Sororities search for more space

As the University expands greek life, sororities are strapped for facilities.

by Anne Millerbernd

With more than 1,200 members among the 14 University of Minnesota sororities, housing has become a point of contention. Though always pleased to be popular on campus, they’re beginning to bubble over when it comes to housing and meeting spaces.

Eleven sororities have a designated house or meeting space, and nine of those had more than 100 members each as of last fall. At a time when the University is pushing for higher greek recruitment numbers, sororities are in need of expanded facilities.

Lorna Fox, a Chi Omega alumna and local housing corporation president for the sorority, said the University Avenue Southeast house is fullest when the sorority hosts its Monday night meetings in the chapter room.

The room can hold 80 to 90 people comfortably, Fox said, so fitting the sorority’s 118 members can be cramped.

“It’s getting tight, and the room gets warm,” she said. “It’s just tough to have all those bodies in there.”

The solution may be to break down a dining room wall, she said, which could threaten the structural integrity of the house.

The house is currently at capacity, but some rooms might add a third bed to allow for more residents, she said, a practice other sororities are also considering.

The University’s largest sorority, Pi Beta Phi, has more than 135 members and a house that sleeps 35, President Jacqui Ditty said.

The house wasn’t intended to hold a large number of people when it was built more than a century ago, she said.

Now, members are looking to change how they convene because they fill an entire floor of that house for their Monday night meetings, Ditty said.

The corporation that manages the sorority’s property is working on other options, like using the sorority’s second, informal house on the same property.

“An option would be to do kind of a virtual meeting in the future,” Ditty said. “Maybe put half the women in one house and half the women in the other and hold a Skype meeting.”

Another alternative could be to hold meetings at a third-party location, like the Science Teaching and Student Services building on the University’s East Bank, she said.

Other sororities hold meetings twice and eat dinner in waves to alleviate crowding, said Matt Levine, program director of the Office for Fraternity and Sorority Life.

Most sorority and fraternity houses are historical landmarks, a status that makes renovations difficult, he said.

City ordinances can also get in the way of restorations that greek chapters intend to make, Levine said, because the organization must get a variance on an ordinance before they can even begin to renovate.

The University’s newest chapter, Chi Omega, has more than 100 members and a designated meeting space in the 17th Avenue residence hall.

President Lauren Hicok said the sorority is looking for a house but can’t build one from the ground up. Instead, the group will have to find a house and renovate it, which limits its options.

A more recent roadblock, Levine said, has been privately owned luxury housing like FloCo Fusion. Sororities and fraternities are struggling to compete with what luxury housing can offer, he said.

“[With luxury housing] you get all these amenities that our fraternities and sororities will never provide,” he said. “They are trying to figure out how [to] compete in that market.”

Though Alpha Chi Omega will likely run into competition in the future, Fox said, it’s not the sorority’s main concern.

Panhellenic Council President Talia Saville said she doesn’t think competition has become a problem, but the aesthetic aspect of a house can be a deciding factor for freshmen looking to join.

Though the size of the house isn’t the biggest factor in the decision to join a sorority, she said, it certainly grabs attention.

“You get to the houses, and you see them from the outside; and some of them are just big and beautiful and very well kept, and others aren’t as big or don’t have as nice of decorations,” she said.

Some sorority chapters around the country have more than 400 members and do well without a house that fits everyone, Levine said. But Saville said that’s not a number University sororities want to reach.

Many greek community members tend to think that they need a quality facility to compete with other organizations, Levine said.

“You’re joining an organization that should not be based solely on the facility itself,” he said. “But it is nice to have that space to come together to build community.”

Despite the space and housing woes, Levine said he expects greek life to continue to expand on campus.

One of the reasons that the University brought Chi Omega and the soon-to-join Phi Mu to the University was to achieve its goal of adding more than 1,000 greek members by 2018, Saville said.

“With more chapters, there’s more places for the girls to go,” she said, “and hopefully we’ll stay at about the number we have.”