Group of sophomores seeks return of historic Norwich University fraternity Theta Chi

Theta Chi was founded in 1856 at Norwich University and now has 227 chapters around the U.S.

Theta Chi was founded in 1856 at Norwich University and now has 227 chapters around the U.S.

Some Corps of Cadets sophomores are looking to bring Greek life back to campus, latching on to the “I Will Try” motto.

Mickey Walbridge says he wants more leadership opportunities with brotherhood that are in keeping with college traditions and service to community. The 20-year-old from Modesto, Calif., was motivated by NU history and the schools connection with the first chapter ever founded of Theta Chi.

Digging back in Norwich’s rich history, which spans nearly 200 years, it’s not hard to unearth many firsts in the university legacy, and an interesting one is Theta Chi.

The Alpha chapter of Theta Chi was founded at Norwich University in 1856 by two cadets, Frederick Norton Freeman and Arthur Chase.

“Freeman and Chase met in Freeman’s room of the University’s Old South Barracks, and after taking oaths and declaring each other “true and accepted members” of the Society,” the fraternity was founded, according to Theta Chi’s website.

Theta Chi struggled for much of its first two decades. But today the organization has 227 chapters, according to executive director Michael Mayer in Carmel, Ind. There are several Theta Chi chapters in Massachusetts including one at MIT, where the second chapter was added in 1902.

However, all fraternities were disbanded at Norwich in 1960.

Walbridge and his potential brothers want to bring back the morals and ideals that Theta Chi stands, for in addition to Norwich’s current expectations of their students. Both sets of guiding values echo strongly with each other, according to Walbridge.

The proposal to bring back Greek life would begin as a three-year trial period in conjunction with the Bicentennial Campaign. “If I don’t try, I will be failing myself and the school,” Walbridge said.

Theta Chi and other fraternities were active until 1960 when Maj. Gen. E. N. Harmon, President of Norwich University from 1950 to 1965 decided they should be banned.

“The problem that faces Norwich today in the fraternities as I see it is as follows: They have had a very bad disciplinary record here at Norwich since the war. They have developed, to my mind, into nothing but social drinking clubs,” read a report from General Harmon in 1959.

“They are violating the laws of the state of Vermont – they are violating their own chapters, and are violating the Rules and Regulations of Norwich University,” Harmon said.

Harmon’s decision was as follows: “For the university to take over the fraternities, to assume their indebtedness and take them over by having them deeded by the fraternity to the university. To establish four class clubs to take care of social life of the university,” according to Harmon’s papers, which are presented in the student proposal to return Theta Chi.

“I want to bring Greek life back to Norwich University because it’s an extension between the two lifestyles,” said Walbridge. “It’s a bridging of the gap between the corps and civilian where the uniform or the lifestyles can be taken off the table and we can get to know the students better.”

If you are a civilian student, “you can’t join MCW, drill team, or some other groups, but you want that brotherhood, but don’t want the corps lifestyle,” said Walbridge. “This organization we are trying to bring in, I think, will bring together both sides of the university, corps and civilian members,” agreed Power Donnelly, 20, a construction management major from Katy, Texas.

“I think that having a brotherhood or group that spans corps and civilian will bring us together more; we have this great network in the corps, but what we are trying to fix is that we don’t have that connection with the civilian side,” Donnelly said.

President Richard Schneider said he was open to the students doing the research on Theta Chi and said he has an open mind on the idea. However he added that he is not sure fraternity life is right for Norwich, and wondered about the stated goal of bridging civilian and corps members, considering the proposal is solely from corps students.

But the fraternity’s backers argue it would be a “catalyst for bridging the gap between corps and civilian life,” said Donnelly. By bringing back Greek life it “allows us to help train each other through peer-to-peer networking and peer-to-peer development; at the same time it is a social outreach where you can step away from the corps or you can find friends or another brother,” Walbridge said.

“Furthermore, it’s also a professional and social building for our students. We talk about the citizen soldier idea or approach and the corps definitely gets the soldier aspect,” according to Walbridge.

Donnelly explained that, “Norwich has this great military training environment and military and government connections after you graduate, but what it lacks sometimes is the civilian networking.”

The link with a national organization such as Theta Chi, Donnelly said, would open up another alumni network and other training network “for ourselves and the civilian side of things not just the military side.”

Still, the idea faces many hurdles. The university’s rules and regulations prohibit fraternities and activities such as hazing. Theta Chi is also an all male organization, which could prove an obstacle some 160 years after its founding at Norwich.

But Walbridge, Donnelly and other hopefuls are looking to run Greek life within the guidelines of the university and feel that if they do, they have a chance to succeed.

“If the chapter room or house is allowed, the group would be allowed to operate on the university, all university rules and regulations of the most current year would have to be enforced and adhered to at all times,” says the proposal presented by the group in a January meeting.

“All bylaws for the group must be within the university and if a conflict arises between the two, university policy is favored and will be followed. If there is a gray zone, the policy with the clearest writing will be used,” according to the backers of the proposal.

