The Sorority and Fraternity Movement at the University of Massachusetts Amherst – A Brief History
With the celebration of the sesquicentennial of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, there has been much attention given to the history of the school which started out as the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1863. The fraternity movement has been an almost constant presence on the campus since male students arrived in 1868. The first fraternal societies were established in 1868 and 1869, but the first Greek-lettered fraternity, Phi Sigma Kappa, arrived on March 15, 1873. Six men came together to find a “society to promote morality, learning and culture”, and Phi Sigma Kappa eventually established chapters at other campuses, thus becoming a national organization. At the turn of the 20th century, additional fraternity chapters were established on the campus, increasing the density of the membership on campus. In 1914, with the support of the college, Phi Sigma Kappa built a fraternity house on North Pleasant Street, and other chapters found homes in the nearby housing stock which existed near the growing campus. With the arrival of women on campus, the first sorority, Delta Phi Gamma, was established on campus in 1916. Mass Aggie women had only one sorority chapter to consider until 1931, when Delta Phi Gamma was divided into four local chapters. These four chapters eventually affiliated with national sororities from the National Panhellenic Conference, the oldest on campus being Chi Omega. A group of men formed a small organization in 1916 which evolved into the first Jewish fraternity on the campus Delta Phi Alpha, established in 1921. Delta Phi Alpha affiliated with the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, a historically Jewish organization, in 1933. A second fraternity house was built in 1937, Theta Chi, and a third one was built in 1940, Kappa Sigma. During both World War I and World War II, fraternity chapters closed operations because most male students were serving in the armed forces. World War II interrupted the momentum to build new facilities for the other chapters, so chapters continued to occupy structures which were formerly residential homes. The fraternity and sorority movement was very prominent on the Massachusetts State College – and then UMASS – campus in the late 1940s through the early 1960s. Approximately 25% of the student enrollment was affiliated with a fraternity or sorority, and the University devoted much energy and attention to the growing program. In the early 1960s, new sorority and fraternity houses were being built on the northeast side of campus while a project to create a fraternity and sorority park on East Pleasant Street was initiated. The Panhellenic system also added three new chapters, including Iota Gamma Upsilon in 1962, a local sorority which just celebrated its 60th anniversary. With the nation-wide decline of the fraternity movement in the late 1960s, the University experienced a severe decline with its own system. Chapters saw a serious decline in membership, some chapters closed, and the new housing initiatives came to a stop. The system slowly started rebuilding itself by adding new chapters to the system in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but the system did not recover to the level where the system was prior to the decline. In the 1980s, chapters affiliated with the National Pan-Hellenic Council were being established on campus, although city or regional chapters had been operating in the area since at least the 1920s. In the 1990s, chapters with a Latinx or Asian identity were coming to the campus, creating a need to establish the Multicultural Greek Council, since the NPHC is only open to its affiliates. The early 2000s saw continued growth of the multicultural chapters and a return of chapters in the IFC which had left in the 1990s. Chapter membership was low during this time – just over 500 in 2005. The late 2000s and the early 2010s has seen a growth in both the number of chapters and the membership – over 1200. The Panhellenic Council raised its total number for the first time in over 20 years, reflecting the growth of membership in the community. In the late 2010s and early 20's we have grown to over 1500 students, with continued growth especially in IFC and Multicultural organizations.
Oversight of the Fraternity and Sorority Movement
The fraternal movement has had a constant presence on the UMass campus since the early days of the Massachusetts Agricultural College (MAC). Given the size and scale of the college in the early days, fraternities were a small part of campus life, unlike the system which existed at Amherst College, with its mansion-like homes and its dominance of campus life. With the growth of the fraternity system in the early 1900s, the system at MAC started to dominate life and began to resemble systems at other campuses. The president’s office would engage with the fraternities on major concerns, such as the building of fraternity houses adjacent to the campus. For most daily concerns, it was the Committee on Student Life which guided the activities of the fraternities and other organizations. It was this committee which most likely addressed the questions of establishing a sorority to accommodate the growing number of women who were coming to the campus, the establishment of the governing councils, and the addition of a Jewish fraternal organization. By the mid-20th century, oversight of the fraternity and sorority system went to the Dean of Men’s Office (for the fraternities) and the Dean of Women’s Office (for the sororities). This model continued to exist through the 1960s, when the two offices were joined to become the Dean of Students Office (DOSO). A Fraternity Managers Association also existed, a common model on many campuses. This association arranged for the bulk purchase of supplies, coordinated the food service programs, and managed other aspects of a growing fraternity and sorority program. Every fraternity and sorority house had a house mother to provide some on sight monitoring of the activities. In the 1970s and early 1980s, a staff person in the DOSO managed the fraternity and sorority program. For 30 years Michael Wiseman oversaw the fraternities and sororities until his retirement in 2020, guiding the community through growth and an increased focus on risk management and communication with the town of Amherst. Currently, Sorority and Fraternity Life is managed by Student Engagement and Leadership and Off-Campus Student Life. We are located in the Student Union, room 431.
The UMass Amherst campus provides a wide range of academic, social, and community service activities for students. Membership in a fraternity or sorority is a good first step toward enjoying all the benefits that college life has to offer. A fraternity or sorority chapter is also a way to make the campus feel more like a home.
Collectively, fraternities and sororities constitute one of the largest student groups on campus, and membership makes up about 8.5 % of the undergraduate population. Fraternities and sororities are about friendships, scholarship, community service, philanthropy, advocacy, brotherhood, sisterhood and leadership. It's about bettering the UMass Amherst community and the Town of Amherst through service and social functions. It's about traditions, learning valuable lessons, and establishing life-long friendships. It's about shaping the identity of one of the nation's most prestigious campuses with a continuing fraternity presence since 1869.
Each fraternity and sorority chapter at UMass Amherst and across the nation was founded on the ideals of friendship, love, service, and scholarship. The bond of brother/sisterhood is one rooted in shared values, respect, and friendship. The journey to brother/sisterhood is unique to every individual; just as every person in the UMass Amherst fraternity and sorority system is a unique individual. The results, however, are the same for us all; lifelong friendships with people who share in our beliefs and ideals of what are right, good, and true.
Equally important, fraternities and sororities offer the opportunity for leadership experiences that can enrich a life on campus and beyond. Many of the University's faculty and staff are members of fraternities and sororities. Fraternity and sorority members are found in all facets of today's society, from government to business to the arts and service agencies.
The University encourages students to fully explore the opportunity offered by the 40+ fraternities and sororities on the campus.