Post Classifieds

Fraternities now a memory at NU

By Audrey Seaman
On February 10, 2011

For more than 100 years, Norwich was the home to numerous fraternities, providing a unique social life for students, until their sudden abolition 50 years ago, according to the university historian.

The brotherhood of the Theta Chi fraternity began at Norwich, establishing the Alpha Chapter in 1856, according to Dan Fleetham Jr., class of 1969, who is writing a book on the history of fraternities at Norwich from 1856-1960. He is the son of the oldest living Alpha Chapter member.

"There had been initiated 1,279 members since 1856," Fleetham said, emphasizing the influence the chapter had on the university.Theta Chi grew to over 100 chapters at universities across the country, according to Major General W.Russell Todd, former president of NU and member of Theta Chi.

As an active fraternity, it was independently chartered and "membership was by invitation, a practice that promoted discrimination," Todd said.

Theta Chi played a large role in extracurricular activities, accordingto Dr.Gary Lord, the university historian.

 "The university Inter-fraternity Council sponsored many of the university social events and managed the inter-fraternity sports program," Todd said.

The Theta Chi fraternity house was supervised by "a house mother and father who prepared our meals and took care of the interior of the house," said Brad Greason,'50, a president of Theta Chi.

In the early years of fraternities, "They were much more disciplined with a strong moral, social and intellectual mission," Todd said, but "this was not the case during my student days right after World War II."

Prior to WWII, the fraternities were valuable assets to the students, providing dining opportunities and an outside social life, but the character of the fraternities drastically changed after the war, according to Lord."The fraternities began to adopt a pattern of behavior that violated the rules and regulations of the institution," he said.

A memorandum found in the Norwich Archives titled The Fraternity Situation, from Major General E.N.Harmon, the president at the time of the fraternity's abolition, tried to deal with the problems. Harmon wrote, "There were signs of disintegration of this effort by certain people who thought that the discipline should stop at the fraternity doors."

For nine years, Harmon struggled to correct the problem, but with six fraternities active on campus at the time, he faced many challenges.

In 1955, NU opened Harmon Hall, the new student union and dining hall on campus.Students were no longer able to eat in their fraternity houses, which led to resentment from students and the breaking up of their social life, according to Lord.

"We need all of the corps to eat at one place because we couldn't handle it financially any other way," Harmon said.

"The fraternity houses began to be used as drinking and partying houses," Greason said.As a result of too much leniency, they lost all sense of responsibility, where problems began to arise, according to Greason.

"The members went from being together three times a day to gathering for Saturday night beer parties," Todd said.

The main problems that arose involved drinking, discrimination and the perception of hazing, according to Todd."The induction process would seem like hazing by today's standards," Todd said.

Harmon proposed the abolition of all fraternities in 1959, according to Lord."This was one of the first times a president made a sweeping move against the Greek fraternity system," Lord said.

"He felt that the fraternities were detrimental to the discipline of the Corps of Cadets and substituted class clubs of which were former fraternity houses bought by the university," Fleetham said, describing Harmon's reasoning behind ending the fraternities.

The closing of the Theta Chi chapter presented a unique problem, for Norwich was its founding university."Norwich alumni took pride in this fact and were concerned that Norwich's national reputation would be tarnished and Theta Chi National blemished if its first chapter was inactivated," Todd said.

"General Harmon was right to cut out fraternities at the time and under the circumstances prevailing at the time," Todd said, in support of the decision.

While some alumni and students supported his decision, others opposed it. "I received approximately 100 letters from the alumni on the subject of fraternities," Harmon said.

Wrote one alum, "My fondest members of Norwich are derived from my fraternity association.Norwich needs the non-military relief afforded by fraternities."

The students responded with a daylong strike, according to Lord."There was a short strike where a small group of fraternity members marched slovenly down to mess formations," Fleetham said.

Students have petitioned to reestablish the Alpha Chapter at NU, according to Todd, but it was unanimously voted down by the board.

The Theta Chi fraternity has developed a positive relationship with NU, according to Mike Mayer, the executive director of the Theta Chi fraternity.

 They have agreed "that it will not attempt to re-establish the Alpha Chapter or allow for the initiation of any Norwich cadets or students without the express consent of the administration of Norwich University," Mayer said.

 "I would be the first to state that Norwich needs to find a better solution to our social integration, but the last to say that the fraternity model is appropriate today," Todd said.

Fraternities today would present an issue with loyalty, according to Lord."The division between the loyalty of the corps of cadets and the loyalty of the fraternity's brothers is problematic to a military organization," Lord said.

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