They’ve been called the pink elephant in the middle of the room that nobody wants to talk about. Actually there are two elephants. One is gold and black, the other is blue and white. And they are more along the outskirts of campus.What are they?
They’re the Greeks.
“The elephant is that they aren’t recognized by the college,” said Administrative Dean Bill Allen.
Not that long ago, Castleton was home to three sororities and two fraternities. Even though they were not officially recognized by the college, it was hard not to see them.
Kappa Delta Phi, a fraternity started in 1968, was located on Elm Street. Large black Greek letters nailed to the front of the yellow house could be clearly seen from Leavenworth, even on a foggy day.
The Sigma Delta Chi fraternity was located on South Street just past what is now known as Africa (South Street parking lot). They formed in 1985.
Two of the sororities were sisters to the fraternities; Sigma Delta Sigma and Kappa Tau. The third sorority branched off Kappa Tau to form Zeta Omega. Although the girls didn’t have stationary houses like their male counterparts, they were still quite active.
So what happened? Why, as freshman, are we told to stay away from these mysterious organizations? College campuses across the county have fraternities and sororities. Why not Castleton?
In January 1976 the Vermont State College Board of Trustees decided that Vermont State Colleges would not recognize any fraternity or sorority.
Elizabeth Sumner, a former Castleton professor, taught at Castleton when the decision was made. She said the issue was strenuously debated among students, faculty, and administrators. Sumner described the national social atmosphere in the 70s and how it influenced the policy. She said people were suspicious of secretive organizations because of events such as the Vietnam War.
“Places of secrecy are always questioned in democratic society,” Sumner explained.
Dean of Students Greg Stone speculated that policy was written around the time the VSC board formed. Basically when it formed, members outlined what they wanted to be and not be, and developed their policies accordingly.
The VSC policy on student organizations states that they “recognize the right of students to organize into groups of common interest . for lawful and productive purposes as a means of enhancing ones educational experience and strengthen the colleges.”
So why can’t Greek organizations qualify?
Stone said it is because fraternities and sororities are not open to everyone. Student organizations are supposed to be open to all individuals at any time regardless of race, class or gender. Greek organizations are secretive. A person can’t just walk up to one and instantly become a member. This, according to Allen, is where the problem lies.
Even though the Greeks are not recognized by the college, the college cannot stop them from forming and functioning off campus. Here lies the loophole.
Since their houses were off campus and they were unrecognized by the college, administrators had no control over what went on at the fraternities and sororities.
Greek houses were a place to party. In the heyday of Greek life at Castleton, the average hardcore partiers’ schedule went something like this: Wednesday night-Kappa, Thursday night- Sigma/The Dog, Friday night-Kappa, Saturday night-Sigma.
They would throw Halloween parties, pimps and hoes parties, Hawaiian and jungle juice parties, they did it all. Two dollars would get you into the party, a plastic keg cup – good until the beer ran out, access to drug dealers (if that was your thing), and something to do.
Most of the time a neighbor to the frat house would call the police, usually a noise complaint. The police would come, break up the party and hand out citations to underage drinkers.
Some police arrivals were more severe than others.
In March 1999, police went to the Sigma house on a noise complaint and allegedly put one Sigma brother in a choke hold, pointed a gun at another student, and sprayed pepper spray into the house according the March 1999 issue of The Spartan.
In November 2004, an undercover police officer went to a Kappa party, resulting in 45 people facing charges, mostly underage drinking citations. Three Kappa brothers, the only brothers over 21 at the party, were each charged with 42 counts of enabling minors to drink and faced up to 84 years in jail and up to $84,000 in fines if convicted. The president of Kappa also was charged with running an illegal bar. In the end the sentence was reduced to probation and community service, as reported by the Rutland Herald.
Neighbors of the fraternities grew to dread the start of each semester. They didn’t want raging parties 20 feet from their homes blaring until three in the morning. They noticed an increase in vandalism, and heard rumors of violent behavior by fraternity members. One family even considered moving out of Castleton, according to the Sept. 16, 1999 issue of the Rutland Herald.
Tired of calling the police, and frustrated with the college’s inability to control the fraternities, local residents held town meetings. College officials and students were in attendance. Out of these meetings a set of guidelines were formed for students living off campus. The guidelines include notifying neighbors of plans to hold gatherings of 20 or more people, and adhering to appropriate times for loud music. These guidelines are still given to students at the beginning of the semester.
