The first thing I noticed when I walked into the Theta Psi chapter house of the Sigma Chi (SC) fraternity on Albert Street was the Sigma Chi charter of values hanging on the wall — it’s impossible to miss. In place of the beer cans and liquor bottles one might expect when entering a frat house were coffee cups and the Sigma Chi handbook.
Forget what movies and television have taught you to expect from a fraternity, Waterloo Greek life is worlds away from the typical American stereotype. “Those stereotypes come very strongly from movies and TV, and everything’s exaggerated,” said Maddy Spicer, a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) and the incoming president of the UW Greek Life Council, a Feds club that unites all of campus Greek life. “We have to work really hard to prove that it’s not like that,” Spicer said, referring to the sorority stereotype. “We’re always working to get rid of that stigma because it’s not true at all.” There are currently three fraternities recruiting UW students, but the Theta Psi chapter of Sigma Chi is the only fraternity exclusively recruiting from UW. Three sororities operate for UW women looking for sisterhood: Kappa Kappa Gamma, Alpha Omicron Pi, and Sigma Lambda Gamma. Whether or not you knew UW had sororities and fraternities, the reality of these organizations on campus are vastly different from what one likely expects. Each group is battling stigmas and stereotypes to show the community their value. “For us, it’s just trying to be the best person you can be,” said Dominic Aquilina regarding breaking the stereotype. Aquilina has been an SC brother since his first year at UW. “We can’t change what’s happening elsewhere, we can only have an effect on our local community, so we just try to do the best we can and hope that people pay attention,” he said. By elsewhere, Aquilina is referring to the United States, where, on college and university campuses, Greek life is significantly more prominent. Fraternities especially have taken the spotlight recently with controversy about allegations of sexual assault and rape. Notably making headlines is the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity (PKP)at the University of Virginia, which was the subject of a <em>Rolling Stone </em>feature where a student made allegations that she was sexually assaulted at a party hosted by the fraternity. That story has since been discredited and the university reinstated the fraternity after initially suspending all fraternities associated with the school. PKP is still receiving significant media and online attention surrounding the controversy. While PKP has been cleared of wrongdoing, other American fraternities have, and are still facing sexual violence allegations, and many are known to promote rape culture on campuses. In September 2013, the Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter at the University of Texas at Arlington was shut down after three sexual assaults were reported to have taken place at the fraternity’s house. The list goes on: in 2012 a former Wesleyan University student sued the university over a fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, that was nicknamed “Rape Factory.” But that controversy is in the States, and the brothers of SC were quick to point out that they are not what is portrayed in American headlines. Last term, the brothers released a sexual assault PSA called “Breaking the Silence” to speak out on issues of rape culture. “It does exist,” Aquilina said of the stereotype and stigma. “We understand that it exists, but [people] are also open to changing their opinion ... We’re trying to start a conversation about it and get people talking about [Greek life] in a more constructive way.” Controversies aside, the University of Waterloo does not officially recognize fraternities and sororities. This is where UW’s Greek life has a major difference, systematically, from its American counterparts. There’s no “Greek row” and no funding that comes from UW; the organizations operate independently from the school. “The university has this whole inclusion policy thing where anyone’s allowed to join a club, essentially. They don’t appreciate us being choosy about our members, which for an organization that’s values-based [is] very important,” Aquilina said. Aquilina could be a poster boy for why male students should seek out Sigma Chi. He’s been a brother for years and speaks candidly about how the organization has changed him for the better. “When I first joined this organization, I was a completely different person,” Aquilina said. “I got to a point where I hated who I was and I wanted to change it. Sigma Chi, it didn’t start the change ... but it was a conduit of that. It allowed me to grow into a person that I’m really proud of now and I don’t think that I would have been able to do that, at least to the same extent, if I didn’t have this organization.” See? Poster boy. Each member of a fraternity or sorority I spoke to had their own unique story of how and why they got involved, and though there are differences between organizations besides gender, everyone has one thing in common: the organizations are a huge part of their identities. “The whole brotherhood and likewise sisterhood, the whole family feeling, that’s the part that’s the strongest force of any Greek organization. That’s why we keep fighting for it,” said Andrew Smith, another SC brother. “In the States, it’s more just pressure to join an organization,” said Aquilina. “You want to be part of Greek life because Greek life is the thing to be in. It’s huge and most people are a part of Greek [life]. In Canada, it’s completely different because it’s not nearly as big a thing. Most people don’t even know about Greek life so you want to try and find an organization that fits with your values,” he said. Personal growth and self-reflection are a huge part of the recruitment and pledge process for SC, according to the brothers. New pledges even have a “silent week” where they are encouraged to “talk less and reflect more,” said Aquilina. For KKG, in the age of a new wave of feminism, sisterhood is a big deal. Cheesiness aside, KKG is an international organization of women whose goal is to shape leaders, not create superficial mean girls as the common stereotype suggests. Greek life has always separated genders — fraternities were created first. But even in the 21st century, members of KKG and SC say that the single-genderness is still relevant. Aquilina said that separating gender is tradition and it’s not going to change any time soon, if ever. “It’s quite empowering to have an organization that’s only women and strong women. Kappa Kappa Gamma started with one chapter and now it has over 130 and that was all done by girls,” Spicer said. “We’re proud of it being only women.” “We always want to keep growing and we always want to be leaders,” Spicer said. “I’ve become so much stronger since I joined.” The KKG like many sororities, place significant value on philanthropy and education. The sisters at UW’s chapter of KKG fundraise and volunteer with local literacy organizations. Every term they host an all-you-can-eat dessert event to raise money for local organizations. Sigma Chi notably raised $17,000 for the Huntsmen Cancer Institute last year. KKG isn’t recruiting new members this term, but next fall you can find them at Clubs Day to learn how to “rush,” meaning you can attend their events for the week as well as Alpha Omicron Pi’s and Sigma Lambda Gamma’s. At the end of the week, the sisters decide who they’ll invite to join. “We want people who are driven,” said Kelly Ann White, the outgoing president of KKG. SC is recruiting this term, though their process is a little more intense. If you’re invited in after rush week, you’re expected to participate in the pledge process, which is over a month of learning about the organization’s values and history before officially becoming a brother. If you’re looking for an <em>Animal House</em>-style non-stop party, Greek life in Waterloo is likely not for you: SC’s big rush event is a wine and cheese night. So best leave your misconceptions at the frat house door.