The Pi Kappa Alpha house is one of four ETSU fraternities remaining in the Tree Streets.
Fraternity chapters at East Tennessee State University with homes off campus could one day, maybe, be located on campus, which would be the desired outcome for some residents on the Tree Streets, where four ETSU fraternity chapters maintain houses. Two of those fraternities are currently working through disciplinary sanctions for behavioral issues.
But there is much that needs to be accomplished on campus prior to any real serious discussion about moving those fraternities from their historic locations, ETSU President Brian Noland said.
“We have been in continued dialogue with residents of Tree Streets surrounding the current disposition of fraternities within the neighborhood, as well as future plans,” he said in a recent interview from his office. “We will begin the new strategic planning cycle and what we committed to was developing an approach, as part of that strategic planning cycle, and to implement something within that time frame.”
So specifics are not yet available for any potential relocation of Tree Streets fraternities.
Noland said the biggest issue, though, for ETSU is providing space for fraternities on campus. A new football stadium is being planned. A new fine and performing arts center is being planned. A major addition for Lamb Hall is also planned.
“Once those facilities are located we’ll have a better sense of what the available places on campus would be for us to explore options as they present themselves,” Noland said.
Loud, noisy parties are the main concern being brought to Noland regarding Tree Streets fraternities.
Noland said he is working heavily with the Greek system on campus to ensure that members impart a positive influence on the community. Noland runs most Saturdays through the Tree Streets and sometimes sees beer cans near one fraternity house in particular.
“I’ve met personally with a chapter twice in the past three weeks formally, informally on a number of occasions saying, ‘Fellas, I run past your house every Saturday morning, you know, I’m tired of picking up beer cans,’ ” he said. “ ‘I don’t want to be the person to pick up your trash.’ ”
The ETSU chapters of Sigma Chi and Pi Kappa Alpha are on probation and restrictive suspension, respectively. Both chapters have houses in the Tree Streets.
This past spring, Pi Kappa Alpha members were involved in what Joe Sherlin, vice president for student affairs, called an altercation with another fraternity in the Tree Streets. Johnson City police were called on this incident. A report was filed and Pi Kappa Alpha was determined to be responsible.
Based on the seriousness of that incident and prior disciplinary action taken against the chapter, the chapter was placed on restrictive suspension, which means it is restricted from all formal activities with the university and must meet certain benchmarks to have its current status lifted.
“And they’re working toward those,” Sherlin said.
Sigma Chi members held an unregistered event that got disorderly. Police were called to this, too. The chapter was subsequently placed on probation, which means it can still participate in Rush Week to get new members and is not fully banned from participation in university events. As long as no new violations occur, the chapter will be off probation in the spring.
“Any event, social event with alcohol, is to be registered with the university,” Sherlin said.
These registered events must have a guest list, have bonded security agents and have a process in place to ensure no one under 21 consumes alcohol. Additionally, the university must be able to check at the beginning, middle and end of the event to ensure compliance.
“The chapters should not be having unregistered events with alcohol,” Sherlin said. “The fraternities and sororities are very aware of our guidelines.”
Sherlin said the school gets reports every year that must be investigated regarding inappropriate activity at a fraternity house. None were reported this summer and so far this school year there has been only one reported incident, he said.
In 2012-13 there were 27 calls to Greek residences, which was down significantly from the previous two years. Less than half those calls resulted in police reports being completed.
There are four fraternity houses in the Tree Streets: Sigma Phi Epsilon and Lambda Chi Alpha are the other two fraternities with houses.
Kathy Serago, treasurer of the Tree Streets Southside Neighborhood Organization, said many residents near fraternity houses have concerns with late night parties and loud noises, mainly on Thursday nights. These complaints come from private citizens and are brought up often to SNO.
These parties are not every Thursday, but they mainly occur on Thursdays, Serago said.
“I think the majority of neighbors around them are just frustrated,” Serago said.
Lisa Orr, ETSU fraternity relations committee chairwoman for the SNO, said it may be safer for young men in fraternities to be on the campus of ETSU.
“We’re not anti-student,” Orr said. “We’re not anti-Greeks. I just think for their safety, they would be better suited in an environment where they can have a little better supervision.”
She said the loudest parties are usually at the beginning of the fall semesters, when new members are just learning how to enjoy their freedom as new adults.
“We recognize that for the better part of 50 years we’ve had a rich tradition of relationships between fraternities and the neighborhood association,” Noland said. “It ebbs and flows. Historically, we’ve had points at which the relationship’s been outstanding and other points at which we’ve had a little tension.”
The benefits of moving fraternities on campus would provide enhanced student engagement and removal of what has been a historical element of tension from a residential neighborhood, Noland said.
But Noland cautioned that removal of a fraternity from the neighborhood would not necessarily mean a better neighbor would move in afterward.
“Unless you’re able to put in place zoning restrictions that at this juncture do not exist, I feel that there are in some respects positives (to having fraternities as neighbors), because if there is unruly activity at X fraternity house then there is a disciplinary process that works through the university that does not exist if it’s random neighbor X and Y that moves into that home,” Noland said. “So if fraternity X has an event on Friday night, not only do they face the judicial process if there’s a violation of state and local policy, but there is a campus policy and judicial process that often is as stringent if not more stringent than what (neighbors are) going to find through the other avenue of addressing concerns.”
Adam Jarvis, Interfraternity Council president at ETSU, said it is made extremely clear that fraternity houses in neighborhoods are part of a community and members should conduct themselves accordingly.
“I understand (SNO) concerns and we’ve talked about it at great length for a while now,” he said.
Jarvis said there have been loud noise and party complaints but that those are always addressed.
Beginning this month, ETSU fraternities will have a presence at each SNO meeting to hear concerns and bring those back to the IFC to discuss further and be addressed.
Beyond that, Jarvis said IFC delegates and others are well-trained on following guidelines and policies that fraternities must follow.
“I understand the Tree Streets’ concerns and I welcome their opinions and I want them to know they are definitely being heard by the IFC,” Jarvis said. “But I sometimes get a little frustrated with saying the Tree Streets don’t want fraternities. I feel very strongly it’s several people on the Tree Streets that want the fraternities removed from the Tree Streets.”
Jarvis said the fraternities provide community service, and even organize a clean-up day for the Tree Streets neighborhood several times a year. The most recent such event saw around 200 fraternity brothers come out.
“Really, our fraternity experience is about giving that member the opportunity to develop and grow as a leader,” Jarvis said.
Jordan Hibbard, Sigma Alpha Epsilon president, addressed discussion about moving fraternities on campus.
“In my mind it’s a positive because all the fraternities would be on one street,” Hibbard said. “Everyone would know that’s where you would go if that’s what you wanted.”
Having all the fraternities in one central location on campus would also provide a chance for each of the different groups to come closer together. But moving a fraternity from its home would be a big deal, Hibbard said.
“For some of those fraternities in the Tree Streets neighborhood, that’s historically their house,” Hibbard said. “And that’s something you’ve got to respect when it come to fraternities and their houses.”
Noland said most ETSU fraternity and sorority chapters are small and docile in comparison to other universities.
“We would like to strengthen the Greek system,” Noland said. “It’s not where Dr. Sherlin or myself would like it to be. But in no stretch of the matter do we have a Greek system that’s out of control. I would put our Greek system, our students and the manner in which they conduct themselves in the community up against most any institution.”
A registered event has not been held at a fraternity house in several years; however, one is planned for this coming weekend.
“And if there’s an issue we’re going to know about it, because we’re going to be checking the party,” Sherlin said.