Why won’t Ryerson Go Greek?

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By Stacey Askew & Lia Van Baalen

There were beer vending machines in frat houses, cigarette advertisements in university newspapers and it was one death that pushed a tradition to extinction at Ryerson.

On Jan. 23, 1965, Ryerson student Thomas Dasovich was one of 18 contestants in a inter-fraternity beer drinking contest between three unofficial Ryerson frats.

After the competition was over, 320-pound Dasovich insisted on driving himself home. He drove through nearby Allan Gardens and was struck by another car as he drove onto Gerrard St. E., just a few blocks from Ryerson. He died when his car was thrown in the path of another oncoming vehicle.

He was 26 years old.

At the time of his death, Ryerson’s 3,000 students could choose from five fraternities. Today, Ryerson is home to 21,000 full-time students and just one fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi).

Ryerson distanced itself from frats after Dasovich’s death. Today, fraternities aren’t officially recognized and can’t advertise on campus.

“It’s hard to find people. Now we are looking for the majority to be from (the University of Toronto),” said Richard Scholten, a Ryerson student and president of U of T’s 82-year-old Delta Epsilon frat.

Delta Epsilon’s advertising was limited this year to participating in Ryerson’s Parade and Picnic. They wore their letters and handed out fliers.

At Ryerson, AEPi has the same problem.

“The only way you can know AEPi exists is by word of mouth,” said chapter president Robert Ostfield.

Ryerson President Sheldon Levy said he’d consider an inclusive fraternity if a group of students came forward with such a proposal.

The Ryerson Students’ Union, which licenses the dozens of student groups on campus, refuses to recognize frats.

“Fraternities and sororities are gender exclusive and this does not fit with the RSU’s view of clubs … clubs are open to all students, regardless of differences” said Leatrice O’Neill, campus groups administrator.

The RSU isn’t alone in its skepticism.

Peggy Sanday, anthropologist and author of Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus, agreed that universities should be critical in deciding whether to associate themselves with such groups. She said fraternities and sororities promote sexist and regressive cultural norms.

“Recognizing fraternities means to recognize the gender polarities they support: males are expected to be aggressive, promiscuous, and intensely competitive in demonstrating success with women. Women are expected to be pliant, nurturing, and relational, yet also ‘ho’s’ in the service of men.

“It is the classic example of the ‘old boys network,’” Sanday said.

The U of T also had its problem with frats. In 1959, Barbara Arrington, a black honours psychology student, was told to drop her membership bid from three sororities to avoid embarrassment.

After the ensuing racial debate, the U of T disassociated itself from fraternities and sororities. They were previously unrecognized, but each lost, among other things, use of the school’s letterhead and a discount in the campus press.

Forty years later, both Ryerson and the U of T haven’t changed their minds.

AEPi’s Ostfield said it’s frustrating working against the stigma universities and authors, such as Sanday, hold.

“We are not out to hurt anyone and not out to get anything. Canadian universities look at fraternities with a negative connotation…they don’t understand what we’re trying to do.”

Most fraternities and sororities are certified charitable institutions. AEPi supports Mickey, a network that trains people to use defibrillators. Delta Epsilon supports Casey House, an HIV hospice and community program.

Canadian frats traditionally charge yearly membership fees ranging from $400 to $1000— something that also prevents them from being sanctioned by the RSU. Fees cover formals and semi-formals, philanthropic fundraising events and insurance costs. It’s a great experience for anyone who wants to be involved, said U of T sorority member Sarah O’Neil.

“We want everyone. I’ve made so many friends,” she said.

At the U of T, fraternities advertise under the umbrella of a larger student group, the Fraternity and Sorority Life Club.

“U of T can’t touch us with a 10-foot pole,” said Eitan Pinsky, member of Delta Kappa Epsilon and the president of the Fraternity and Sorority Life Club; the student group attended club day to recruit pledges for all the frats, something Ryerson frats can’t do.

Pinsky attributed Ryerson’s lack of frats and sororities to its polytechnic background and downtown location — no frat house means no frat.

In the rest of Canada there is a bit of a different approach to recognizing the frat community.

At the University of Alberta, all fraternities are recognized on a one-on-one basis by the university. However, they can only remain members of the school’s interfraternity council (a student group) if they uphold certain guidelines.

“The reason (universities) stay away from being associated is really nothing more than a lack of knowledge about what frats do. I think if people did a better job explaining, schools would be more willing to accept them,” said Chris Samuels, former inter-fraternity council president and current ombudsman at the U of A.

“With any student group, there is a potential to discriminate, to do something bad or have something go wrong,” Samuels added.

Further west, the University of British Columbia has yet another policy. Each fraternity has a representative on an inter-fraternity council. Each of the nine frat houses are owned by the individual fraternity but built on university land, leased from the school for just $1 over 99 years. Only fraternities that possess charters from their international organization are recognized.

“The whole point of a fraternity is to maintain a student organization that provides support for its members. Without a strong tie to a school, a fraternity is nothing. We’re much more than just a social group,” said Ben Graham, president of UBC Alpha Delta Phi fraternity,

“We couldn’t exist without UBC.”

Ryerson fraternities are struggling without similar suport. Administrators and students’ unions need to see the overall good the Greek system can bring to a campus, Samuels said.

“One out of a thousand times something bad happens and it’s that one time that really kills us.”

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