Students advocating return of NU’s first fraternity seek support

Founded as the first chapter in the nation at Norwich University (NU), Theta Chi Fraternity was later banned in 1959. Now, a group of students are trying to bring it back but in the format of “a club on campus” with “three years trial,” said the group’s leader.

Theta Chi fraternity is listed way back in the Cadet Hand Book for 1856. Mickey Walbridge, 21, a junior computer science major from Riverbank, Calif., was piqued by the reason behind the disbandment of sororities and fraternities in 1959.
Theta Chi was a male-only fraternity founded first as Theta Chi Society in April 10, 1856 by two Norwich cadets: Frederick Norton Freeman and Arthur Chase. Currently there are 143 active chapters and approximately 8,100 undergraduate students as members, according to the Theta Chi website.
The fraternities and the sororities were disbanded at Norwich because they “weren’t serving (a) purpose anymore,” Walbridge said. However, “we could fix (the problems) now with the current policies.”
It has been almost 60 years since the ban on “Greek life” was imposed by Maj. Gen. E. N. Harmon, the President of Norwich University from 1950-65, who stated that “(the fraternities) have developed, to my mind, into nothing but (a) social drinking club,” said a report from General Harmon in 1959.
The group of nine students from both lifestyles decided to write a proposal to President Richard Schneider with the objectives of removing “the ban on fraternities and sororities” and allowing Theta Chi a three-year trial, according to the proposal.Theta chi
“They don’t want to represent the stigma of fraternity,” said Crystal Drown, who had a chance to interview the oldest alumni of Theta Chi, adding that Theta Chi fraternity “was intended to do good for others through service, volunteering, and leadership.”
The Norwich Board of Trustees in 1959 decided to ban Greek fraternity life on Oct. 31, responding to concerns about problems with fraternities. The group proposing to bring Theta Chi back has agreed to make adjustments to the fraternity policies, along with meeting the current rules and regulations of NU, Drown said.
The group wanted to bring back the good parts to the campus and discard the bad parts, said Power Donnelly, 21, a junior construction management major from Katy, Texas.
Donnelly said that the group would “focus on the positive aspects of the fraternity, which are networking, social hours, service hours, and just being able to help the school.”
The proposal also explained that the four major principles of community, leadership, scholarship, and service would be focused by Norwich Greek life to help students. In addition, Theta Chi’s principles encouraged volunteering activities to give back to the university and the society.
According to the group, there is a gap between the students in both corps and civilian lifestyles. Classes, clubs, and sports “have not had a strong enough impact to close this gap.”
Students could have more opportunities to “reduce the gap” with Greek life, according to the proposal. “We hope to be the bridge to bring the school closer together between civilian and corps,” Donnelly said.
Greek life provided students with “more opportunities to lead each other, help peers with academics or personal issues, and build networking internationally,” because there were less limitations compared to sports teams, clubs, and special units in the corps, according to the proposal.
Theta Chi would be opened to anyone who met the requirements, unlike sports or other clubs.
The proposal stated that “with students connected across lifestyle in a brother and sisterhood, we will see more students caring for the personal well-being of each other,” and Theta Chi would create “strong connections” between both lifestyles.
“The corps is one big fraternity and sorority but we also want to include civilians into that,” said Ariana Holmes, 19, a sophomore psychology and education major from New Ipswich, N.H.
Holmes said that the fraternity would “provide empowerment to the students,” leadership opportunities, and networking.
With the Greek life setup, it “allows for real world interaction and skills to be learned.”
Any students from any lifestyle could be in charge of the group while in this setting, allowing both lifestyles “to learn and practice for our next step in life,” according to the proposal.
In addition, according to 652 responses on the survey about Greek life interest on campus, “75.81 percent of students stated they are open to the idea of having Greek life on campus, and 59.91 percent stated they would be interested in being a member of Greek life. Those responses came from both lifestyles and genders, according to the report.
There were “390 people saying they want to be members,” said Walbridge.
Walbridge said that Theta Chi’s biggest chapter had only 200 people.
The proposal of a three-year trial for the fraternities and sororities were created as a “risk mitigation” to verify the risks and the benefits of having “Greek life” back on campus, Walbridge said.
Under the plans floated by the group, one option for Greek life was the vacant room on the top floor of Flint Hall, which can be rented. There would be “no loss of current income of the university.” However, if the option was not possible, “the weekly meeting” could be set in any available room.
There would be no chapter house like usual fraternities, Walbridge said, adding that Theta Chi would be treated similarly to “(any) club on campus” with additional requirements because being apart of Greek life requires a “high participation” and “time commitment.”
Most fraternities and sororities do not have a chapter house, as stated in the proposal.
By operating the chapter room on campus, “the university’s rules and regulations of the current year would have to be enforced and adhered to at all times.” In addition, if there were conflicts between the university’s regulations and the fraternities’, the university’s regulations would be followed, said the report.
Any students who were full-time second semester students with grade point average’s (GPA) greater than 2.5 could join Theta Chi, Walbridge said.
Walbridge said that there would be an “initiation fee and member fee just like another big organizations.”
With the new member fee of $60 and the initiation fee of $250, “all members are covered by Member Accident Protection Program, member liability insurance coverage,” and also receive Theta Chi member items, said the report.
In addition, there are scholarships provided by Theta Chi for the students each year, according to the proposal, which notes that “last year Theta Chi gave out $276,000 nationally in scholarship money to its members.”
By having Theta Chi, it “wouldn’t cost the university anything,” Walbridge said. Walbridge said that, Greek life allowed “students to expand their leaderships” and more opportunities for scholarships.
Section XV of the Norwich rules and regulations about unauthorized student organizations and secret societies stated that any organization operating on campus required the approval of the university and NU had the right “to approve or deny” any organization working on campus.
Since there were problems of it becoming a “social drinking club” in the past, Theta Chi has to be opened more to the university and the public, Drown said, adding that “if it remains the secret society concept, they won’t get Theta Chi back to the university.”
The fraternity would work with the university so there would be no “iffy or spotty” activities, Walbridge said.       All of the chapter’s educational materials could be made public.
Walbridge said that there would be one process “that is behind the closed doors,” similar to the Rook recognition at NU, which was the process of “going from a pledge to a member” as it was “symbolic to both Theta Chi and their traditions.”
With Greek life available on campus, NU students would have more opportunities to serve the community from community services and philanthropy events, said the report.
In addition, undergraduates in Greek life nationally raised “around $7 million a year for local and national charities,” from the report. NU students could participate in those events with other chapters from different schools “to promote a broader community of engaged students.”
The university could tie together Theta Chi with Norwich’s bicentennial campaigns, said Drown. She said she felt that adding Greek life back on campus could be a benefit to Norwich students.
In addition, Norwich would become an option for people who seek a university that provides Greek life programs. Admissions would become more competitive and the university would have “more engaging students” on campus, said the proposal.
There was no problem for the group to contact Theta Chi about reactivating the alpha chapter of the fraternity, Donnelly said. “We are the alpha chapter and they are excited to work with us.”
“Until we get approved from the Board of Trustees and the president, we can’t get much information yet,” Holmes said.
Currently, the proposal to remove the 1959 ban of Greek life on Norwich campus has been seen by the president, and been passed to the student life committee of the Board of Trustees, Walbridge said.
“Right now, it is being talked about for the recommendations by the trustees,” Walbridge said. “There will be some definite decisions and conversations made” in the January or April meeting,. he said.

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