Boston College brochures, tour guides, and admissions officers boast of the endless extracurricular opportunities for undergraduates at BC, citing the various a cappella groups, volunteer organizations, and clubs, from the social justice-oriented to the recreational to the eccentric. When compared with similar lists at many other American universities, however, BC’s is conspicuously missing one element: Greek life.
While many BC students do not mind the lack of fraternities and sororities, and some even chose BC in part because of their absence, several undergraduates have sought out opportunities to align themselves with Greek letters.
The Massachusetts Iota chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon (Sig Ep) is a fraternity chapter comprised exclusively of BC students, though it is not affiliated with BC. Matt Freedman, GCAS ’14, who completed his undergraduate study at Texas Christian University, founded the chapter in 2009. He had been a member of TCU’s Sig Ep chapter, and felt that the culture at BC was ripe for Greek life. He contacted Sig Ep’s national headquarters, which sent representatives to BC in order to gauge interest among undergraduate men. The interest proved substantial enough, and the chapter was started.
Sig Ep now has over 40 members, all of whom attend BC. Not all BC students who have pledged a fraternity during their time here belong to Sig Ep, however.
The Massachusetts Beta-Alpha Chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) is open to any student in the Boston area who attends a school that does not have an SAE chapter.
Comprised mainly of students from BC, Boston University, and Northeastern University, the chapter also has some students from the Wentworth Institute of Technology.
According to current member Henry Millette, A&S ’15, the Massachusetts Beta-Alpha chapter of SAE was founded in 2007 after the BU chapter was closed due to poor behavior.
“We rose out of that as a drug-free, hazing-free alternative,” he said.
Former president of SAE Casey Linehan, A&S ’14, spoke of SAE’s desire to separate themselves from the stereotypical fraternity. Under his tenure last year, their chapter won the national award for best health and safety among all SAE chapters in the country.
“That’s particularly important in that that’s the kind of thing that gives fraternities their bad rep,” Linehan said. “You hear about kids making bad decisions, and not being the best person they can be, and hazing and drinking themselves into a stupor, and we’ve been very good about not making those decisions.”
Ryan Nick, former president of Sig Ep and A&S ’14, expressed similar sentiments in regard to Sig Ep’s mission as a fraternity, stressing that it was about community and not about partying.
“That’s not what we’re about, we’re not Animal House,” Nick said. “We’re trying to take freshman guys and give them this mentorship.”
The mission within Sig Ep, according to Nick, is to be constantly improving themselves as individuals and as a collective chapter. To illustrate, he referenced something he was once told as a mantra for the recruitment period: “Recruit guys so that in four years, you couldn’t get into that chapter.”
Similarly, Linehan decided to pledge SAE in large part because he felt the brothers were the type of people who would help him become a better man.
“I’m very value-driven,” Linehan said. “I came to college not specifically for technical training but because I wanted the whole liberal arts education that encompasses bettering yourself as a person, and I met some of the seniors [in SAE] at the time [I was pledging] who I believed could push me to be better.”
SAE’s values are summed up in the term “True Gentleman,” which Linehan said is “very much in line with what it means to be Catholic, not necessarily in faith but in terms of action and value.”
Sig Ep also has a national fraternity-wide value system. Theirs is known as the “Balanced Man Program,” which “strives to mold deserving members into gentlemen, leaders, scholars, and athletes,” according to chapter president Tom Campbell, CSOM ’15.
Despite Campbell and Nick’s belief that this value system closely parallels BC’s mottos of “Men and women for others” and “cura personalis,” the chapter’s relationship with University officials has been adversarial in the past, though Nick remarked that current relations are not so heated.
In Sig Ep’s early months, they explored the possibility of becoming officially recognized by the University, but the University required that Sig Ep drop their Greek letters and become co-ed if they wished to be an official student organization.
Unwilling to do this, the charter remains only affiliated with BC by virtue of the fact that every member is enrolled there. Consequently, all dealings between Sig Ep and the University are essentially conducted with the understanding that Sig Ep is an external organization.
SAE, by nature of the fact that it draws members from four separate institutions, deals less with the University than Sig Ep. Both fraternities, however, spoke of the obstacles that not being affiliated with a university pose to recruitment.
They are not able to host information sessions or recruitment events on campus, which leads to the majority of recruitment being done informally, by word of mouth or flyer handouts.
While Millette discovered SAE by researching fraternities available to him in the Boston area, most others happened accidentally upon the opportunity to pledge. Linehan first heard of SAE when his friend invited him to tag along to a rush event. Campbell and Nick both learned of Sig Ep by seeing the table they set up on College Road at the beginning of each semester.
All four said that responses to hearing that they are in a fraternity at BC vary greatly from person to person. Campbell remarks that reactions range from “disgust to intrigue,” and Nick calls it an “uphill battle” toward convincing people that his involvement in a fraternity is a worthwhile and formative experience. Nick also remarked that the culture among males at BC, which is often called “fratty” despite the lack of Greek life, may make certain people nervous about the presence of fraternities because they worry that it could quickly spiral out of control.
For several reasons, Linehan and Nick agreed that it will be a long time, perhaps forever, before the administration allows Greek life to become officially a part of BC.
“Where the future of fraternities lies in the student body population depends on whether or not students want to get involved in it,” Linehan said.