April 10, 2009

Sigma Chi returns to U of C, decades after anti-racist protest

Sigma Chi International Fraternity, whose U of C chapter disbanded in 1952 in protest of a “whites only” policy, is returning to the University to recruit students from a wide range of backgrounds.

Advertised as “an uncommon leadership opportunity,” Sigma Chi, with 223 chapters worldwide, has begun soliciting students on campus to revive the University’s former Omicron Omicron chapter.

“The fraternity brings together young men of different temperaments, talents, and convictions in order to engage in philanthropic efforts, community service, and the development of the chapter’s individual members,” said Bryant Chase, director of expansion for the international headquarters of Sigma Chi, located in Evanston, IL. Chase is joined by David Baars, who is serving as the staff leader for the expansion efforts to reform the Sigma Chi chapter at the U of C.

For decades, Sigma Chi international recruitment standards included a “whites only” clause. Although the requirement was removed in 1961, traces of discrimination were still apparent in chapters’ and in headquarters’ management practices. In 1965, The New York Times reported a list of Sigma Chi chapters across the country where university administrations threatened to revoke charters unless discrimination was proven not to be a factor in recruitment or membership.

The Omicron Omicron chapter had a strong campus presence from 1897 through 1952. According to Chase, the chapter was one of the oldest chapters of the fraternity. Whether the “whites only” clause was the sole factor in disbanding the Omicron Omicron chapter is uncertain, though Chase said the brothers chose to close their chapter at Chicago in order to call for change in membership requirements.

“[They] voluntarily disbanded as a chapter as a form of protest against the general fraternity’s restrictive membership policies at the time,” Chase said. “Because of the actions of the Omicron Omicron chapter and other like-minded chapters, the general fraternity has become fully integrated.”

As recruitment efforts on campus come to a close, the new chapter will enter into a “colony period,” in which members will develop themselves as an organization with the guidance of alumni and consultants. According to Chase, this period generally takes 12 to 16 months, after which the students will become fully initiated members.

As a member of a colony himself, Chase said that the formation of a chapter at U of C is particularly dear to him.

“I will never be able to put a price on how meaningful my time with Sigma Chi has been,” Chase said. “This is going to be an amazing experience for all the men involved, and I cannot wait for these guys to get going.”

With Sigma Chi’s addition, there will be 11 fraternities on campus. Though several of these organizations have faced scrutiny over the past year from University administration due to legal issues and violence, Chase believes Sigma Chi will be a positive addition to the entire campus community.

“I think Sigma Chi can offer a unique take on fraternity life that will shatter the preconceived negative stereotypes many people have about fraternities,” Chase said.

Sigma Chi’s community efforts are already underway. This weekend, potential members joined Chicago-area fraternity alumni in assisting landscaping crews and the Chicago Park District to improve a local park.