A beer pong table is an uncommon sight outside of the Bay Tree Bookstore. However, during the first two weeks of spring quarter, there one was.
This beer pong table had no beer. Instead, the cups were filled with Red Bull energy drinks. Behind the table, members of the Theta Chi fraternity sat in plastic chairs.
Occasionally students would come over and a spirited game of “beer” pong would erupt. Students would attempt to bounce the balls into their opponent’s cups, forcing them to drink.
“At a lot of our parties we do play beer pong with each other,” said Samuel Levin, a third-year math major and Theta Chi member. “We might as well be honest.”
With his fraternity, Levin sat at the Theta Chi stand during Rush Week as he and his brothers tried to recruit news members. They wore white T-shirts emblazoned with the words “RUSH THETA CHI” in bright neon pink, yellow and green.
Although Theta Chi and other fraternities and sororities were front and center during the first weeks of spring quarter, Greek organizations have a history of contention at UC Santa Cruz.
In the 1980s some students went through a battle to get the university’s approval of Greek organizations, while others went through great lengths to oppose their formation. Today the establishment of Greek organizations at UCSC remains controversial.
The emergence of Greek life and early opposition
City on a Hill Press (CHP) conducted a poll in February of 1987 that asked participants whether Greek organizations should be allowed on campus. The survey determined that 65 percent of students and 63 percent of faculty felt that there should not be Greek organizations on campus.
On Sep. 24, 1986, Student Services released a study entitled “Social Fraternities at UCSC?” as a response to a petition from students calling for the establishment of a Greek system.
A task force composed of three students, faculty members and administrators collaborated to decide the fate of Greek life at UCSC. In 1987, the task force concluded that instead of allowing fraternities and sororities to become established on campus, the university should put its energy into re-establishing the college system as the main focus of student life.
The conclusion was reached due to concerns that allowing Greek organizations on campus would lead to hazing, underage drinking, drug use and sexism. It was also a concern that Greek organizations would be racially exclusive and limit diversity.
In 1988 some members of the student body began to protest the start of Greek life on UCSC’s campus.
Janet Young, who has been employed at McHenry Library since the mid-1970s and currently works in its special collections department, remembers the student protests against the establishment of Greek life.
“There was this huge uproar about it,” Young said.
Young recalls the formation of a group called Students Against Greek Establishment (SAGE) and how they led protests against Greek organizations. According to a 1987 CHP article, one protest that took place in 1988 gathered a crowd of between 150 and 200 people.
Dean McHenry, UCSC’s founding chancellor, did not openly oppose Greek life at the university, but felt that it meant that his dream of the “college system” being the unifier of student life at UCSC was becoming less of a reality.
“If frats were organized it would be another sign in the wind that the colleges have not provided everything that we had hoped for,” McHenry told CHP in May 1986.
Mariel Harrison, a fourth-year literature major and president of the sorority Alpha Psi, said that she joined a sorority because she felt the system of having separated residential colleges was inadequate.
“When you first move into the dorms you are strictly meeting people in your dorms,” she said. “I wanted to meet other people in other colleges [and] older people, and it was a really good way to social network and get involved in the university itself.”
Since 1986 Greek life on campus has grown from nonexistence to include about 3 percent of the student population. There are currently 23 fraternities and sororities affiliated with Student Organization and Advising Resources (SOAR).
But Greek life on the UCSC campus is still small compared to other UC campuses — UC Davis has 66 recognized Greek organizations, UC Berkeley has 65, UCLA has 60 and UC San Diego has 31.
However, UC Santa Cruz does have more fraternities and sororities than UC Irvine, which has 20, and Riverside, which has 22 recognized Greek organizations.
Lee Maranto, a program manager at SOAR, believes that Greek organizations have a positive impact on the UCSC community, a drastic shift away from the university’s original opposition to Greek organizations.
“The Greek organizations bring diversity to campus, diversity of perspective, diversity of structure,” Maranto said. “I think they can bring a lot more awareness to the philanthropy they do.”
