Since 1997, Beta Theta Pi national headquarters has worked to revive its fraternity’s image through its Men of Principle campaign. The campaign strives to hold members accountable for their behavior and to cultivate intellect, responsible conduct, mutual assistance, integrity and trust.
Ten years ago, the headquarters issued a warning to its Carnegie Mellon chapter because of some members’ behavior.
The chapter responded by electing new leaders who tried to change the chapter’s culture from parties and booze to academics and professionalism. Despite this, some brothers still followed the old party culture.
Last March, CMU shut down the fraternity after police investigated reports of “alleged videos and pictures of a sexual nature” circulating with members of the community, the university said in a statement.
Now, this fraternity is colonizing at Pitt.
Beta Theta Pi is one of four fraternities that will colonize at Pitt within the next five years to allow more men to get involved in fraternity life. Interfraternity Council President Zach Patton and a board of Greek and non-Greek students in conjunction with the Office of Cross Cultural and Leadership Development devised the plan to expand Pitt’s Greek community to include these new organizations. The team also decided which fraternities will colonize on campus.
After the four fraternities become established at Pitt, there will be 23 chapters on campus. According to Summer Rothrock, assistant director of Leadership Development and Greek Affairs at Pitt, there are currently about 1,000 fraternity men at Pitt.
Besides suspending the chapter at CMU indefinitely, the national Beta Theta Pi office has closed about 85 chapters during the past 15 years.
Tristan Sopp, a Beta Theta Pi staff member currently assisting the fraternity’s colonization at Pitt, said the national Beta Theta Pi headquarters closed its chapter at Ohio State University because of hazing and at the University of California-Berkeley because of underage drinking and hazing.
Sopp said the national headquarters, located in Oxford, Ohio, has been closing chapters since it created its government structure in the 1800s. Within the past two decades, there has been a rise in closing chapters because of the standards of the Men of Principle campaign.
Sopp said he does not see the closures as an embarrassment to Beta Theta Pi’s headquarters.
“The closures, for us, are seen as a sign of strength, because we hold our chapters accountable,” he said.
Sopp said Beta Theta Pi’s headquarters will never allow a university to close a chapter, because the national organization would close it first.
“If [the universities] are so frustrated, then we are probably a few steps ahead of them,” Sopp said.
Although Beta Theta Pi chapters have had some issues, Sopp said, there are worse things that could have occurred.
“The things that you will find absent are any significant deaths,” Sopp said. “You will never find us backing men doing despicable things.”
Chapter forming at Pitt
Sopp began colonizing Pitt’s Beta Theta Pi chapter during the summer by talking to campus leaders, such as Student Government Board President Gordon Louderback, and by recruiting members through referrals. The first few men Sopp spoke with referred him to other men whom they thought would be a good fit for the fraternity.
During the recruitment process at the beginning of the fall semester, Sopp and other Beta Theta Pi staff members used a tent outside of the William Pitt Union as a meeting place.
Sopp said the men who joined Beta Theta Pi this semester are Founding Fathers — a term used to describe the men who belong to the first class of a new chapter.
Sean Sullivan, a sophomore chemical engineering major and a Founding Father of Pitt’s Chapter of Beta Theta Pi, said Rothrock referred him to Sopp.
Sopp said the Founding Father application is identical to the application for all members. Prospective members had to fill out an application with seven short-answer questions and return the completed application to Sopp. One question asked: “What event in your past has shaped your character the most?”
The application is designed for prospective students to determine whether they are joining with the right intentions, Sopp said. For instance, he said a red flag waves when an applicant writes that he wants to “be the guy raking in a million dollars and he is just here for connections.”
Sopp said applicants for all chapters of Beta Theta Pi must have a 3.0 grade point average, which is above the minimum GPA requirement for fraternity men at Pitt.
Out of the 150 applicants for Pitt’s chapter, Sopp rejected between five and eight men for not meeting the GPA requirement.
Sopp said he offered at bid to 51 men, who all accepted. Out of the Founding Fathers, three are freshmen, 24 are sophomores, 20 are juniors and four are seniors.
Sopp said there are only three freshmen because the application process was based on referrals and people haven’t gotten to know the freshmen yet.
According to national Beta Theta Pi policy, all men who join Beta Theta Pi must agree to complete 20 service hours each year and be active in another organization, Sopp said.
Sopp said this semester’s dues are $525.
Beta Theta Pi did not hold rush events typical of a Greek fraternity.
“Everything that we do is how we find the sort of men we are looking for,” Sopp said. “We don’t hold rush events and give free wings to everyone who shows up.”
To get to know each other, the members went to dinner together and played pickup football games.
Sullivan added that during the recruitment events, “[Sopp] had people who had accepted their bids and people who were thinking about applying. We had no idea who accepted bids and who hadn’t.”
The organizers of Beta Theta Pi events will not serve alcohol, but will allow members of age to bring their own. Sopp said the chapter will not spend any of its money on alcohol.
“[Parties] will not be about how many beers you can shotgun in five minutes,” Sopp said.
Sopp said underage drinking would not be tolerated at any events.
Sullivan said he is attending Pitt to get an education, not to party. He said “having a good time needs to happen,” but excessive partying could deter students from finding themselves and “the path to adulthood.”
Kyle Kranzel, a sophomore political science major and Founding Father of Pitt’s Beta Theta Pi, said the fraternity will hold responsible parties.
“We are not an anti-fun fraternity,” Kranzel said. “We are a responsibly-fun fraternity.”
The Expansion Policy
Patton said the expansion policy created an outline for how fraternity life at Pitt would expand.
After IFC passed the expansion policy last spring semester, Patton said the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life assembled a committee of students and administrators from Cross Cultural and Leadership Development.
The committee then invited representatives to campus from six fraternities interested in colonizing a new chapter at Pitt to evaluate their interest.
According to Patton, the representatives gave presentations to the expansion committee on why Pitt should welcome them, and then the committee voted and ranked which fraternities to invite to campus.
Patton said the student committee invited four of the six fraternities to establish chapters on campus.
While Patton said that the student committee believed Pitt could colonize one fraternity per year, he also said the committee added an additional year as a buffer.
Greek Life at Pitt
Over the next five years, the prevalence of Greek Life will increase with the arrival of four new fraternities.
Louderback said expanding Greek Life will positively affect student life at Pitt because more men can become involved in activities outside of class.
He added that he does not think that Pitt’s Greek Life will possess too much power on campus.
“I don’t see them as one organization,” he said. “I see them as multiple organizations.”
Patton said he believed this year’s Homecoming Court results would have differed if fraternities possessed clout on campus. Namely, he believes he would have won.
“Just because we’re Greek doesn’t mean we are tied to the waist of all these different people,” he said.
Erin Case, the president of Campus Women’s Organization and a sister of Sigma Delta Tau sorority, said she supports IFC’s expansion, adding that she does not think Greek Life holds more power on campus than other organizations.
“Although it is one of the largest groups, we do not ask all that much of the Pitt community, beyond support of our philanthropies and our events,” Case said in an email.
Case said Greek Life helped her become the president of CWO.
“I also wouldn’t be involved in CWO if it weren’t for my sorority sisters,” she said. “It was through them that I got the confidence to become a leader, and it is because of them that I continue to be a leader.”
Louderback said he doesn’t think the Greek experience is better than a non-Greek experience.
“It’s just another way to have a social experience,” he said.