After meeting with Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Rick Culliton, President Michael Roth, and Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Whaley, leaders of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) and Rho Epsilon Pi (Rho Ep) will not be allowed to apply for the open program house at 230 Washington St., where Interfaith House was previously located.
The University announced officially in an email sent to all students on Wednesday, Nov. 14 that student groups would be allowed to apply for the space. The Undergraduate Residential Life Committee (URLC), composed of seven students and four administrators, will review student applications. According to Director of Residential Life Fran Koerting, the URLC will select a program based on demonstrated interest of the student community and ability of the program to sustain itself.
Members of AEPi and Rho Ep have had hopes of acquiring living spaces since each was founded in 2009 and 2011, respectively.
“We’ve always been looking for ways to secure a shared living and meeting space for our brothers,” President of AEPi Alex Pack ’14 said. “We feel that it would significantly help us fulfill our mission as an organization that fosters brotherhood, Jewish values and cultural heritage, and the character of leadership among its brothers, while spearheading philanthropic, social, and culturally Jewish activities for the greater Wesleyan community.”
President of Rho Ep Melody Oliphant ’13 had similar hopes for her society, which has encountered many obstacles in its search for meeting spaces.
“We applied for a [meeting] space in 190 High, and we were rejected because we were seen as too exclusionary,” Oliphant said. “One year we tried to request the lounge of the Romance Language and Literature building, and we received an email back saying that the space was ‘too nice’ for us. It’s a problem that other Greek organizations don’t have because they have their own space.”
When Pack and Oliphant discovered that Interfaith House had been disbanded and that it was likely that students would be given the opportunity to apply for the program house, the two decided to join together to try to attain the space.
“Deciding to partner with Rho Ep on housing was easy for us,” Pack said. “We have a close organizational relationship, having partnered together on social events, like the yearly Paint Party that raises money for a Jewish breast cancer support network, and philanthropy events, like Toys for Tots. We’re also definitely the outliers in the traditional Greek life system. Both of our groups fill a niche among campus social groups, and I think it’s fair to say that we represent a novel and very different type of Greek life than Wesleyan is used to.”
Oliphant explained that she viewed the prospect of establishing a space shared by a sorority and a fraternity as progressive.
“Though I do find [Rho Ep] to be incredibly empowering to women on campus and a much-needed resource for women on campus, I think there are limits to single-sex organizations,” Oliphant said. “Although we’re open to anyone who self-identifies as female, I still think the merits of co-education are boundless, and especially in the Greek system, having both men and women in the room is so important to moving forward and continuing to have a positive presence on campus.”
However, Oliphant is aware that the Greek societies could encounter resistance in the application process. In April 2011, Roth stated that he would not be in favor of adding single-sex Greek housing on campus, but he did not specify whether he would be opposed to the creation of a new co-ed Greek house.
Oliphant and Pack first met with Culliton who, according to Pack, explained that Roth would decide whether or not to allow for expansion of Greek housing. Pack said that they received a similar response from Whaley. Ultimately, Roth decided not to allow for the expansion of Greek housing, even in the case of co-ed housing.
“With respect to Greek organizations, our consistent institutional position has been that we will support the existing residential Greeks through program housing, but will not add additional Greek houses,” Whaley wrote in an email to The Argus. “There are several non-residential Greek organizations at Wesleyan that are important and valuable student organizations (Rho Ep, AEPi, and others), and we remain happy to work with them to support their goals.”
Oliphant lamented what she believes is an unfair bias regarding Greek life.
“[Roth] sees Greek life, especially with the more traditional Greek societies on our campus, DKE, Beta, and Psi U, as perpetuating misogyny, enabling cheating, devaluing the honor code, enabling sexual assault,” Oliphant said. “He sees all those issues as inextricably tied up with Greek housing. I’ve always contended that those issues aren’t specific to Greek life on campus, and it’s almost more problematic to confine those issues to Greek life because then you’re not going to solve those problems on their own, you’re just sort of interested in the blame game.”
Oliphant and Pack see their societies as unique within the Greek community. Some members of the societies agree.
“Coming to Wesleyan, I never expected I would join a fraternity,” Jordan Feingold-Link ’16 wrote in an email to The Argus. “And where the other fraternities seemed to be mostly concerned with partying, the brothers of AEPi seemed more focused on community service and Jewish culture. That outward focus—the desire to be a positive force in the community—really attracted me.”
Pack explained that he believes Roth’s resistance to allowing Rho Ep and AEPi to apply for the house is based on a lack of understanding of the groups’ mission.
“[Roth] doesn’t really know anything about our groups, and I wouldn’t expect him to because he has a lot of other things going on, which is why it’s frustrating that he won’t defer the issue to the rest of the committee, which will be made of students and administrators who are more aware of what we do on campus and what we stand for,” Pack said. “One thing I got from these meetings is that administrators don’t really know what we stand for or what we do, and that’s something we’d like to correct by the application process. We want a fair shot.”