Georgetown Fraternities: This is no Animal House
Posted on October 25, 2001 by Voice Staff
As a prospective students take their first tours at Georgetown, tour guides tell them that social fraternities and sororities do not exist here. College guides, such as The Princeton Review describe Georgetown as having a “very small frat-sorority scene.” But when students arrive on campus, they see advertisements for events with the business fraternity or the foreign service fraternity, and the number of minority fraternities that have ties on campus is growing. This leaves students wondering why some fraternities exist at Georgetown even though there is no formal Greek system.
There is not a simple answer for why fraternities and sororities do not exist at Georgetown. It is not the University’s Jesuit identity, because other Jesuit universities, such as Saint Louis University, have a social Greek system. Unlike colleges such as Amherst, a Greek system here was never officially abolished because of behavior problems. Neither is it because Georgetown is a small and urban university, because there are numerous examples of Greek systems at similar schools. However, each of these reasons, Georgetown’s Catholic identity, history, demographics and mission contribute to the current Greek life at Georgetown.
History of Frats At Georgetown
According to Manuel Miranda (SFS ‘82), historically fraternities never took root at Georgetown. A former president of Alpha Phi Omega and former president of the Cardinal Newman Society, an organization supporting the renewal of Catholic identity at Catholic institutions of higher education, Miranda attributes this to Georgetown’s Catholic ties. Because fraternities were seen as secular in purpose and “gave students an outlet to alumni and an external support structure [they] threatened the authority of the Jesuit prefects and their later secular heirs.”
Furthermore, during the mid-1800s, Greek fraternities appeared very similar to Masonic organizations, which were often anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant. If members of a Masonic organization pledged an oath to God at all, it was to a generic God, which Catholics saw as a denial of the Holy Trinity. In the mid-19th century, the pope issued an order that forbade Catholics from joining a society that required an oath that denied the Holy Trinity.
“This was aimed at Freemasonry which was highly anti-Catholic, but it was extended in the American context to Mason-like ‘secret societies,’ especially those Greek-lettered fraternities which were spreading on campuses,” Miranda said. “But the issue of the was the denial of the triune God, not secrecy as such. The real issue was the threat to the Church doctrine and authority.” Evidence that the Church did not object to societies is the founding in 1900 of the Knights of Columbus as alternative to Freemasonry among working Catholics.
Until about the 1970s, no organization could exist at Georgetown without the approval of the administration and a Jesuit moderator. However, in the 1920s, some pre-professional fraternities arose with the help of people within the University.
The first of these pre-professional fraternities, Delta Phi Epsilon, was formed in 1920 by four members of the first class of the School of Foreign Service. Delta Sigma Pi, the business fraternity, was formed in 1921 but died out and was re-formed in 1979. Documents in the Georgetown Archives suggest the existence of other fraternities, such as a social society Pi Gamma Mu from the 1940s and Gamma Tau Beta from the 1960s, but information on these fraternities is sporadic, and their life spans are difficult to estimate.
An article in the Nov. 5, 1958 SFS Courier reported that the administration ordered all fraternities to dispose of their homes by September 1960 or lose their recognition. First-years were forbidden to attend any fraternity function and upperclassmen could not join a fraternity unless their academic averages were 80 percent. While the article points to the fact that the University recognized these organizations’ existence, it is unclear what degree of support the University offered them.
According to an Oct. 7, 1965 article in The Hoya, “Up until the middle ‘50s, there were quite a few fraternities on the Georgetown scene. The houses which most of these frats used were, on the large part, leased from the University. Around 1958 Georgetown decided that the image projected by the fraternities was not in line with that of a Catholic university, and it refused to renew the leases of these houses.” However, Delta Phi Epsilon was able to retain its house because the fraternity itself owned it. Fraternities such as Kappa Alpha Phi, another fraternity associated with the SFS, had to give up their houses and died out shortly thereafter.
In 1981 the University separated itself from Delta Phi Epsilon because of bad behavior within the fraternity. The Voice reported on Sept. 9, 1981 that a student was taken to the emergency room due to alcohol poisoning during initiation. The group’s charter forbids the use of alcohol during the six-week initiation period, and Delta Phi Epsilon temporarily lost its national charter.
Currently, the business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi is recognized through the business school. The only fraternity that is recognized through the University and eligible for benefits through the Office of Student Programs is Alpha Phi Omega. Granted a charter in 1956, Alpha Phi Omega is a service fraternity that has been admitting women since 1977