Why doesn’t Ryerson get a little Greek?

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Leslie Walker and Caroline Dinnall take a look inside Ryerson’s history (or lack thereof) with fraternities and sororities and explain why the campus won’t be hosting the infamous party houses anytime soon

The high-ceilinged, threestorey red brick house on Madison Avenue takes “man cave” to the next level: a pool table stands at the ready, a TV is blaring and remnants of dinner sit on a plate in the middle of the living room coffee table. Twelve guys live in the sprawling, sparsely decorated turn-of-the-century home and they’re all members of Toronto’s Theta Delta Chi fraternity.

This fact is impossible to miss since the brotherhood’s Greek letters are emblazoned on the front of the old home.

According to Theta Delta Chi’s president, fourth-year Ryerson student Dan Blake, living in the house is nothing short of a wicked good time.

“There’s always someone to hang out with. There’s always something to do,” he says.

Take their Smirnoff Red Door party, for example. In September 2012, nearly 500 partygoers flocked to the house for a bash that would go down in Theta Delta Chi history. Drinks flowed from five separate bars, bodies grooved in the driveway to music from a Zeds Dead live performance and feathers flew during a giant basement pillow fight like a scene from a movie.

“It was honestly like a Project X party,” Blake says fondly, referring to the 2012 film where three high school friends throw a wild blowout.

When Blake wanted to become a part of Greek life as a first-year Ryerson student, his options were limited. Even though Ryerson tries to boost school spirit and promotes a sense of community, it doesn’t recognize fraternities. As a result, Blake decided to join Theta Delta Chi, a brotherhood that’s open to all Toronto schools.

Under Ryerson policy, fraternities are considered discriminatory for many reasons, largely due to their gender-exclusivity.

Fraternities do not allow women, and sororities do not allow men – a sticking point for the school against all Greek organizations.

And while many Ryerson students turn to the more fratpopulated neighbourhood near the University of Toronto (U of T), neither school officially recognizes fraternities or sororities.

But to some students, such institutions are a much needed cure to an ailing sense of school spirit and community. For students like Chris Smith*, fraternities are about more than gender.

“There are some fraternities associated with certain values that cause brothers to choose which one they want to represent,” Smith says. He was attracted to the brotherhood by the constant weekly gatherings where members of his current fraternity discussed and pondered philosophical matters.

Smith is a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He lives with 12 men and one woman.

“She’s the ‘official’ housemother of the house,” Smith says.

In Victorian times, this referred to the role of a live-in maid who took care of household chores and kept the house in order. Today, these requirements haven’t changed much – with the exception of laundry, which is done by the brothers.

Despite living away from his family for the first time and having to put some effort into taking care of himself, Smith says being a part of this fraternity is the best decision he has made in his life so far.

When he pushes open the doors of his fraternity home, which resembles something of a mansion, he always receives a family welcome.

There is never a dull moment in the brotherly household.

“Being a part of a fraternity is my rock,” he says. “I can always look to my brothers to give me advice.” He says that brotherhoods like his are living proof that fraternities are doing well without the support of schools. In fact, many fraternities in Toronto are financially stable enough to provide scholarships — assuming the candidate is well deserving of the reward, has a high GPA and is dedicated to his educational reputation.

Alpha Epsilon Pi is a Jewish fraternity near Ryerson that isn’t acknowledged by the school – something its members would like to change. Vice-president Sam Kopmar argues that both fraternities and sororities should be recognized under the all-inclusive umbrella of Greek life. But for Tony Conte, director of the Office of Vice-Provost, the lack of ultimate inclusion still remains.

“Equity, Diversity and Inclusion – creating and working towards infusing these principles in everything that we do is very important for us,” he says. “Fraternities, however, are exclusive by nature.

Not only by gender, but also status and other factors.” Some of these factors include initiation ceremonies (such as hazing), which, while often being officially condemned, traditionally take place. Some Greek communities also enforce policies on clothing requirements and GPA standards.