All the uproar caught the attention of local media outlets throughout the years. The publicity tended to put Castleton and, particularly the fraternities, in a bad light.
“The fraternal organization is built on philanthropy and togetherness, none of that is ever mentioned,” said former Kappa brother Phillip Marcell, to a Rutland Herald reporter. “What’s always mentioned is the partying aspect, the downside of it. The positive side is never mentioned.”
The fraternities used to do community service. Kappa was required to complete at least two philanthropic projects each semester. Sigma brothers had to complete two to four major community service projects each semester. Kappa organized blood drives. Sigma renovated a local daycare center. Bottle drives held were to help support Castleton Village School and donations were made to the Village girl’s soccer team.
Other smaller activities included raking leaves at local churches, helping elderly neighbors with daily tasks like shopping and shoveling snow. They also volunteered at a halfway house for mental ill adults.
But the more negative publicity fraternities received, the harder it became do volunteer work. Nobody wanted to work with people who had such bad reputations. The community basically rejected the idea of being helped by these brothers said Sigma and Kappa members.
Multiple times the town tried to zone the fraternities out. Castleton town officials felt pressure from residence to get the fraternities out of the community.
Local landlord Howard Smith, who also is one of the founding members of Sigma, said the zoning citations are “just another attempt by the town to get these kids out.”
Administrative forces at the college also worked to shut down the fraternities. Stone believes “there was no redeeming qualities” in CSC fraternities. He called Kappa’s national headquarters to complain about the fraternity. National officers from Kappa came to Castleton and put stipulations on their local brothers. Local Kappa brothers did not fulfill the requirements placed on them so the national office revoked the chapter, Stone proudly said.
That was the official end to the Kappa fraternity. Some of the brothers lingered at Castleton for a few years, but none remain today. Their sister sorority died out around the same time as members graduated and new pledges were nonexistent.
Stone also works to marginalize what is left of Greek life at Castleton. His employees tell all incoming freshman to stay away from the fraternities and sororities because they are dangerous places. A CSC sophomore recalled her freshman orientation where she was told the fraternities and sororities were not real.
“These are bad places and people really shouldn’t go there. They are men behaving badly if you really want to know the truth,” Stone said.
With all of these forces working against the Greeks it’s hard to believe they are still around. Today there is one fraternity and one sorority remaining at Castleton, both Sigma.
The Sigma sorority is still active. They have a house next to the admissions building, although not all residents of the house are sisters. Relics of Greek life are throughout the house. Blue and white felt Sigma banners hang from a wall. An old black and gold painted Kappa table sits in the living room, and an old paddle hangs in the stairwell. There are six active sisters and five pledges. They are all involved in community service activities ranging from volunteering at the Dismas House in Rutland to fundraising for Down Syndrome, to helping with the Take Back the Night march.
In April they will celebrate their 10 year anniversary.
The Sigma men are trying to regroup. They lost their house on South Street after the brothers didn’t pay rent and the house was condemned when it was discovered that the floors had rotted. They also experienced a decrease in numbers both in pledges and party goers. At one point the fraternity was down to 4 members. Now they have 9, but would like to bring their number up to 20, the brothers said.
Josh, the current overseer of the fraternity, said the fraternity would like to be more active in the community, but “as much as we did people didn’t care.” He said they have such a bad reputation that they nobody in the community wants to work with them. “Partying is all we’re allowed to do,” said Josh. But, people don’t want to go to the parties because they are afraid the police will show up. The fraternity also faces the “Animal House” stereotype, which the college perpetuates when it tells new students to stay away from Greek life.
Sigma members say it is difficult to recruit pledges because the Greeks are not allowed to put flyers in the dorms. They are told to leave when they try to host events, like volleyball, on college property.
According to both Greeks and college administration, the only way for Greek life to truly thrive at Castleton is for the college to recognize fraternities and sororities. Stone said that will never happen.
“Not all fraternities are bad-the fraternities here are bad,” Stone said.
“We don’t want to rape and pillage Castleton!” said Jen Manning, president of the sorority.
Manning’s Sigma sister firmly declared, “They make us better people!