Another issue may be where a fraternity would be located. According to a memorandum sent to civilian students by Frank Vanecek, Norwich’s vice president for enrollment management and student affairs effective for the 2014-2015 academic year all full-time students are be required to live on campus.

Having space for a fraternity or sorority chapter room or on-campus house would need to be on university property, agreed Walbridge. “It would be a place for members to have meetings, study, social gatherings or events, and a place to care for and maintain,” Walbridge said. “Most fraternities and sororities do not have a chapter house so they meet like any other club would, while a member holds onto the chapter items.”

However, backers do have their eye on the former Theta Chi house located in Northfield. And there is space possible on campus. “Currently the top floor of Flint Hall is broken up into two separate apartments that the university can rent out. At this moment, both are vacant and not in use, both could be chapter rooms for a fraternity and a sorority,” Walbridge said.

The major hurdle, however, is section XVII in the university’s rules and regulations titled “Unauthorized Student Organizations and Secret Societies”.

The regulation states that, “A student’s membership in or association with any public or private organization which acts in any manner contrary to the good order and discipline of the institution is in violation of University policy.”

In order for students to start an organization on campus, they must first apply for consent from the chief administrative officer and provide a charter and the principle officers involved.

“Norwich University reserves the right to approve or deny sanctioning to any organization operating on its premises. No organization may operate on University premises without the express written consent of the University Chief Administrative Officer,” according to the 2014 student rules and regulations.

Walbridge and others are very aware of the objections that might be raised. “With the concerns with alcohol, hazing, a lot of people instantly jump when they think of fraternities,” said Walbridge.

Organizers want it to be clear that this would not be a drinking club and that they will have bylaws in conjunction with the university’s policy and would encourage a no drinking creed. Temperance is part of both Norwich and Theta Chi’s objectives.

Theta Chi does not tolerate hazing according to its mission. Potential members plan to raise awareness to issues like drinking and hazing, Walbridge explained.

“As long as any group, Greek or not, sticks to their values and the mission plan that they set out at the beginning when they were being established, they will be successful,” said Donnelly. “The minute you step away from that mission plan and guiding values the overall mission of the organization is no longer there.”

“We are going to hold ourselves to a higher standard and make sure that’s enforced so that if you are a part of hazing or if you are abusing alcohol we are not going to keep you in the organization,” Walbridge said.

Walbridge feels a strong connection to the historic ties of Theta Chi. On April 10, 1865, “two of our cadets took an oath to each other that they wanted something better to become better men, in society and wanted something more out of Norwich,” Walbridge said. They, “founded Theta Chi to better expand their experience and to better expand that citizen soldier ideal.”

That was apparently not what fraternities had become in 1959. Gen. Harmon researched how they were acting post World War II in the late 1940s. His findings were brought to the board of trustees and he recommended their removal from campus because of, “their lack of value to Norwich and the community,” Walbridge stated.

“They ran themselves into the ground and at the time it was the best decision to remove fraternities and Greek life from the campus because it wasn’t producing results anymore,” commented Walbridge.

The stereotype of fraternity life wasn’t helped in the eyes of the public by the 1978 movie “Animal House,” a stigma which is still present today. By working with the university, organizers hope to change perspective.

While the details remain to be worked out, Walbridge stated that students would have to be acclimated to college life before joining and freshmen would be ruled out. Walbridge also explained that students will need to maintain a GPA of 2.5 and those backing the plan will need to maintain a 2.7 GPA on a 4.0 scale.

There are also costs involved in starting the chapter. There is a one-time installation fee of $2,500 for chapter supplies and items. Once a chapter is founded, there are opportunities for students to apply for scholarships provided by Theta Chi.

“Last year Theta Chi gave out $293,000 in scholarship money to its members,” according to Walbridge. “These scholarships would be open to our students to help pay for their higher education, and will lessen the impact to our students while they grow professionally.”

Anyone who wanted to join would be required to pay fees as well, including a one-time new member fee of $60, and an initiation fee of $250 to receive Theta Chi membership items.

All members when paying the national dues are covered by Member Accident Pr

otection Program, a member liability insurance. A yearly national fee is configured on a sliding scale based on the number of members in the chapter while local dues are based on each local chapter.

Walbridge said that there would be no additional cost to the university by bringing back Greek life.

The students detail numerous potential benefits, suggesting there might be an admissions increase due to prospective students looking for a college with Greek life and the additional funding through Theta Chi scholarships. They also argue a potential benefit to the community at large will occur as they would aim to take a large part in community based volunteering and fundraising events.

“This would be a great positive impact and relation builder between the campus and the students on a higher level than it is at now,” according to the proposal.

“Our motto is, ‘I Will Try,’ we’ve got to try this. It’s going to be hopefully a three year trial to see if it will even work at Norwich. If it doesn’t and it’s not right then we can pull the plug on it, but if it works, then we are helping the students and that is what college is about,” Walbridge stated.

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