HERBERT: Starting Chi Psi

When I first told my mom that I planned to start my own fraternity, she laughed. I couldn’t fully explain my decision — I suppose I was pursuing a different sort of friendship, deeper bonds.

In high school, I had a very close friend named JT who was a year ahead of me in school. JT pledged Chi Psi at the University of Colorado when I was still a senior and would often tell me fun stories about his endeavors. I didn’t pay particular attention at the time. But when I arrived at Yale, JT broached the subject once again and it struck a chord. He suggested I try to start a Chi Psi chapter at Yale. And like Forrest Gump when Bubba suggested they go into the shrimping business together, I said, “Ok.” I began talking to my closest friends to gauge interest.

It wasn’t that I saw anything missing from Yale’s Greek scene — rather, I thought there was something Chi Psi could add in its unique values and approach to friendship. The experience that followed my decision has been both challenging and enthralling. Having begun with no members and a dispersed group of alumni — old-timers who had been detached from the fraternity for at least fifty years (Chi Psi went dormant at Yale in 1963) — we gained a special understanding of what Drake meant when he said “started from the bottom.” But we have pressed on, driven by a common vision and the opportunity to have an impact that will be palpable for years to come.

Though the specifics of this vision have developed and evolved with the organization, there are certain aspects that have endured since its inception. Our founding vice president, Jordan Bravin ’16, likes to say Chi Psi is “a gentleman’s fraternity.” That has been a simple principle to promote — we encourage intellectualism and classy dispositions, attracting members who carry themselves with pride. Other values, like the desire for self-development and enduring bonds of friendship, are more ambitious and challenging to pursue.

Fraternities were originally founded to build better men.  First as literary societies and then as social groups (with Chi Psi being the first social fraternity), they sought to prepare their brothers to lead upright lives and make positive contributions in their communities. Certainly the purpose and perception of many fraternities have changed today. But there is a reason that an overwhelming number of Fortune 500 executives, U.S. presidents, senators and congressmen have participated in Greek life. Fraternities can make constructive contributions to a campus and its members. Yale sends the wrong message to the Greek community with the prohibition of fall rush and an alcohol policy that makes it difficult for fraternity presidents to do the right thing and prioritize safety. The Greek community should be valued on campus — at its core, it is a system built to promote values and strong friendships.

Chi Psi has not yet been very active in that Greek community. Our campus legitimacy has been inhibited because we have been lacking in terms of resources, and our members are overwhelmingly sophomores. The time commitments associated with re-chartering the chapter have been significant. But such factors will no longer constrain us now that we have received our charter and benefitted from the prodigious generosity of our alumni and national headquarters. We are on the cusp of doubling in size with our incoming pledge class. At certain universities around the country, such as the University of Washington, students talk of the “Chi Psi nice guys.”  We are hopeful this phrase will soon become part of the Yale vernacular.

I have no doubt that if I hadn’t pursued the founding of Chi Psi, I could have gone through my four years at Yale and graduated with a myriad of friends, a handful of good friends and a pocketful of campfire-ready memories. But in founding Chi Psi, we’re aiming for something larger. This fraternity will not only bring new friendships to the campus — but also change the way people perceive Greek life.

Michael Herbert is a sophomore in Saybrook College. He is the president of Yale’s Chi Psi chapter. Contact him at michael.herbert@yale.edu.

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