100 Years of Sisterhood, Brotherhood

Aug. 27, 2015

"Bear Down," the UA's rallying cry, was uttered by football legend John "Button" Salmon, who was a member of Sigma Nu. (Photo: Patrick McArdle/UANews)

The reason the University of Arizona and the Tucson community chant "Bear Down," follow Wilbur Wildcat and preserve "A" Mountain, among other traditions, is because of the Greek community on campus. 

The first Greek organization to be established at the UA was Delta Phi, a fraternity with 16 men who pledged membership. The fraternity later would become the first nationally recognized chapter, as Kappa Sigma, in 1915.

Since then, Greek members have gone on to establish Spring Fling, salvage the USS Arizona bell and have it preserved in the Student Union Memorial Center, and write the UA's official fight song, "Fight! Wildcats! Fight!"

Today, the UA is celebrating 100 years of Greek life on campus, now with 48 recognized Greek chapters and more than 4,800 members. 

This sizable student population volunteered more than 40,600 hours and raised nearly $310,000 for philanthropy during the 2014-2015 academic year, and it continues to make significant contributions on and off campus. 

In honor of the centennial anniversary of Greek life at the UA, two staffers shared their impressions of the role and continued importance of fraternities and sororities on campus. They are:

  • Johanne Ives, assistant dean of students responsible for Fraternity and Sorority Programs at the University
  • Carol Thompson, outreach and alumni relations director for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management and also Academic Initiatives & Student Success

"A" Mountain, just beyond downtown Tucson, was created after UA engineering student, student body president and football team member Albert H. Condron, a Sigma Alpha Epsilon member, persuaded his engineering professor to survey Sentinel Peak for a class assignment so that an "A" could be constructed. He organized his fellow students to build and whitewash it. (Photo: FJ Gaylor)

Q: What does 100 years of Greek life on campus represent?

Thompson: Greek life began in 1900, encouraged by faculty (and their wives) who were alumni of fraternities and sororities from other universities. The UA was located in a desolate area and isolated from large cities. So as the student body grew, there became a need to create opportunities for students to explore literary and social interests and come together as a student community.  Since 1900, over 90 different fraternal organizations and 50,000 alumni have sought an experience that would enhance their education at the University of Arizona. Each of these organizations seeks to provide students with opportunities to develop leadership skills, serve the community, contribute to University life and experience membership in a values-based organization for life. As a result, deep friendships form as well as a deep loyalty to their alma mater. Since 1900, the members of fraternities and sororities and their organizations have influenced the traditions of the University, many of which are beloved by all today.

All new members joining a fraternity or sorority must complete the online educational program, GreeklifeEdu, which covers topics on alcohol, hazing and sexual assault. New members also must attend a one- hour educational symposium called New Member Symposium within one year of joining their organization. 

Q: One of the goals of Fraternity and Sorority Programs is the recruitment of "quality members." What makes a quality member?

Ives: There are pillars of fraternity and sorority life that can be found through all Greek organizations. These pillars are scholarship, leadership, service, brotherhood/sisterhood and community service. Quality members are going to exemplify characteristics that represent these pillars. Quality members understand lifelong membership and are often some of the most involved alumni of their organization.

Q: How has the Greek community changed over time?

Thompson: There has been steady interest in Greek life with new local and national chapters forming in almost every decade. As the community and student body changed, so did the make-up of the memberships and chapters. Some groups have helped to bring religious, cultural and ethnic diversity to the community: 

  • In 1926, Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, a historically Jewish men’s group, was formed.
  • The first Hispanic fraternity, Lambda Sigma Alpha, formed in 1925.
  • Kappa Alpha Psi, the first historically black Greek fraternity at UA, was established in 1956.
  • The first historically black Greek sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, was established during the 1970s.
  • In 1991, Delta Lambda Phi, a men's progressive gay fraternity, was formed at the UA.
  • The first Native American fraternity in the nation, Beta Sigma Epsilon, was formed at the UA in 2000.

The first historically black Greek sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, was established during the 1970s. (Photo: Patrick McArdle/UANews)

Q: Why does the UA have chapter houses?

Thompson: As the student body started to grow and the University wasn’t able to accommodate all the students in University housing, fraternities and sororities were encouraged to house their members in their own facilities. By 1914, chapters started renting or buying houses to turn into a home for their members. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, chapter houses were being built along First and Second streets, and this area became referred to as the "Greek Row." Continued growth in student enrollment and the steady increase in the number of fraternities and sororities in the 1950s and 1960s led to additional housing being built north of Speedway as part of a state legislative project to provide more housing for students. Fourteen new houses were built at this time. Chapter houses are the gathering place for members where meetings, studying, meals and events take place and represent memories and experiences that build pride in the UA.

Q: What kinds of contributions does the Greek community make, both on and off campus? How would you describe the importance and impact of the Greek community?

Ives: The impact of the Greek community is something that is felt in a variety of capacities. For one individual, joining the community may make the difference in providing a support system when they experience an unexpected life transition, or the Greek community may also impact an entire community through the service and philanthropic work that is done on both a local and national level by Greek members.

Q: What does research indicate about participation in Greek life?

Ives: Data has shown that students at the University of Arizona who join a Greek organization are more likely to graduate within four years when compared to their non-Greek peers. The four-year graduation rates for the 2010 first-time, full-time freshman cohort fraternity and sorority members is 62 percent, with 68 percent of sorority members and 55 percent of fraternity members graduating within four years. During the spring 2015 semester, the fraternity and sorority community raised a grand total of $217,312.64 and the Greek community contributed a total of 16,738 hours of community service. National research shows that students who are engaged in campus activities, such as working on campus or getting involved with a club, are more likely to persist to graduation while enrolled at a university. Data from our own institution showed that the first-time, full-time freshman retention rates of fraternity and sorority members have exceeded the overall UA first-time, full-time retention rate since 2010. 

Over the past three years, there has also been an increase in the number of students registering for men’s and women’s recruitment at the start of the semester.

Q: What are the rigors associated with being a member of a fraternity and sorority today?

Ives: Fraternity and sorority members at the UA are expected to maintain a 2.75 grade-point average or higher, become involved in one outside activity or work, and also contribute a total of eight hours of service a semester. Chapters want their members to be well-rounded, involved students both in the community and on campus.

Wilbur Wildcat was created and named by Phi Kappa Psi's Richard Heller and John Paquette. (Photo: Patrick McArdle/UANews)

During homecoming, the campus community will celebrate the Greek Centennial with several special events planned for current chapter members and alumni:

  • Oct. 22: The Greek Block Party will be held from 6-8 p.m. on East First Street between North Cherry and North Highland avenues, where the original Greek Row exists. The event, to include food trucks and entertainment, will coincide with open houses for those fraternities and sororities that have chapter houses. Admission is free.
  • Oct. 23: The Greek White Out TG will be held from 5:30-8:30 p.m. on the east side of Old Main. Honorary co-chairs Geraldo Rivera (Tau Delta Phi) and Alex Flanagan (Gamma Phi Beta) will attend the dinner to celebrate a century of friendship and interfraternal spirit. Guests are encouraged to wear white to the event. Tickets are $65. Registration is available online.  
  • Oct. 24: The All Greek Tailgate will be held on the UA Mall prior to the start of the homecoming football game. Admission is free, and food and refreshments will be available.

Contact: Johanne Ives at 520-621-0559 or johannej@email.arizona.edu.