by Gretchen Kell
This fall, one of campus's oldest fraternities is billing itself as brand new, following a recent decision to make it the first substance-free frat on campus.
No alcohol, smoking or illegal drugs will be allowed at the Sigma Nu fraternity house at 2710 Bancroft Way. Instead, the 104-year-old chapter is seeking a new crop of recruits who are interested in "a fraternity for the '90s -- a clean, well-lighted place to study and make friends," said Bob Tuck, president of the Sigma Nu house corporation. The corporation is a governing board of eight Sigma Nu alumni.
In addition to being substance-free, the new improved Sigma Nu also offers a house with renovations inside and out, including rooms wired for modems and an online study area, an emphasis on multi-culturalism and a four-phase leadership, ethics, achievement and development program.
"We're looking for serious students who would like to have the additional experience of a living group," said Tuck. "They'll have the fraternity experience that they've heard about, without the noise, disruption and peer pressure that exists in many houses."
"This doesn't mean the members are teetotalers," he added. "It just means that any parties at the chapter house cannot serve alcohol. If they want to have a party with alcohol, they can have someone else, an insured entity, cater the event at a location that handles the sale of liquor and checks for I.D."
During the past two years, Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc. -- a Virginia-based, international fraternal organization -- has helped 12 of its 214 chapters become substance-free. The Berkeley chapter is the only Sigma Nu chapter in California to make that change.
On Sunday, Aug. 25, 60 students visited Sigma Nu during "rush," an activity in which college students visit Greek houses and try to secure fraternity or sorority memberships. Half of them filled out interest cards -- a "good response," said Tuck. Rush ended Aug. 29.
Approximately 10 to 20 percent of Berkeley's students belong to fraternities or sororities. There are 41 fraternities and 17 sororities on campus. All Berkeley sororities are substance-free.
Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Affairs Genaro Padilla is "thrilled" with Sigma Nu's new substance-free policy.
"All of our fraternities are comprised of great students who go on to successful careers," he said. "It is especially encouraging to see that Sigma Nu is challenging itself to imagine a future -- beginning here at Cal -- that is free from substance abuse."
Sigma Nu's change follows the 1994 opening of Berkeley's substance-free residence hall, Freeborn Hall. It has been in demand ever since.
The house corporation at Berkeley's Sigma Nu chapter voted earlier this year to make big changes at its historic brick-and-ivy chapter house, built in 1920.
"There had been a gradual decline in the fraternity during the past several years," said Tuck, "both in the way members conducted their social activities and in the physical condition of the house."
Last September, the board discussed its concerns with the fraternity members and hired an alumnus as a full-time adviser. But by the end of December, not enough progress had been made, and the board in early January dismissed all active members from the house. Those students were given alumni status in Sigma Nu.
Sigma Nu's international headquarters encouraged the change.
"We considered closing the chapter because of the lack of fraternal values, but what we really wanted to do was build a new, positive group," said Kelly Phillips, regional director of Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc. "We try to be leaders in the Greek system. All our new or reorganized chapters now are substance-free."
To give the Sigma Nu house an updated look, the house corporation had all walls and ceilings repainted, new carpeting added on the upper floors, the floors refinished on the main level and the kitchen and both upper floor baths remodeled. The ivy growing outside on the brick walls was removed, and the white exterior trim repainted dark green.
"We wanted not only substantive organizational change," said Tuck, "but symbolic change as well."
The house can now accommodate 35 new brothers, who together will build a new kind of fraternity. The brothers will take part in Sigma Nu's LEAD program, which teaches the personal and leadership ethics on which Sigma Nu was founded. In 1869, three cadets opposed to hazing at the Virginia Military Institute organized Sigma Nu as an "honor fraternity" to develop the mind, heart and character.
Tuck said he hopes the substance-free house will keep Berkeley on the cutting edge.
"We're going to serve the community, the university and the serious student," he said. "What we're not going to serve is alcohol."