By Lori Wysong
Last semester, a plan was set in motion to bring the fraternity Phi Sigma Kappa back on campus after an absence of nearly 30 years. As of this week, this process has been postponed indefinitely.
Phi Sigma Kappa was placed on Social Probation on Dec. 15, 1988, according to an issue of The Elm from Feb. 10, 1989. The original suspension was mainly due to flooding caused by a ripped-out toilet, and a fire in the bathroom of East Hall, the fraternity’s home at the time. The suspension was, at a minimum, supposed to last until October 1989, according to The Elm.
Candace Wannamaker, Washington College Title IX coordinator and vice president for student affairs, said that the process of recolonization began last semester after, “A few students came to Student Affairs to request assistance in becoming a recognized fraternity,” she said.
However, on Friday, Wannamaker said, “At the present time, we have decided to hold off (delay) beginning the process that could result in the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity becoming officially recognized on campus. The inter- ested men have agreed instead that, if they would like, they can become a special inter- est group working within the guidelines set by the SGA for all other student groups and organizations.”
“The reasoning is the current health of the recognized fraternities on campus,” she said.
After an Elm article from March 6 of this year covered the beginnings of this process, WC President Kurt Landgraf said that he received emails from alumni who were pleased with this development.
In an interview on Aug. 25, Landgraf, who was a member of Phi Sigma Kappa at Wagner College, said, “I would much rather see them on campus as a normalized fraternity with all the privileges and controls that go with it.”
“It would be a good thing, we just need to go through the process,” he said.
Senior Ryan Risse, one of the students who wishes to see the fraternity return to campus, said, “While there has been some progress towards reestablishing a chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa at WC, we are technically still considered an ‘interest group’ in the eyes of the school and the national organization.”
“They may have been operating on their own as some sort of an organization, but they were not recognized by either WC or Phi Sigma Kappa prior to now, and we’re going to go through the processes,” said Erik Silvola, Phi Sigma Kappa director of expansion, in an interview on Aug. 28.
The processes that Silvola referred to had already begun. According to Sarah Tansits, assistant director of student engagement, representatives from the national headquarters of Phi Sigma Kappa had visited campus in late August to discuss recolonization.
Wannamaker said that the interest group had already been working with former Assistant Director of Student Engagement, Alexis Heppler, in the spring, and continued to work with Tansits when she arrived on staff.
“I’ve been working with them for a month, and they’ve been great to work with, so it’s been a very positive experience. Again, they have to kind of abide by our rules and expectations, and they also have national bylaws and rules and expectations to uphold,” Tansits said.
The plan, as of last Tuesday, was for a representative of the national headquarters to visit campus in early September to do some “expectation setting” with members of the interest group, and “bring them up to speed and have some initial meetings with them to see if they are the men that we would like to start recruiting on campus,” Silvola said.
Another staff member of the national organization was to visit campus for five weeks beginning in October in order to complete the first phase of recruitment and development, which would involve individual meetings with interested men.
“Once we get a healthy base of membership from those one on one meetings then we transition into the education and training phase of the semester,” Silvola said on Tuesday.
In an Aug. 28 interview, Tansits said, “I’m here to support both the students and the national organization’s values and what they stand for as an organization. They are the ones that spread the word, essentially, and meet the men and make sure their values align with the national organization’s values.”
This education phase was to begin once Phi Sigma Kappa had recruited at least 30 students.
“By the time that we leave at the end of the semester, they will be well-trained and fully functioning,” Silvola said Tuesday.
During the interview last week, Silvola said “It has kind of unraveled pretty quickly here, because usually it does take a little while longer than just six months for this process to begin, but both WC Greek Life and Phi Sigma Kappa’s expansion were able to make this work on short notice.”
As of last Tuesday, he expected that, if the process continued at that rate, Phi Sigma Kappa could be recolonized at WC by next fall.
On Aug. 28, Wannamaker said that “ The process for establish- ing a chapter on campus would be monitored by Student Engagement, and the national organization and reinstatement and recognition is dependent upon the students that to want to establish the organization.”
Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sarah Feyerherm said, “We have four recognized fraternities right now and three of them need to get their numbers up to stabilize them for the future. To try and start another recognized fraternity in that context just doesn’t make strategic sense.”
According to Feyerherm, “the lower enrollment numbers and the much smaller first-year class size (as well as the fact that our percentage of male students is only about 40% of our population) were all contributing factors.”
This change of plans, which was made last week, according to Wannamaker, “was a collaborative decision made with Student Affairs, the National Chapter of Phi Sigma Kappa and the students that wanted to re-establish the chapter.”
“The discussion to move forward with the recognition process may pick up again in the future, but not at this time,” she said.
“A timetable has not been set for any future reestablishment of our presence on campus,” Silvola said on Friday.
Risse said, “My understanding of the situation is that Student Affairs wants to ensure that the Greek life environment is healthy and sustainable before adding another group into the mix.”
“In the meantime,” Wannamaker said, “the College will work with the currently recognized fraternities to increase membership and to create a more stable fraternal program among the existing organizations.”
“We as an interest group are excited to start working on growing our image and being a more active part of the community. We are also extending an invitation to anyone interested to become a part of the interest group and help us prepare for reestablishment,” Risse said.