The tale of how the first chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp) was founded 112 years ago at Richmond College is a familiar one to the fraternity’s thousands of members across the country. It might resonate most strongly, however, with the Boston College students who have finally succeeded in establishing their own chapter.
Carter Ashton Jenkens, sensing that something was missing from the student organizations already present at Richmond College, gathered a group of young men together to begin the process of founding a new fraternity. He envisioned an organization that would be different from all others, based on virtue, diligence, and brotherly love instead of family connections and socioeconomic status. Despite reluctance from the college’s administrators, Jenkens and his classmates succeeded in creating the first-ever chapter of SigEp.
History repeated itself on Friday night, when the Sigma Phi Epsilon Massachusetts Iota chapter, the first ever to be comprised entirely of BC students, received its national charter.
Although the fraternity is not recognized by or affiliated with the University, it is now recognized by the national SigEp office as an official chapter.
The Massachusetts Iota chapter began as a colony in 2009, when Matt Freedman, a BC graduate student who had been a part of SigEp as an undergraduate at Texas Christian University, saw the potential for a chapter at BC. With some help from SigEp headquarters and a small group of then-undergrads, SigEp began recruiting students. Despite some early setbacks, the chapter now has 50 members, according to its website.
The Massachusetts Iota chapter achieved national recognition after a trial period of only three years, one of the fastest chapters ever to do so.
“Building a fraternity is a very hard thing,” said Ryan Nick, president of the Massachusetts Iota chapter and A&S ’14. “You have to convince people to join a club that’s unlike anything else.”
The process was made more difficult because, like the fraternity’s founding members over a century ago, SigEp Massachusetts Iota faced resistance from the University.
“It’s not the type of institution we choose to be,” said Dean of Students Paul Chebator, when asked about why there are no fraternities on campus. “Fraternities and sororities were often used as ways of separating people and discriminating against people based on a variety of things … I think BC is meant to be an inclusive community.”
Chebator said that while the goals of the fraternity are noble, the inherently exclusive nature of Greek life means that it is unlikely that the University will ever officially recognize fraternities and sororities.
Josh Cohen, vice president of communications for the fraternity and A&S ’15, said that he initially joined SigEp because its goals and interests lined up with his own. “One brother called it a one-stop shop for everything you need in college,” he said.
SigEp’s main goals are to make sure that every member is a scholar, an athlete, a leader, and a gentleman. This combination of traits, called the “balanced man ideal,” sets SigEp apart from not only other student organizations, but from other fraternities as well, according to its members. Further setting it apart is the fact that the fraternity makes a priority of not hazing new members and is the only one in the country that does not have a pledging process. Each member is initiated with the rights of a full brother, and alcohol is never present at recruiting events.
“We want to shatter the frat stereotype,” Nick said. “Our goal is to shape each member to be a better person.”
In addition to self-improvement, the chapter is also active in philanthropic service to the community. The fraternity founded the Alex Grant Memorial 5k Race after Alex Grant, a BC sophomore and member of the then-colony, passed away in March 2011. The race benefits the Alexander Maxwell Grant Foundation, which was founded by Grant’s parents to provide scholarships for musically gifted but disadvantaged students.
Although Grant’s passing was shocking and tragic, it brought the group closer together and reminded them of what they stood for.
“This chapter does not need University recognition or, for that matter, a charter,” said Chapter Councilor Jake Davey. In the wake of the tragedy, he said, “all they needed was each other.”
In their speeches during Friday night’s ceremony, members past and present urged their fellow brothers to continue this tradition of service, self-improvement, and unity.
Tyler Schenk, a founding member of SigEp Massachusetts Iota and BC ’12, presented current students with two challenges moving forward: to work to improve the image of Greek life at BC, and to continue innovating in order to avoid dying out.
“Let’s always try something new,” he said. “We must not only make ourselves proud, but make the campus we grew up on proud as well.”