Last semester, Kappa Alpha was the first to move back to Greek Row after a 15-year hiatus of fraternity houses on JMU’s campus. In the fall of 2016, Sigma Nu and Tau Kappa Epsilon will move in as well.
“There was no effort on the university’s part to move fraternities off campus,” Adam Lindberg, associate director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said in an email. “In 2003, the last fraternities chose to leave campus because they were no longer able to fill the on-campus housing for which they had signed a lease and, as a result, it became cost-prohibitive for them to stay on campus.”
Even now, filling houses appears to be a major concern for fraternities as they come back. Tau Kappa Epsilon is already acknowledging the pressure.
“It’s going to be an issue filling the house when we are such a smaller organization compared to sororities,” Justin Miller, a sophomore writing rhetoric and communications major and the president of Tau Kappa Epsilon, said. “It’s going to be good for recruitment, but recruitment is going to be very important for us in the next few years.”
However, there’s another major setback in encouraging more fraternities to move in. According to Kevin Meaney, the director of the Office of Residence Life, with Sigma Nu and Tau Kappa Epsilon joining Kappa Alpha on campus in the fall of 2016, there will only be one building left on Greek Row. While ORL is happy to make the last Tree House Greek, it’ll be unable to accommodate any additional requests.
“I know that more than just the fraternities that ended up getting the housing applied for it, but now there’s the issue that there are no more Tree Houses,” Sean Carney, a junior finance major and president-elect of the Interfraternity Council, said. “Down JMU’s 10-year plan, maybe there will be a Greek village where every fraternity has a house.”
Setbacks didn’t keep Kappa Alpha from moving on campus last year. For that group, community was a big factor in its decision.
“The main reason we moved on campus was because we were looking for a change,” Sam Auch, junior accounting major and president of Kappa Alpha, said. “KA has always been trying to ingrain itself into JMU and the community at JMU as much as possible.”
Fraternities moving back on campus is a major change not only for the members, but also for JMU in general. The fraternities are optimistic about their housing choices; however, there are some drawbacks. Meaney worries about the loss of non-Greek houses.
“The biggest con is dealing with the loss of the non-Greek spaces in our on-campus inventory,” said Meaney in an email. “Because of their small size and location, these buildings provided us with some great flexibility when managing campus occupancy. Now we are going to have to learn to manage without them.”
Carney expressed his concern for the amount of regulation the fraternities would receive on campus. Members like Auch have the same concerns.
“A con would be being under the constant watch of the university,” Auch said. “It’s a little different than being off campus, so it’s tough when a police officer walks through your house because he can. It’s a little disconcerting.”
But the fraternities making the move do see some benefits. A strong value of Greek life is creating brother-to-brother bonds. On-campus living will allow them to strengthen that bond between members.
“I think they look forward to most being in a house with their brothers and a bunch of their best friends. For the most part, most of them don’t live together,” Alex Roche, junior finance major and president of Sigma Nu, said. “Next year, it will be a bunch of their closest friends at JMU living right down the hall from each other. It’s basically living in a dorm with all your good friends.”
For Auch, there are positives that come out of living in Greek Row. Not only has the move helped Kappa Alpha build better bonds among its members, but it also fostered better relationships with the sororities as well. Auch encourages other fraternities to follow in Kappa Alpha’s footsteps.
“I think it has helped to build the Greek life at JMU,” Auch said. “I live in a neighborhood of sororities, and just with proximity, we’ve become closer with them. I think it’s really, really helping to create a bond with sororities and, once more fraternities get on, I’m hoping that I see the same thing with them.”
Living on campus will also provide fraternity members with the opportunity to get more involved in events on campus.
“There is more involvement out of the guys living there, and it will kind of provide kind of a hub for members to be on campus more often and hang out there,” Carney said. “I think we’ve seen that with KA living on campus this year. There’s been more guys coming out to IFC-sponsored events from KA just because it is more convenient.”
Meaney understands the value of having fraternities on campus and the opportunities it opens up for members.
“Having fraternities on campus provides more options for students to choose from and I think that is usually a good thing,” Meaney said in an email. “Now a student interested in Greek life but wanting to remain a campus resident has some options he didn’t have before.”
Contact Julia Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.