Delta Omega Chi now, MTV’s “Fraternity Life” and the Porter Koi Pond incident
In the 23 years of Greek life at UCSC, controversy and tension between Greek organizations and the university have been a mainstay.
The members of Delta Omega Chi do not appear today to be different from any other fraternity on campus, and for the most part they perform a lot of the same activities, like having house parties, performing community service at least twice a quarter through events such as the Human Race — a multipurpose charity relay along West Cliff — and having socials with other Greek organizations.
“We work with Habitat for Humanity, we do beach clean-ups, we used to work with Special Olympics — one of our alumni used to be the regional planner for them,” said Graham Sorkin, a UCSC alumnus and former president of Delta Omega Chi.
However, in 2003 Delta Omega Chi received national recognition when MTV decided to feature them on their reality TV show “Fraternity Life.”
At the conclusion of the show a Koi fish disappeared from Porter’s Koi pond, and it later became evident through TV coverage that members of Delta Omega Chi had stolen and barbecued the fish.
For this reason Delta Omega Chi can no longer table on campus during Rush Weeks, have meetings in campus facilities, participate in the annual events of Greek Week or do anything associated with the university.
Sorkin believes that Delta Omega Chi is one of the most notorious organizations on campus. He and other members of the fraternity, though they did not participate and were all in high school when the incident involving the Koi fish occurred, have had to take the responsibility of trying to improve Delta Omega Chi’s relationship with the university and better its reputation.
According to third-year Tim Obert, a politics major and the current president of Delta Omega Chi, the fraternity got rid of members who were having a negative impact on the fraternity’s image, rewrote their constitution and risk management policy, and even attempted to change their name.
But after talking to judicial affairs and the chancellor’s office, Delta Omega Chi was still unable to regain their affiliation with SOAR.
“We basically did everything we needed to change the organization,” Obert said, “and they said, ‘Tough luck.’”
In popular culture, Greek organizations are often seen as a homogenized conglomeration of rowdy parties, highly exclusive membership and inflated egos.
Many UCSC Greek organizations defy these stereotypes. There are co-ed fraternities, Jewish-interest fraternities with some non-Jewish members, a number of Asian-interest sororities and fraternities, African-American-interest Greek organizations, and a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender “frarority,” Delta Lambda Psi.
However, some students decide not to take part in Greek life not because of the reputation of fraternities or sororities or their stereotypes, but just because they are not interested.
“I am just too busy with other activities and I find there are better things on campus to do, like better clubs that have better social responsibilities,” said third-year sociology major Leah Lampa.
Fourth-year sociology major Maegan Tanner believes that Greek organizations excluded her for superficial reasons.
“They never handed anything to me because I am a large woman and clearly that does not go with the typical status quo,” Tanner said, referring to recruitment flyers typically handed out by fraternities and sororities during Rush Week.
Members of the Greek organizations appear to each get something different out of Greek life at UCSC, but they all find good friends, acceptance and potential to grow as individuals.
Sigma Pi’s members could be seen during Rush Week wearing shirts with a picture of John Belushi from the 1978 cult classic fraternity comedy “Animal House,” in colors similar to those seen on Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster that was prominent during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
However, instead of “hope,” the word “rush” was written below Belushi’s face. This may give the impression that Sigma Pi is trying to appear to be a stereotypical fraternity, but the members tell a different story.
Second-year student Ryan Ayers, a founder of Sigma Pi, said that the purpose of his fraternity is to “diffuse culture.” Ayers describes himself as “a little gay boy from San Diego” who does not believe he fits the profile of a typical fraternity member. He also believes that Greek life at UCSC is completely different than on other campuses.
“It is different here at Santa Cruz to join a fraternity, because you can’t really be that crazy here, it’s Santa Cruz — you have to be more aware and do something,” Ayers said.
Greek life at UCSC for Ayers has been accepting of his sexuality, and has helped him grow as a person and feel more comfortable with his peers.
“I used to have a horrible time socializing with straight guys,” Ayers said. He reflected on how he was approached to help found Sigma Pi.
“They just came in and were like ‘Ryan, we love you, we think you’re rad,’” he said. “It was really good for me, it was really good.”