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“You’re doing what? You joined a frat?”

So went the response from many of my friends back home when I told them I was becoming a member of the Greek system.

“Not quite,” came my inevitable reply. “I’m starting a fraternity.”

Starting Sigma Pi at the end of my freshman year was not a decision I made lightly, but in the end it was the single best decision I made in my four years here at the University. Granted, that’s not saying a whole hell of a lot, but I think it holds some merit coming from someone as utterly inept as I am.

Reflecting upon my three years I spent in the Greek system here, a number of indelible memories come to mind. From our rather subdued chartering banquet to dancing to “Single Ladies” by Beyonce on stage at Anchor Splash 2009, the memories run the gamut. Of course, I’ll never forget all the friends and lifelong ties I’ve made while in Sigma Pi. Indeed, many of my closest friends have come from relationships fostered while I’ve been in Sigma Pi.

This trait isn’t unique to me, however. Many people make enduring friendships in the Greek system. Where my Greek Life path diverges from the norm is at its onset. You see, I never wanted to be a Sigma Pi — or even in the Greek system, for that matter. I was always one of those who consciously eschewed all things Greek and naïvely thought everybody should do the same. We’ve all heard the negative stereotypes, and I, like so many others, fell prey to them and vehemently vowed to never join a fraternity.

Enter Facebook.

My close friend Niels Goossens received a message in late-April 2006 from a Sigma Pi representative asking if he was interested in starting a chapter here in Eugene. Niels promptly spoke to his friends in the residence halls, and the seed that would ultimately become Sigma Pi was planted. Reluctant at first, I was quickly wooed over at the prospect of creating my own fraternity catered specifically to the standards my friends and I would like to see.

The germination of this nascent seed was painstakingly slow at first. Here was a group of freshmen thrown head-first into the deep end without so much as a life preserver or any swimming lessons. The sheer logistics of starting a fraternity were mind-boggling for us. After a number of informal — but passionate — meetings, a path was set before us and events were set in motion.

It became apparent we were starting Sigma Pi with one main goal in mind: to shatter pre-conceived notions about Greek Life and reverse the dominant paradigm that dictates all Greeks are a bunch of party-crazed, beer bong-toting, weed-smoking animals. While dangerously treading the waters of falsehood, stereotypes certainly start with a degree of truth to them. Unfortunate though it may be, this was the image with which we had to work.

Of course, in order to change this image we had to grow. As of fall 2006 we had about 20 members and we needed at least 35 to charter. The idea of recruitment opened a proverbial Pandora’s box of problems. How do we recruit? Where do we recruit? How do we balance the growing need for new members without alienating the existing group dynamic? We had to address these problems with great care.

After hovering around 30 members for close to a year, the panacea came in the form of our first house. With the help of a house — and our roguish charm — we managed to recruit 26 new members in fall 2007, allowing us to charter on Nov. 17, 2007 with 51 men.

As a fully submersed chapter of the Greek system, we were awash with invitations to philanthropies, community service opportunities and fundraisers. This is a side of Greek Life seldom publicized, and one with which even I was unfamiliar. Some of the philanthropies supported by Greek money include Children’s Miracle Network, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Womenspace. Needless to say, a lot of work goes into helping the community.

Despite this, the slightest misstep often receives superfluous attention, making it nearly impossible to shed the negative reputation. This reputation is so ingrained in society, the pool from which the Greek system recruits has been groomed to expect a life of partying and wanton debauchery, further compounding the problem.

In the end, it became apparent the image of Greek Life wasn’t going to change — nor will it at this rate — no matter how diligent our efforts. This small microcosm of society is under so much scrutiny, it’s impossible to overhaul decades of reports of hazing, alcohol poisoning and worse. All we could do was continue to follow the values on which our chapter was founded and hope to make a modicum of difference.

Through this drive to maintain our principles, we realized just what they really were. At the very least, Greek Life provides a unique opportunity to explore oneself and be challenged to maintain and live up to a certain set of values. Just what those values are, however, is up to you.

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