Creating positive change on a campus that prides itself on tradition can be a daunting task, but it is one the SigEps at University of Alabama have taken on with vigor. Since moving into their newly renovated house on University Boulevard, the brothers of Alabama Beta have used their newfound visibility to lead the charge in changing Greek life for the better.
The university invested $5 million in a renovation that has turned a former Kappa Alpha Fraternity house into a facility capable of supporting a top-notch living-learning community. SigEp National Housing consulted on the design, construction and financing, and ultimately made the project possible by guaranteeing the loan. The chapter moved into the 23,000-square-foot living space in January 2018.
The house, which can sleep 34 brothers, features a large meeting room with enough space to accommodate what has become the largest fraternity on campus with 184 men. It also includes a dedicated alumni room, two large porches, a game room, a second-floor lounge and a formal living room. All of these improvements are a marked change from the previous chapter house, and members are eager to use the new facility as an opportunity to not only become the best fraternity on campus, but the best organization too.
“We have an incredible chance here to show everyone on campus that it is okay to be different, and that being different might not be such a bad thing,” said Chapter President Alex Mazzaferro, ’19.
The former chapter house was located on the north side of campus, far away from academic buildings and out of sight from many students. With that location, chapter members felt it was easy for people to write off SigEp, despite the chapter’s large size, exemplary grades and significant philanthropic work. But all that has changed with the new chapter house, they say. It will be hard to ignore such a large, and now centrally located, chapter that’s working to redefine the status quo.
One of the selling points of SigEp for potential new members is the chapter’s exceptional programming. Surrounded by fraternities that often focus on partying, Alabama Beta deviates from campus social norms by planning alcohol-free events. From movie nights at the house to professional development speakers at chapter meetings, there are events designed to benefit every member and provide access to experiences they wouldn’t find elsewhere on campus.
The chapter’s large size and previously small facility had forced leaders to move educational programming and chapter meetings to campus lecture halls. Their new house can accommodate all of these events, and the central location has made it convenient for members to attend. The chapter has already hosted many speakers at the new house, including representatives from various campus organizations such as the student health center, the Title IX Office, the campus police department and campus ministries.
The new house is a substance-free space where members can study and socialize without distractions that are common on college campuses. Additionally, the chapter has adopted new risk management policies such as student ID readers for all events. Other fraternities have been taking cues from SigEp too. During his term as chapter president, Mazzaferro has partnered with the university and other fraternities to make these practices commonplace across campus. He’s even met with Alabama President Stuart Bell to advocate for SigEp’s unique approach to fraternity.
“Recently, I have been meeting with leaders from other chapters and talking to them about some of the new things we have been doing. Surprisingly, they have been very open to new ideas. I think it’s because people are starting to realize that the old, ‘traditional’ way of doing things just doesn’t work,” Mazzaferro said. “The university notices that we have been making changes and that other chapters are following suit. In the future, there is an expectation that we will be the ones to change the Greek culture on campus.”
David Grady is the vice president for student affairs at the University of Alabama and a member of Phi Gamma Delta. He attended SigEp’s 2017 Conclave to speak about the state of Greek life and its future on college campuses. “SigEp has always been on the leading edge of movements within the fraternity world,” Grady said. “It is in your DNA to be different.”
In both academics and philanthropy, SigEp consistently outperforms other chapters and most honor societies at Alabama. For the past 16 out of 17 semesters, the chapter has achieved the highest GPA among fraternities. In fall 2017, the 184 brothers boasted a 3.48 average GPA, with 36 brothers earning a perfect 4.00. Additionally, the brothers raise thousands of dollars every year for Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Alabama.
The work brothers do in the classroom and in the community doesn’t go unnoticed. Since rechartering in 2015, the chapter has earned multiple Greek excellence awards from the university. This prestige has proved to be an invaluable recruiting tool, especially when combined with the new living space.
“I joined SigEp this spring, and I remember wishing that I had joined in the fall,” said Sam Stennett, ’21. “My roommate joined in the fall, and he was super-focused on his grades and was always doing cool things with other brothers. I wanted something like that in my life. Now that I’m here and we have this new house, I don’t know why I didn’t join earlier.”
In its quest to become the best student organization on campus, Alabama Beta now has its sights set on becoming an accredited Residential Learning Community. Chapter leaders believe this is the next logical step in the chapter’s development.
Going forward, the chapter is also looking to increase its leadership roles on campus. Chapter Counselor Larry Whitman, Alabama ’86, said that he hopes to see more brothers seeking roles in student government and other campus organizations. “So the question is, ‘What’s the next step?’ The next step, to me, is how to become the best of the best. That means greater participation on campus, greater participation nationally with the Fraternity, becoming an accredited Residential Learning Community, and earning the Buchanan Cup,” Whitman said.