Sigma Phi Epsilon Balancing Behaviors
The brothers put up a hard struggle for their house and are determined to prove their commitment to a healthy lifestyle to administration.
By Loretta Marmer
Does the mention of a college fraternity house conjure up images like those popularized in National Lampoon's 1978 classic Animal House: wild, all-night "keggers," promiscuity, blatant disrespect for rules and authority figures, poor academic performance?
If so, meet the young men of Sigma Phi Epsilon, a group that is working hard to transform the image of its fraternity brothers from party animals to that of "balanced men."
The fraternity feels so strongly about the issue that it's made promoting balance between the spiritual, mental and physical self its national agenda, explains frat brother Bruce Potter, a senior majoring in computer science at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.
The idea for the balanced-man agenda originated about three or four years ago, around the same time that Sigma Phi Epsilon became the first fraternity in the state of Alaska. According to Potter, "there was a big push to stop (the practice of) hazing and (the fraternity) came up with the idea of the balanced man to combat that."
Potter estimates that at least half of the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapters have adopted this agenda, and so far, the philosophy seems to be working. Potter says Sigma Phi Epsilon members excel in sports and perform better academically. The proof of the latter is that students in the balanced man chapters have a grade point average that is .3 to .4 higher than their peers.
Since college students have enough pressures when they first start school, the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity tries to make new members "feel more welcomed," Potter said.
Instead of asking new pledges to complete the humiliating--not to mention potentially deadly--tasks commonly associated with hazing, new recruits into Sigma Phi Epsilon are initiated through a three-stage ritual meant to instill such qualities as gentlemanly behavior, commitment to community, and responsibility.
The orientation stage, Sigma, is geared toward orienting freshman to the organization and introducing them to the community.
The Phi phase of initiation "is more advanced," Potter notes, and addresses such issues as sexual relationships, good sportsmanship and planning community service events. In the past, Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity members have cleaned up highways, shoveled snow in downtown Fairbanks, helped out in the Fairbanks Youth Council, and volunteered at campus fundraisers.
After successfully completing the Sigma and Phi phases, young men enter the Epsilon stage. At this level, new members are even more visible in the community and learn about things like the arts and building relationships. Also, each young man is asked to seek out a mentor from the community who will help him develop professionalism in preparation for his career.
The Sigma stage takes about two months, while the Phi and Epsilon levels each last a semester or two, Potter notes. "The whole time, from Sigma to the Epsilon stage, (the student) is considered a brother."
The structure of the fraternity reflects that of the real business world. "We structure ourselves on a corporate hierarchy with a president and several vice presidents," Potter explains. The fraternity has committees dedicated to recruitment and philanthropy, among other issues. This system not only makes the frat run more smoothly, but also helps prepare members for life in the corporate world.
A native of New York, Potter realizes how different this fraternity really is when he talks with his friends back East.
"(Members of) other frats and my friends back in New York face peer pressure every day," he said. Pressures to drink or take drugs are tough to deal with on top of expectations to succeed to in school, especially since "partying" and high grades usually are mutually exclusive.
Although the fraternity promotes health and balance, it doesn't ban drinking altogether. "We don't have huge, open parties, but we do have parties with drinking that is controlled with a door man and a bartender," Potter said. To drink at a Sigma Phi party, a student has to be 21, and ID cards are scrutinized at the door.
If a student brings his own liquor to a party, he must hand it over to the bartender, who allows the person to drink it, but makes sure he's not getting drunk. "It's worked very well and we've had no problems," Potter reports. Also, unlike many frat houses, there are no monies set aside for "beer funds," and no drugs...period.
Sigma Phi Epsilon members look out for one another. If it's discovered that a brother has problem with alcohol, for instance, his frat brothers will attempt to get him professional help--or at the very least, keep an eye on him in situations where alcohol is present.
Perhaps one reason the fraternity brothers are so cautious about their conduct is that they put up a long, hard struggle for their house and are determined to prove their commitment to a healthy lifestyle to administration. Nine of the 31 Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers at the University of Alaska currently live in the frat house.
Meanwhile, Potter says, Sigma Phi Epsilon members are constantly seeking out new ways to improve their community and ideas that promote health and balance among the student body.
Potter remembers that both the school and community were not exactly enthusiastic at the prospect of a fraternity house on campus. "Originally there was a lot of negative reaction. They thought we'd be party animals and drunks. These were difficult stereotypes to overcome," Potter recalls.
But through their actions, these fraternity brothers are proving to skeptics that these fears were unfounded.
"We are making an impact and the attitude (toward us) is changing from 'beer guzzling' to one of actually doing some good for the campus. We are trying to return tradition to campus," Potter said. "We want to revive things that have helped this campus in the past." *