Sigma Phi Epsilon and Sigma Alpha Epsilon will begin leasing campus houses along the 900 block of West Maple Street, which Jeff Howard, the university’s associate vice president for student life and engagement, said will act as “learning communities” but not residential spaces.
“So they will have them for small gatherings, meetings, hang out space, for academics, tutoring, study, so kind of a communal space that they can come hang out,” he said, “but not residential, and they’re certainly not going to be large enough that those chapters can have chapter meetings in those homes.”
The two other fraternities, Alpha Sigma Phi and Beta Upsilon Chi, will rent suites in an on campus residence hall but the fraternities won’t reside in the building. Howard said three of the four fraternities, not Alpha Sigma Phi, have previously occupied off campus housing in the past.
In early 2018, university officials said they were putting together a plan to move all fraternities on campus by 2020, and in July 2018, Howard said ETSU stopped recognizing new off campus fraternity houses.
Howard said Pi Kappa Alpha and Sigma Phi Epsilon no longer own houses in the Tree Streets. Sigma Nu, which hasn’t been active at ETSU for years, still owns a house in the Tree Streets, but Howard said the house is currently empty.
Howard said the university has received complaints in the past from community members about traffic, parking and noise around the off campus houses. By moving fraternities on campus, Howard said ETSU aims to strengthen the link between fraternities and the university.
“Our goal has been always to better connect the fraternities with the campus,” he said. “Their goal for the most part has been to get onto campus and raise their profile among the student body in hopes of supporting their growth as chapters.”
Howard said there is some potential for fraternities to eventually have residential space on campus and noted that college officials have visited spaces at Virginia Tech, the University of West Georgia and Wofford College to see how the institutions were housing their fraternity and sorority communities.
“This, for our fraternities, we think is an interim step,” Howard said. “They have hopes to perhaps do a new construction build over the next several years, and we’re still open to that, but this is one of those things where we have an opportunity to give it a go [and] test the waters.”
Over the next three to five years, he said the university will assess the success of the project and will then decide their next phase.
One ETSU fraternity, Sigma Chi, still has a house on Maple Street.
“They are the only off-campus fraternity, period, and the only one that we recognize,” Howard said. The university hopes Sigma Chi will eventually move to campus in the next couple of years, Howard said.
Peck Gill, the secretary/treasurer of the Sigma Chi house corporation, said the fraternity has been in its house at 734 W Maple St. since 1970. The house contains a lot of fraternity tradition, he said.
“We want to be good neighbors to the Tree Streets and the neighbors around us, and for the most part, we have been,” he said.
Gill said the house corporation has discussed the topic of moving Sigma Chi to an on campus location, but noted that other fraternities moving on campus don’t have other facilities to choose from and therefore have no other choices. Gill said the organization is waiting to see how Sigma Phi Epsilon and Sigma Alpha Epsilon respond to the new space.
Gill said the on campus houses will contain “extremely limited” gathering spaces for the fraternities.
“My understanding is there will be no modifications to these structures,” he said. “So it is small office space, and the fire marshall will determine the occupancy rate, which will be a low, low number.”
He said the Sigma Chi house in the Tree Streets is well-maintained and safe.
“We have a backyard for activities, we’re a block off campus, we’re paid for,” Gill said. “You’ve got all the right things for us to stay where we are.”