Greek Row

greek joke

The community had spoken. By the mid 1970’s, local residents had already accumulated multiple grievances against Madison Fraternities. This, of course, did not go unnoticed by President Carrier. Under the Carrier administration, after long and arduous negotiations and discussions between campus and community, a temporary solution was found.

When President Ronald Carrier arrived at Madison College, he had an important goal: Growth. He pushed for growth as much as he could, and was faced with much resistance. Therefore, should a result of the growth (such as fraternities) causes issues, it would reflect very poorly on himself. If Carrier couldn’t handle a small boom in population, he would certainly be faced with even more resistance later when more growth is desired.

Thus, frequent visits and rude awakenings were the norm for the more rowdy fraternities in the 1970s. Carrier claims he would often walk to the frat houses the mornings after parties, pound on the door, and urge a quick cleanup. This was a polite and deliberate gesture of respect towards the community. But this gesture alone of course did not stop the controversy. So Carrier proposed a plan to bring many of the fraternities back to campus.

This proposition significantly (but not entirely) eased Campus/Community tensions. However this proposition led to a controversy of its own. Some students felt it was unfair to spend valuable campus resources and land on fraternities. One Breeze reporter argues that “To provide housing for a general student body is one thing; to agree to house special interest groups on campus is another. Fraternities and sororities are discriminatory bodies. They discriminate on the bases of sex and wealth. To house these organizations on campus would be a gross misuse of taxpayers’ money and an insult to the rest of the student body.”

However other students supported the idea. Such as Terry Childress who was interviewed by a Breeze reporter and stated “I think it is a very good idea because the fraternities and sororities provide more social life and it is closer to the campus and easier for the students to get to the parties.”

Regardless of varying student opinion, the planning process continued over the next couple of years, with it’s share of speedbumps. Where will these houses be located? Will fraternity membership be able to become high enough for the frats to afford the higher dorm fees for these new units?  And perhaps most importantly, which fraternities will be admitted to live in these new houses?

Many locations were proposed. Some students suggested the South Main St strip. Other options included the Hillside area near where Mcgraw-Long and Bell Hall are currently located.  Ultimately, the decision landed on the area beside Lake Newman.

Greek Row by Newman Lake. (Bluestone 1979, pg 148)

The quota Dr. Carrier proposed for the organizations was met with ease. Joining Greek life seemed much more appealing to some as the plans for Greek Row became closer to fruition. Now that permanent housing was suggested, soon the financial burden of maintaining large old houses in town would disappear. Thus, fraternities were capable of lowering their dues. (Caviness, Greek Housing) Another factor that would lead to high membership is the soon-to-be closer proximity to the college. The idea of more accessible organizations would have been very appealing to some who may have been on the fence. Also, the close proximity to the other fraternities incited more unity and cooperation amongst the fraternities. This would lead to more connections, more friendships. Finally, the competition to be selected to live on campus gave the frats an increased incentive

As planning and construction was well underway, the difficult decision as to which fraternities would be allowed to live on campus could not be delayed anymore. A total of 15 fraternities and sororities were at Madison in 1978, however, there were only 13 units. Two fraternities must be left out. To decide, a 10 member selection committee was appointed. The committee reportedly reviewed the individual frats’ eligibility to live on campus. They were evaluated on 5 criteria: Academics, Community Involvement, Campus Activities, Public Image, and Financial Stability.

After a month, the much anticipated decision was announced on Feburary 22, 1978. The fraternities that were denied lodging were Sigma Pi and Sigma Phi Epsilon. The decision, especially the denial of SPE, came as a shock to many as SPE had been a prominent fraternity at Madison College for years. Fortunately, the disappointment did not last long for these fraternities. An article reviewing the effects of Greek Row one year later reported that the two fraternities were optimistic about living off-campus. President of SPE stated “The fact that we’re not like anyone else makes us unique.”

After about a half decade of planning, Greek Row was a reality. What was one of the greeks’ first decisions? To throw the ultimate party. This party, deemed “Beginnings”, attracted far more attention that anticipated. An estimated 2000 people attended this event. What was intended to be a rushing event became overshadowed by the party itself. The fraternities violated multiple policies that JMU had set. This was mostly blamed on bad leadership. However, considering the size, things could have been much worse. The trash was cleaned by Sunday morning and there were no real disasters. Rules were attempted to be enforced, things just got out of hand. Fraternities were forced to quickly learn to handle the responsibility of respecting the laws and regulations for their future events.

This large crowd was only a portion of the attendees at Madison College’s Largest rushing event ever.


Works Cited:
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