Brian Korchin ’05 wants to get back to the root of what “fraternity” means. So far, he seems to have been successful.
“A lot of the essence of what a frat is has been lost, I think. It’s sort of turned into a gentlemen’s drinking club,” Korchin, the president of new-fraternity-on-campus Sigma Phi Epsilon, said. “We’re not against having fun, but we want to cultivate the relationship between brothers.”
The fraternity has grown quickly since its inception in November, when two recruiters from the Sig Ep national headquarters came to New Haven in search of students to start a Yale chapter. Sig Ep currently has 44 members, and the chapter recently bought a house on Lynwood that eight brothers will live in next fall. Sig Ep has worked in the New Haven Soup Kitchen and has run clothing and food drives throughout the year.
With no pledge process and a focus on community service, Sig Ep aims to defy the “Animal House” stereotype of fraternity life. In an effort to change the face of fraternity life, Sig Ep seeks out precisely the least likely candidates. But as members of Sig Ep and other Yale fraternities alike pointed out, none of their charters differ vastly from each other.
Aaron Shelley ’05, Sig Ep’s chaplain, said he joined after a friend in a sorority recommended him. The national fraternity’s recruiters found many prospective brothers by asking sorority sisters who they would like to see in a fraternity, but thought would never join one, Shelley said.
Korchin said he had flirted with the idea of rushing Beta Theta Pi when he met and liked many of its brothers during his freshman year, but decided against it. He said Sig Ep’s recruiters sold him on their unconventional philosophy and reawakened his interest in fraternity life.
Korchin said he and the rest of Sig Ep will continue to seek out students who are unsure if they can see themselves as frat brothers.
“We’re looking for the guys who come to school and they don’t know if they want to join a fraternity — because they don’t want their social life to be beer pong in the basement,” Korchin said.
Jay Blount ’05 said he and several other Sig Ep members had talked about starting their own fraternity since freshman year because they were “fed up” with the initiation process at existing fraternities.
“Initially, the founding fathers were a majority of my friends,” Blount said. “But I’ve come to really enjoy all the other guys, they’re just such an eclectic mix of people.”
Blount and Korchin both stressed the group’s diversity, and described their brothers as if they were reading from a list of extracurricular activities on a Yale application. Some members play football, soccer, tennis, or squash. Others lend their talents to the Christian a cappella group Living Water or the rock band Jigsaw. Still others participate in the Yale Political Union or Jews and Muslims at Yale.
The fraternity also looks for well-rounded members, Korchin said.
“We want a guy who knows how to party but at the same time has a 3.7 [grade point average],” he said. “The fact that this is going on at Yale in fact makes our job easier, because the pool that’s our type of man is bigger here.”
Korchin added that the fraternity will show their commitment to having fun by hosting a block party with other fraternities on Lynwood before the semester ends.
Sigma Chi president Michael Treskow ’04 said he is glad to see another fraternity being established on campus. But he said the older fraternities are as committed to community service and brotherhood as Sig Ep.
“We do stuff in the same way, but it is very much dependent on getting enough publicity,” Treskow said. He added that having another fraternity at Yale could help raise attention for the fraternity scene as a whole and remind people that they are about more than just throwing parties.
Nicholas Miranda ’05, the president of Yale’s chapter of Alpha Phi Omega, a national coed service fraternity, said he sees many similarities between his organization and Sig Ep. But he said APO’s 60-year tradition on campus strengthens it, as does the fact that its members are self-selecting.
“The people who join APO are the people who want to dedicate a large portion of their time to community service,” Miranda said.
Sig Ep shows their commitment to community service in many ways — even in their initiation process.
“It’s a totally different type of philosophy,” Korchin said. “Once you’re in, we challenge you in a real way: instead of beating you up, we challenge you to organize a community service event.”
Shelley said there are three stages of challenges, one for each Greek letter in the fraternity’s name.
“Some of the stuff’s like, ‘go to an art museum by yourself,'” Shelley said, “but one of the things for ‘Epsilon’ is, organize a 30-hour community service project.”
Sig Ep’s initiation process, which the current brothers did not undergo because they were founders of a new chapter, will start next year with the new class of brothers. Korchin said traditional initiation is unnecessary because people who embody the values Sig Ep seeks — academic diligence, dedication to the community and the campus — will bond when the group brings them together.
“Those people are going to see that in each other, that excellence,” Korchin said. “Once we sell them the message, they’ll know if they want to be in it,” Korchin said. “We’re not trying to get everyone, we’re only trying to get the best.”