there still a place for fraternities at a small liberal arts college?
For most of Pomona's peer institutions, the answer is no. Seven of the
top 10 liberal arts colleges have scrapped their Greek systems completely,
Williams College going so far as to promise the expulsion of any student
who attempts to form a fraternity or sorority.
With two all-male fraternities and one that accepts
both men and women (but strangely, no all-female groups), Pomona College
has also been forced to address the problems of a traditional Greek system.
But in doing so, it has taken care to sift the bathwater for babies, reshaping
its fraternities rather than disbanding them.
Say the word "fraternity" and the image that springs
invariably to mind is that of a house badly in need of repair and cleaning,
empty beer bottles littering the floors, perhaps some feminine undergarment
dangling from a banister. Whether this image owes its power as a stereotype
to the facts or to National Lampoon's Animal House is open to debate.
For some, the fraternity is the embodiment of Eurocentric, misogynist
thought; for others it represents nothing more than brotherhood, support
and good times.
Frederick Sontag--professor of philosophy, faculty adviser
for Kappa Delta and arguably the most ardent supporter of fraternities
at Pomona--can list many reasons to keep the Greek system going, but he
always comes back to the point of connectivity. "Every person who goes
to Pomona needs a connection to some smaller activity group than their
400-person class," he says. Sontag explains that this connection brings
students together, gives them access to an informal relationship with
a faculty adviser and ties them to the College after they leave. More
specifically, he argues that there is still a place for men's groups at
college. "At this time in their life they need the male association,"
In fact, Sontag maintains that the trend toward the
elimination of fraternities is beginning to reverse itself nationwide
as educational institutions come to realize that they are losing some
of the connection to their students. With less of a connection, and therefore
less tradition, alumni, he believes, are less likely to contribute.
"I think there isn't a place in the country that isn't
trying to recover more of the traditional activities," speculates Sontag.
"But you don't connect it in the old way; you connect it in a new way.
I'm a conservative with a small c, because what conservative means is
that you take the best out of something in your past and you conserve
it and carry it over into the new day."
Kappa Delta, Sigma Tau and Nu Alpha Phi, the three active
fraternities on campus, have each been modified to carry over into a new
"The most powerful difference between our fraternities
and the classic model of a fraternity is that ours are not residential,"
says President Peter Stanley. "It seems to me that a lot of the stress
points in the role of fraternities on college campuses these days really
center in the residential aspect. To have a house of your own, to have
an ethic of your own inside that house, to host parties in the house--which
sometimes go wrong--all of these have really become the flash points for
a lot of the complaints about fraternities: that they are separatist,
that they are, in some measure, unresponsive to the ethic of the rest
of the campus. I think that it is a tremendous blessing that we don't
have to worry about that."
When the fraternities were originally brought onto campus,
however, it was for practical rather than ethical reasons. When workers
began the construction of Clark Hall, there were not enough students to
fill the dorm. The trustees agreed to build social rooms in the basements
on the condition that the fraternities sell their houses and move onto
campus. "I've said a dozen times, it's the smartest move the College ever
made, even if they didn't fully understand the repercussions," remarks
Sontag. "Fraternities on other campuses that have real trouble are the
ones that are off campus, that have nothing to guide them, no rules to
follow, and they get out of hand. The fraternities here have to obey the
college rules, and they are part of the life."
The fraternity members, for the most part, seem pleased
with the way things work. "I'm really happy with the way that Pomona runs
its system," says Chris Yorks '01, president of Sigma Tau. "By living
on campus and not having national charters you avoid the problem of the
Greek system growing too large and dominating the social scene. The way
it is now, fraternities have a lot of responsibility. We have to throw
parties that will be fun and competitive with other events."
The fact that fraternities don't live together in a
single house has its pros and cons, says Michael vonGillaume '01, president
of Kappa Delta. "I would say that if you were looking for that big-school
fraternity experience you obviously are not going to find that at Pomona.
But not being a big school fraternity takes a lot of heat off the system
here; it makes it a lot easier for it to survive, and it probably is the
way that big Greek systems will go in the future."
The most nontraditional of the frats, Nu Alpha Phi,
commonly known as "the Nappies," have moved a step further by opening
membership to the five colleges and, as one member put it, "to all three
major genders." Of the Nappies, Alonso Velez (CMC) '03, says, "honestly,
I think at heart we're all the biggest dorks. We were all the dorks in
high school; we're all dorks inside," he laughs. "We just like to pretend
that we are cool by partying. But because of this, I really think that
Nappies are super-accepting and super-open. It's about bringing in different
kinds of people, partying with different kinds of people and bonding with
Besides creating a group of people that will look after
each other and throwing parties, the fraternities also do community service
projects and raise money for a range of causes. Fraternities have also
donated time to Habitat for Humanity and raised money for The House of
Ruth and the homeless. "You are giving the guys that are going to join
a chance to participate in something that is for the greater good, not
just for themselves," says vonGillaume. "They do it for an organization
instead of for their personal gain. That's something which I think is
very important to learn, especially when you are so focused on your own
performance in college."
Is there a legitimate need for single-sex groups and
exclusive, self-selecting organizations at Pomona? Instead of closing
the door on the issue, Pomona College has allowed the discussion to continue
while shaping the fraternities in response to the changing times. Says
Nappie Sonny Mott ( Pitzer '02), "We're not complete Eurocentric misogynist
bastards. It's just--I don't know--everybody together in a loving, kind
place and whatever happens happens. Did you get a beer?" --Nate Johnson