Journal readers may remember an article in fall 2009 by Ryan Sugden, Wisconsin ’06, celebrating the 50th anniversary of lifting member restrictions. The headline called the question: “Are we diverse?” The article recounts those dramatic days in 1959 when heated debates and intense lobbying resulted in a landslide victory for inclusion: 134 for and 37 against the removal of membership requirements based on race and religion.
The article goes on to examine the question of diversity since that milestone. Answers are complex, and demographic data is scarce. One thing is very clear. The benefits of diversity and inclusion are substantial: preparing college men for the real world by helping them understand, respect and embrace significantly different perspectives and beliefs, and offering the fraternal experience to all men who share the values of our Founders.
How can chapter leaders make it happen? The article outlined a number of possible actions chapters can take to answer the question: Are we diverse? Recruit in new places, have the discussion, declare that diversity is important, celebrate diversity and ban offensive actions among others. These bear reading again.
Brother Hasenkamp has a new message for you, a call to action. And so does recent graduate Sawyer Hicks, Davidson ’14. We must do more than think about this issue. We must act.
I am a 1960 graduate of our New Hampshire Alpha Chapter at Dartmouth and was privileged to serve as Grand President from 1991-1993. It has been a while since I wrote a letter to you. Now there is something that I want to share with you.
The issue of fraternities and race dominates recent news headlines. Let me offer some words of encouragement and a challenge.
At the 1959 Conclave, I led the effort to pass legislation that opened SigEp to members of any race, religion or creed. The vote came at a time when some in America still believed in “separate but equal,” and many large universities remained segregated.
I was a student at Dartmouth at the time. That vote meant that I could invite deserving friends and classmates to join my chapter, regardless of their race or religion. It was a huge victory for the Grand Chapter and for future generations of SigEps.
At a time when other fraternities were unwilling even to discuss breaking such antiquated and harmful barriers, SigEp blazed a trail that propelled our growth to become the largest college fraternity. Today each of us recognizes the value and importance of diversity. We know that the chance to learn from peers of different backgrounds is an important part of preparing for success in the professional world. Despite this, however, we occasionally fall short.
It is often said that our chapters reflect our campuses. Sometimes that is true. Other times the real truth is that we only reflect the diversity of those who rush.
Too often our chapters are simply mirrors of our own upbringing. Our chapter brothers come from the same religion, ethnicity, home towns, even the same high schools. These connections and shared experiences can be worth celebrating, but they do not make for a great chapter experience by themselves.
The only way we grow as men is by expanding our experiences and our networks. We must step outside our comfort zones and find the best men on campus. Simply by pursuing excellence and looking outside our usual circles, we can build chapters that truly reflect our communities and our colleges.
By doing so you will also surround yourself with men who are smarter and more talented than you are. They will help you grow and achieve more in your life. This will be hard work.
It will take work to find those men. It will take work to convince them that SigEp is different and right for them. And it will take work to hold yourself and your chapter accountable to the promises you make during recruitment.
Do it anyway. The hard work pays off.
Integrating a national fraternity at the height of the Civil Rights movement was not easy, but it was the right thing to do.
Following the 1959 vote, Ron Brown, Middlebury ’62, became the first African American member of our Fraternity. He was a brilliant and driven man who went on to serve as Secretary of Commerce.
I was honored to call Ron a friend and brother. Although he died tragically in a 1996 plane crash, I remain inspired by his legacy and the great lengths to which so many went in order to call him Brother.
This is a critical moment in the history of the American college fraternity. I hope you focus on your standards and those of men who expect more from their college experiences. SigEp can continue to be a shining light for others to follow. It is up to you to lead.
You are our future. Make it shine!
Bruce Hasenkamp, Dartmouth ’60
Past Grand President
Forge a culture of inclusivity
Past Grand President Bruce Hasenkamp, Dartmouth ’60, charged each of us to recruit members from all corners of our campuses to bring together diverse brotherhoods that foster the genuine exchange of ideas and perspectives.
It is easy to look at the University of Oklahoma SAE incident and declare that such behavior would never be tolerated at our own chapters, but we do ourselves a disservice when we pretend to be immune from prejudice.
Overt racism is less common, but discrimination continues to exist at many campuses, and as we have seen in the past year, even in some of our chapters.
A crucial step towards creating an inclusive chapter culture is recognizing and responding to comments and jokes that some say “are not meant to offend.” When “humor” plays off of race, ethnicity or sexuality, it can solidify the foundations of inequality and create a culture that is far less inclusive than we believe it to be.
My challenge to you is this: Initiate the difficult discussions, be honest about your areas for improvement, and make a conscious effort to forge a culture of inclusivity and equality within your chapters and campuses. This is the path that Sigma Phi Epsilon has charted for over a century, and it continues to strengthen our organization and deepen the contributions we make to our campuses and to our society.
It takes a strong and courageous brother to be mindful of his own speech and to stand up to his peers. But this is our collective responsibility: to remind one another of the principles to which we have sworn an oath.
As Brother Oscar Draper, Washington State 1919, wrote in the Creed of Sigma Phi Epsilon, “It is not enough to be passively virtuous: I must be positive on virtue’s behalf.”
Sawyer Hicks, Davidson ’14