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When Scott A. Penner '01 helped found the Harvard chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) two years ago, there were only 10 brothers.
Past Harvard students had tried to form the same fraternity. Twice. And failed.
This time, things were different. With the addition of the current pledge class, total membership will be almost 30.
Last night, AEPi received official word that they will receive the highest honor a national fraternity can earn--an official charter.
"For us [Harvard], it's huge because we know we're making it to the next step," says, Penner, now the president of AEPi. "Gaining a charter is akin to having a Bar Mitzvah--everyone makes a big deal of it."
The fact that AEPi is gaining a charter--the ceremony is scheduled for April 21--bodes well for the future of Greek life at Harvard.
"National Greek councils will begin to look at Harvard and realize that it's possible to have chapters here," Penner says.
But AEPi isn't the only Greek organization on campus that's seen such a boom--interest in fraternities and sororities has been steadily on the rise for the past few years.
This past rush season, which is just wrapping up, has seen a surprising increase in numbers of students rushing and pledging.
Although Harvard does not officially recognize the presence of same-sex social groups, the figures show that students are certainly aware of their presence--and the numbers of pledges keep growing.
The In Crowd
"We've put a lot of time, energy and effort into this, and it's finally like the culmination of all our work," he says. "This is National saying they believe we're solid and strong."
AEPi member Yuval Grill '03 says the growth in the past year has been quite rewarding.
"I was in the first pledge class," he says. "Now we're in the fourth. We've been seeing guys that really want to join rather than us convincing guys to join."
Similarly, Harvard's two sororities, Delta Gamma (DG) and Kappa Alpha Theta (Theta), had little trouble finding women interested in rushing.
The two groups hold rush events together so prospective sisters can get a feel for both groups. Last year, about 60 girls went through rush--this year, more than 110 women attended the preliminary information session and about 80 actually rushed.
"Sororities and fraternities have increased their presence on campus,"
Theta President Lisa C. Stella '02 says. "People are more aware of them. A few years ago, not nearly as many people were interested. It shows that either our name is out more or more students are interested in Greek life."
Every rush season, Theta gives new pledges official pledge pins to wear until initiation when they get their regular pins. This year, with 22 new members, Theta has completely run out of pledge pins, which are reused year to year, and has to borrow some from the MIT chapter.
Rushing To Join
"I was against the party scene here," Grill says. "Final clubs were closed to freshman guys, and I thought [AEPi] would lead to opportunities for more open parties."
Sororities similarly provide an alternative to the dominating presence of final clubs, says Thayer S. Christodoulo '04, a new Theta pledge.
"A lot of girls look at final clubs and wish they had something," she says. "A lot of people that played sports in high school are used to having a group of girls. Being in a sorority gives you that feeling."
Christodoulo says she had always liked the idea of joining a sorority, although she didn't even know they existed until November.
"I was very close to going to Duke, where the social scene is mainly fraternities and sororities, and I thought if I went to Duke, it would be definitely something I'd be interested in," she says.
For many sisters and brothers, however, joining a sorority or fraternity was something they would never have imagined before they did it.
Gilmara H. Ayala '03, a new pledge in DG, says she never thought of herself as a "sorority girl," but after several of her friends joined last spring, she realized how much being in such an organization has to offer.
"It's a network of people you can go to for advice," Ayala says. "This
place is so big that you can get lost, even if you do have good friends.
I'm very individualistic, but I thought this was a place where I could be
an individual and accepted as that, but be a part of a community."
Leaders Of The Pack
the huge number of prospective members that came out for rush, but she wasn't surprised.
"Sororities are beginning to have a bigger presence on campus," Richey
says. "There are more social events, more community service options, and
overall [sororities] have more to offer and are getting their name out."
Richey says part of the boom in interest in sororities is that more and more women are seeking out their own place at Harvard.
"In the past, social life at Harvard was very defined in terms of males,"
Richey says. "After 1 a.m., the only things to do were final clubs and the
Grille. It's important that socially, women have their own group on campus instead of final clubs."
She emphasizes that what makes Harvard's sororities so appealing to many is that they're not "typical" sororities, like those often found at large state schools.
Fraternities and sororities expand one's connections beyond Harvard as well, Penner says.
When he went to the University of California in Los Angeles this summer, he stopped at the AEPi house to say hello.
"I immediately made 20 new friends," he says. "There is some commonality that bonds brothers throughout the country. AEPi fills a niche, by helping to bring together men with common social interests and direction."
More, More, More
This year, Theta and DG could only accept 46 of the more than 80 rushees.
With the system unequipped for such figures, there has been some talk of starting a third sorority.
Advisers and officers for both sororities were talking about the need for a third sorority, Richey says. To start a new chapter, however, women would have to seek out an alliance with another national sorority.
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