Spring 2001, Volume 37, No. 2

Contents

FEATURE
Lives of a Saint

SPECIAL SECTION
Altruism 101
Reach Out!
Venture Catalysts
Sagehens in Paradise

DEPARTMENTS
-Pomona Forum-
Altruism 101
-News Print-
Professor's Philosophy of Life Unshaken

-Pomona Today-
Professor of the Year
Inside the Power Crunch
Rite of Passage
Top Five
Frats with a Difference
Bridge Over the Pacific

-New Knowledge-
The Secrets of the Hydra
-Sports Report-
Dynamic Duos
-Bookshelf-
Getting On
Threshholding
George Moore
-Campaign Update-
American Dreams

ALUMNI VOICES
-Parlor Talk-
Traditions
-Family Tree-
Allen-Lee-Kingman-McDonald
-Alumni Profile-
Casey Trupin '95
-Alumni Puzzler-
Inside-Out
-Back Cover-
Pilgrims' Progress



 

Is 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," he says.
   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 day.
   "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 them."
   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 '01