American invasion

Available housing in town? Illustration: Hannah Jeffrey
Available housing in town?
Illustration: Hannah Jeffrey

Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE), a controversial American fraternity, plans to establish a chapter at the University of St Andews as part of their expansion into the UK, DKE’s alumni include former US presidents Theodore Roosevelt and George W. Bush as well as Alan Bean, the fourth man on the moon. Their motto – ‘Gentlemen, Scholars and Jolly Good Fellows’ – has gained notoriety in the past few years as the fraternity has found itself featured in a multitude of scandalous news stories.

This January, a DKE chapter was formed at the University of Edinburgh. Shortly thereafter, leaked minutes from a meeting of the brothers revealed discussions about how they should rape members of the University’s feminist society. Needless to say, the arrival of DKE at Edinburgh has caused concern amongst their student body.

DKE’s reputation precedes itself at many American universities, where the fraternity is often associated with excessive drinking and dangerous initiation ceremonies and hazing rituals. Amidst talk that St Andrews may soon have a DKE chapter of its own, The Saint spoke with members of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), an internationally recognized Jewish fraternity that currently holds the title of St Andrews’ only Greek organization.

In order to discuss effectively how a fraternity in St Andrews might affect student life here, it is important to understand what a fraternity (or sorority) is. For all non-Americans, a fraternity can be described as an all-male society organized around similar intellectual, moral and social beliefs, forming a companionship or brotherhood. Though the Greek system is considered to be a thoroughly American social experience, there are some known British equivalents. Dining clubs, such as the infamous Bullingdon Club at Oxford University, operate according to a similar ethos. St Andrews’ own Kate Kennedy and Lumsden Clubs are also often likened to fraternities and sororities as they are the closest things the University has to Greek life of its own. (Neither club responded to requests for comment on this article.)

Despite their public perception as sometimes negative forces in university life, fraternities obviously have many positive attributes. Gabriel Schechter, the rush chair of AEPi’s St Andrews branch, says: “I know the term ‘fraternity’ scares people in the U.K. because they see things like [the movie] Animal House and they hear horror stories, but there are good and bad [sides] to all organizations.” Schechter is also quick to point out the benefits of belonging to a fraternity. He says: “What AEPi has given us is a community that we can identify with. That’s what you look for in a fraternity. It’s a way of creating a sub-social group with people who have the same interest and identity as you.”

The Greek system of which DKE is a part works according to a strictly organized hierarchy. When someone proposes to establish a new fraternity branch at a certain university, he contacts the fraternity’s headquarters. The fraternity’s ruling body will then send someone to the university in question in order to help set up the new chapter. This process is meant to ensure that each chapter is established independently of every other one and that there is no influence from other groups. Because of this system, it is worth noting that should DKE found a branch in St Andrews, the DKE chapter in Edinburgh or at at any other university would have no involvement or input.

Though DKE has been prematurely touted as St Andrews’s first fraternity, Schechter stresses the fact that AEPi has been at the University for four years without incident. The chapter has grown every year in both membership and philanthropic effort. He says: “We have gone our time here without anyone complaining about our actions. We don’t see how another fraternity coming might ruin that, but we have worked incredibly hard so that we don’t have a reputation at St Andrews for being ridiculous and wild and that is very important to us.”

Oliver Harrison, the president of St Andrews’s AEPi chapter, adds: “We feel like since we’re part of this Greek system, just because we have Greek letters like they [DKE] do, we are being put under the same umbrella as them. And it is not fair because we’ve worked so hard at preserving our integrity and values.”

A major element of Greek culture at American colleges and a key point in understanding the social role of fraternities and sororities is this: the drinking age in the U.S. is 21 years-old, meaning that most university students there don’t have legal access to alcohol. Senior (or fourth-year) students in the Greek system are usually of legal drinking age, though, and so can buy alcohol for parties. Additionally, alumni funding and membership dues enable many fraternities to develop quite the healthy social calendar. As such, ‘frat parties’ are one of the few places at which American students can gain reliable access to alcohol.

Of course, the drinking age in the U.K. is 18, which undoubtedly changes the campus drinking culture at British schools as compared to their American counterparts. Caleb Kress, AEPi’s secretary and treasurer, says:“That’s what excites me about the Greek system in the U.K. compared to [in] the U.S. Since the drinking age is 18 in the U.K., everyone on campus can drink. There’s no incentive for you to go Greek just so that you have access to the parties where you can drink, which is a lot of the motivation for the kids back in the States. I’m just interest in what they [DKE] are going to do here and how they are going to brand themselves and what they are going to bring to the table,” Harrison said.

St Andrews students have had mixed reactions to the possibility of a DKE branch here in town. One student, who requested not to be named, says: “I suppose I can’t see a significant difference between a fraternity and groups such as the Kate Kennedy Club. Although I wouldn’t join one, I don’t see how it might cause concern to the University. And it’s not the University’s job to regulate events that happen outside the University.” A first-year student who also requested anonymity took a different view: “I believe people come to St Andrews to experience another culture, something unique, so I don’t see why we should try to make Scotland more American.”

Even though DKE hasn’t officially opened at chapter at the University of St Andrews, rumors that they will soon has prompted both concern and interest. The only thing for certain is that their potential arrival will only continue to be a topic of debate. As Kress puts it: “There is always the chance of something bad happening, but why shouldn’t they have a chance to prove themselves? They deserve an opportunity to at least be a separate group of guys.”

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