Alpha Epsilon Pi stands alone as the only example of a fraternity (albeit an unrecognized one) in the Ryerson community. It stands amongst 60 supported and funded student groups. This pales in comparison to the estimated 40 other fraternity groups that exist in Toronto. There are over 14 near U of T alone. Conte says the refusal to support this lifestyle for students at Ryerson might be due to the overall character and reputation of the students who attend this school.

“Ryerson’s evolution has been from being a polytechnic to now being a university,” he says. “Our school just might not have attracted a particular energy towards fraternities – unlike large schools like University of Toronto who have been around for a very long time.” Alpha Epsilon Pi may be the  only one of its kind at Ryerson, but its members stand together – Kopmar likens the brotherhood to a family.

“You immediately form connections,” he says. “It may sound corny or cheesy, but I don’t know how I’d make friends like I’ve made… if there wasn’t a group like this on campus, especially at a commuter school like Ryerson.” Kopmar’s Alpha Epsilon Pi brother, Jonny Mayers, thinks that recognizing fraternities and sororities would help with this issue by bolstering Ryerson’s sense of community. He envisions a more exciting campus with more events, more parties and more student involvement instead of a commuter school where students attend their classes and then head straight back to their homes in the GTA.

As for those who claim that fraternities are synonymous with lack of control and dangerous behaviour, Mayers says that doesn’t have to be the case.

“Alpha Epsilon Pi is strictly non-hazing. We don’t partake in any dangerous things,” he says. “I guess it depends on who’s running the show. If you keep it structured, there shouldn’t be any problems.” Mayers says he would understand if Ryerson only banned fraternities that took part in dangerous activities. “If you’re doing dangerous things, you don’t deserve to be on campus,” he says.”You’re setting a bad example and it looks bad on Ryerson.”

During her term as the Ryerson Students’ Union president so far, Melissa Palermo hasn’t yet been approached by any Greek organization with a desire for recognition from the school. She says that Ryerson’s current student group system is enough to suffice for a healthy and unified student body.

“I’m interested in creating a campus that is inclusive and as safe as possible for students and I think the model we have now helps us create that space,” Palermo says. Blake from Theta Delta Chi has seen the difference between schools that allow fraternities and those that don’t first-hand. While he doesn’t think Toronto area students have much school spirit, he finds that students at American schools that recognize fraternities are much more enthusiastic.

“We go down to Michigan once a semester… and they’re just really passionate about their school,” he says. “Everybody’s wearing their school colours, everybody’s wearing their fraternity letters.” Blake says fraternities also provide members with opportunities to network, travel and give back to the community through philanthropic events. But he doesn’t necessarily think that Ryerson changing its policy on fraternities would be a good thing — American fraternities that are affiliated with a university are bound by strict rules that their schools create and enforce.

“We don’t really have anybody looking down on us,” he says.

“Basically anything that we want to do is up to us.” While being independent from schools may have some benefits, Mayers and Kopmar insist that it can be very limiting, too.

In the fall of 2012, Alpha Epsilon Pi attempted to hold a fundraiser on Ryerson grounds. They wanted to do something to show solidarity and support for a brother whose family member had been affected by bone marrow cancer.

They set up shop outside of the student centre and invited passersby to stop as they headed to their classes to guess how many candies were in a jar of brightly coloured gummies. Each guess came with a contribution to be donated to the cause.

However, their efforts were cut short. According to Mayers and Kopmar, they were unceremoniously kicked off campus because – despite good intentions — Alpha Epsilon Pi isn’t recognized as a campus group. They had little choice but to pack up their things, including a donation jar that was only partially full.

While fraternities and sororities have served some students’ desires for a community well, the lack of school recognition has not proved to benefit or hinder the Greek community.

For the time being, Greek-craving students will have to settle for watching Animal House or Accepted on repeat.

*names have been changed to protect anonymity

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