omega Lambda Chapter of Alpha Kappa Psi, Georgetown’s business fraternity, replaced the original pre-professional Delta Sigma Pi in 2006.

AKPsi, now entering its sixth year of operation with over 90 members, focuses on preparing students across all the schools for careers in business. According to the fraternity’s website, the Georgetown chapter strives to teach its brothers (gender-specific only in name) life skills through teamwork, communication and the bonds of brotherhood.

Those types of goals seem to find common ground in the university’s Greek community. Unlike fraternities at other schools, which often develop more of a party reputation than a professional one, some Greek organizations here seem more driven by the virtues than the vices.

“At Georgetown, you get all the good aspects of being in a fraternity — the bonds, the brotherhood, the professional aspect,” Steele says.

 

FRATS AND THE FUTURE

At the heart of Georgetown’s informal Greek system is the desire to prepare students for their adult lives, professional or otherwise. Brothers and sisters never fail to acknowledge the positive influence that a tight campus network has on their experience as an undergraduate — and as a prospect in the job market.

After only two weeks as an AEPi pledge, Hochberg can already identify the benefits that he assumes will come his way.

“The secret is, if you want to go into banking, you have to start at AEPi,” he jokes.

Hochberg is certainly on the right page. AEPi’s extensive alumni network gives brothers contacts across the country to help them find work after graduation. Lowell Karr (MSB ’11), former president of AEPi, believes that this opportunity is an invaluable advantage for members of the brotherhood.

“AEPi is a fraternity, and the biggest impact on your life is as a student, but after you graduate you’re part of a massive network. We’re talking tens of thousands of people across the globe today who are brothers of AEPi.”

At the same time, this support system also helps younger brothers to navigate the ins and outs of their new Georgetown life. Evan Karr (SFS ’12) and Lance Pauker (COL ’12), now seniors, both remembered times that this undergraduate network worked in their favor.

“No matter what you’re doing, there’s usually an older brother who’s done it. You know, if you’re taking a certain class or applying for a job, there’s someone who’s been there and is willing to help,” says Evan, who connected with AEPi through his brother Lowell.

“As a senior, it’s really interesting that we have the opportunity to shape younger brothers’ college experiences for the better,” remarks Pauker.

Those new brothers, now in their third week of pledging, already can barely remember a time when they didn’t know about fraternities at Georgetown.

“It’s not something I have to do. It’s something I want to do, and I’m glad I did it,” says Hochberg.

For him, “fraternity” has become more than a scene out of “Animal House.”

“Yeah, I’m in a frat, but it’s not what you think. It’s a little bit of what you think, but not in any of those negative ways. It’s ‘fraternity’ in the lasting brotherhood and community aspects.”

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