On Students: Fraternities Picking Up Community Support Leslie Rice ----------------------------------- Homewood News and Information The staff in the Office of Student Affairs at Homewood hardly knows what to make of Hopkins fraternities lately. In the old days, student affairs dean Larry Benedict used to brace himself every Monday morning for the inevitable call from a community resident lodging a complaint about fraternities. This year, though, the phones are quiet. "We've never had this happen before," says Benedict. "There have only been six complaints about fraternities this entire semester when in recent years it wouldn't be unusual to have two or three calls every Monday morning. "What's even more interesting is that lately, a number of people have called us to send compliments on how the fraternities have been good neighbors. Honestly, that's pretty unheard of for any university." About 30 percent of undergraduates participate in Hopkins' 32 fraternities and sororities. Of the 11 sororities, only one has a house, which is on campus. Only three fraternities have an official house, each in the Charles Village/Homewood community. There were more, but in the past few years three have closed, due either to financial or community-related problems. City zoning laws prohibit fraternities, so it is nearly impossible to establish new official fraternity houses. That, however, doesn't stop "rogue fraternity houses" from sprouting up throughout the community. Every year, members of a fraternity without an official house will rent a row home together, and for the rest of the year, that building becomes that group's fraternity house. These ad hoc fraternity houses tend to generate the vast majority of complaints from residents, says Benedict, because they have no established ties with the community, and it is far more difficult for the university to track down those students to answer to complaints. But in recent years, the university, community and the students have launched a more focused attempt to work out issues common among fraternities. The Greater Homewood Community Corp., an umbrella group for the communities that surround Hopkins, has mediated disputes between residents and fraternities through its Neighbor Relations Committee. And in recent years, Hopkins fraternity alumni have tried to persuade fraternities to improve the looks of their houses, keep noise to a minimum and be good neighbors. The efforts seem to have paid off. Alpha Delta Phi, also known as the WaWa fraternity, at 33rd and St. Paul streets, used to average about 12 complaints from the community per semester. But for the second semester in a row, the chapter has not been the source of one complaint. "We're proud of that. We've been working hard on community relations for about four years now, and people are beginning to notice," says John Boyce, president of Alpha Delta Phi. "When I was a freshman, the older members were just beginning to tackle the appearance of the house and take seriously complaints the community had with us. "Since then, we've planted shrubs around the house, built a nice courtyard, bought a dumpster for the trash and just generally improved the looks of the place. The neighbors seem to really appreciate that." There are also little things; a few times a semester, members of the fraternity pull up weeds and pick up trash around a public garden they have unofficially adopted at the corner of Barclay and 33rd streets. Many of the fraternities are also becoming involved in their neighborhood. Members of Delta Upsilon and Alpha Delta Phi walk with the Charles Village citizen patrol groups and work with the community to push for Charles Village to become a Special Benefits District. Delta Upsilon fraternity members coach the Charles Village soccer league, while Phi Kappa Psi recently bought a computer for a nearby elementary school with Giant Food receipts. And on a recent Saturday morning, some 50 students involved in a number of fraternities got up early to participate in Charles Village's Clean-Up Day. "We've seen a lot of improvement over the last year with the official fraternity houses," says Sandy Sparks, director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp. "Nevertheless, we still have a lot of problems with the ad hoc fraternities." Although the idea hasn't been formally proposed, Benedict and his office have been looking into creating "Fraternity and Sorority Row" to be attached to the planned urban development bill being considered for Charles Village. If the community is in favor of the idea, the university would acquire a strip of row homes to house the fraternities and sororities. Details--like whether the university or the fraternities and sororities would own the houses or where they would be located--haven't yet been worked out. "Ideally, it would be placed in a business district or somewhere where there would be no immediate neighbors," Benedict says. "That way if they bother anyone, it would only be each other." Sparks believes the idea makes sense. "It would be fantastic. There would be tighter management and more control over the fraternities," she explains. "The trouble is that now these ad hoc fraternities can spring up anywhere. With a row, the university would be in a better position to make fraternities confront any problems they create. I think, also, it would give these groups a sense of ownership in their community, and there would be a peer incentive to maintain order."
Go to Gazette Homepage