Remnants of Greek Life at Stanford

You’ve probably heard all the stories too. How Kappa had its chapter house about where Xanadu now stands, how Phi Psi used to be housed in Synergy, how Chi Omega was housed in Muwekma, and how XOX got its name. Here is one you probably didn’t know: Bechtel International Center itself was once a fraternity. What is more, alumni always seem to love sharing how their fraternal organization were stripped of its chapter house and subsequently disbanded by the university. These are all signs and vestiges of a once thriving Greek life on Stanford’s campus.

Recently, I stumbled upon an interesting read from the Stanford News Service. In “Fraternities, sororities project successful rush, despite troubled history,” an article dated April 14, 1992, the university discusses the general atmosphere of Greek life on campus. The Greek life of yesteryear was certainly more colorful than it is today. The strangest reference in the article is perhaps the one detailing a “bizarre series of potentially fatal acts” against a housed DKE fraternity, which culminated in the brothers “keeping night watches to prevent recurrences of fires, a gas leak and poisoned drinks.” Less frightening was the mention of a “Greek Week” which essentially “used to be one big, nonstop party.” What happened to these mythic people?

Unsurprisingly, the university was once openly hostile to this particular Greek milieu. Well known is the 33-year removal of all sororities from the campus until Title IX forced the university to allow the sororities to return. (Before the ban was imposed, there were a total of 9 housed sororities on campus.) However, just how unfriendly the university has been with the Greek system has been generally unacknowledged.  For example, the above-mentioned article tells us, “In 1986, a university task force effectively recommended that housed fraternities be abolished altogether.” The rallying cry which the university then shouted was tepid yet entirely disdainful: “the notion of students excluding others from access to certain university housing is one which the university does not seek to foster.” It is now evidently clear that the university, as always, got its way, going against students’ interest.

In the 90s and early 2000s alone four fraternities lost their housing. But instead of these houses being filled by one of the many unhoused Greek organizations, the “fauxternities” on campus — themed houses and coops — multiplied exponentially. This was a simple fix to the university’s housing needs and gave on-campus housing a cool vibe. But this has hardly made university housing equitable or distributed fairly, goals the university supposedly sought. (One of the big reasons I pledged a fraternity my sophomore year was to avoid ever having to deal with the draw process again.) Moreover, reducing the number of Greek houses on campus makes them no less exclusive or more diverse — in fact, it only exacerbates the issue. A friend recently posed this question to me: can all the diverse students in any given Stanford class expect to find their niche in the small handful of housed Greek organizations? Altogether I suppose it isn’t that bad living under the watchful eye and decree of the university. But still most students find it easy to put the blame on the Greek houses themselves for losing their homes. In truth the situation isn’t at all different from what has happened to XOX and is happening now to Suites Dining. These are all unique communities in which many students find their place on campus and which, by and large, are built around the physical fraternal house and the culture embodied therein.

Sound familiar? When I joined I never expected it to end up that way, but now I couldn’t imagine what it would be like without my house, which is why I can relate so strongly to what is currently happening on campus. For better or worse though, the university has certainly accomplished its goal in taming Greek life and the student body along with it. Nevertheless, there is a certain charm found in walking about the campus as if on a tour of the ruins of a culture that isn’t at all unlike ours but one that we cannot at all understand or imagine because it has changed so completely.

Subscribe to the Stanford Review