Betas consider future of housing

Lane Barton

With the conclusion of the 2014 fall recruitment cycle, all Greek life institutions will be winding down from a flurry of activities and welcoming new members to their ranks. But members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, in addition to greeting a new pledge class, have been dealing with internal discussions about the viability of their chapter’s off-campus housing options in consideration of fewer members living in the house in recent years.

This semester the Beta house is home to thirteen men. Before the fall recruitment, Beta had only 29 members, making it the smallest Greek organization at Whitman. No decision has yet been made about the fraternity’s house.

“The Beta house, after graduating two significantly larger classes than average, found that it had come time to have the tough conversation of how we wished to proceed,” said Beta Theta Pi President junior Nathaniel Dorlac in an email. “There is no set number for the minimum people allowed in a house … but with extremely low numbers it is rather impractical to keep it open [because of housing costs].”

While Beta Theta Pi has never gone without a fraternity house at Whitman, several other greek organizations have. Both the fraternity Phi Delta Theta and women’s fraternity Alpha Phi closed their housing in past decades only to reopen when their numbers increased later. Marcus House, which is currently owned by the college and used as a residence hall, was once the fraternity house of Delta Tau Delta. The fluctuating numbers of the fraternity led to the house closing, reopening and then closing again before the house was sold to Whitman.

Beta Theta Pi numbers are not as low as those of Greek organizations which closed their housing in past decades. According the Associate Dean of Students and Greek Advisor Barbara Maxwell, the membership of Beta has been around 40 to 55 for the last five to eight years, a consistent number that wouldn’t draw concerns unless those members were not living in the house.

“For the Betas … if they have the membership but aren’t getting people to live in the house, I think that goes back to the Betas to question, ‘Who lives in here and who doesn’t? Is this something where we need to create a policy? How do we create an environment so that people want to live in our house?'” said Maxwell.

The Betas could potentially receive help developing their decision-making process from the new advising board that started last year. Composed of members of the Walla Walla community with interest and expertise in working with college students, this collection of individuals may play a key role in supporting and guiding Beta Theta Pi as members create a new strategy.

“I’ve always said the difference between a good chapter and a great chapter is an advisory board who’s behind the scenes providing that continuity and support … I’m optimistic that it’s going to be enough to help the Betas move forward,” said Maxwell.

Currently the Whitman administration has little jurisdiction in regards to any fiscal considerations of the Beta house, as the land and house itself is owned by the national Beta Theta Pi corporation and its alumni. However, if the decision was made by Beta members to close the fraternity house, Whitman would have to step in to provide housing to any displaced sophomores currently living there. However, the number of sophomore men living in fraternities is low enough that administrators do not believe this would pose a challenge.

For the time being, the Betas remain committed to maintaining their house, which has been a center of the fraternity for decades.

“No one is willing to see the house close, so we have all deeply invested ourselves in the future of the house,” said Dorlac in his email. “What we have come to learn from having low numbers is that a small house is not necessarily a bad thing. I personally believe that having a small group of really close friends is the best foundation our house could have.”