Sig Ep draws mixed reactions from members as it tries to improve image with Balanced Man Program

Adrienne X. Shon

When Northwestern students think of the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon, many say one thing comes to mind: great parties.

But beyond the party frat boy image, they might find Sig Ep members are gentlemen too.

NU’s Sig Ep chapter, like many nationwide, implemented the Balanced Man Program, a four-year leadership and development course. The program encourages personal growth among members through experiences such as mentoring, community involvement and team-building exercises.

The goal is to make them well-rounded by developing attributes such as physical fitness and academic responsibility.

“The quality of people coming into the fraternity helps make the program work,” Weinberg junior and Sig Ep President Pete Papagiannopoulos said. “We want people who treat others with respect. We look for those people and they look for you.”

Other fraternities nationwide, such as Beta Theta Pi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon, have implemented similar initiatives.

Sig Ep, the largest fraternity in the country, suffered a huge nationwide membership purge about five years ago that left the organization barely alive. In 1999, University of Toledo’s chapter had only seven members.

In 2001, Oregon State’s chapter threw a party that resulted in $195,000 in fines for giving alcohol to underage drinkers, as well as the expulsion of a third of the chapter’s members.

According to the Sig Ep Web site, the Balanced Man Program was developed in the early 1990s to encourage many college chapters to reform their lax alcohol policies. The program has helped Sig Ep to recover.

Weinberg sophomore and Sig Ep member Paul Boye said the program teaches members skills that will benefit them after college.

“Studying with half a dozen guys in the library is equally as encouraging as working out with half a dozen guys in the gym,” Boye said. “This healthy life of balance is something to desire well beyond Northwestern.”

But not all members share Boye’s enthusiasm for the program.

A.J. Giovannetti, Communication junior and Sig Ep’s vice president for programming, said the NU chapter rejects certain elements of Balanced Man, such as its commitment to recruiting members throughout the year and eliminating pledge classes. Sig Ep adheres to the NU policy of recruitment at the beginning of Winter Quarter.

“They are going on too conservative a path,” Giovannetti said. “We adapt between what the national (organization) wants us to do and what NU allows.”

Although NU’s Sig Ep chapter follows the guidelines more loosely than some other colleges, members say they still attract men who are balanced. Since 2001, the fraternity’s members have maintained a house GPA above 3.0. Members hold leadership positions in student groups including Dance Marathon and Associated Student Government. And members say their intramural sports teams always rank among the top.

“We want people who are well-rounded – socially active, engaged physically,” Giovannetti said. “We want people who are academically strong, involved in campus. When we recruit by all those standards, we already get guys we know we want in the frat.”

Some students said they find the departure from the traditional frat boy image refreshing.

“I don’t exactly think of them as gentlemanly,” Weinberg freshman Julia Fang said. “(But) it’s great that they’re trying to revamp (the image) and be more respectable in society.”

Beyond the polished image, members say the type of people in Sig Ep makes their fraternity experience rewarding.

“There’s a better way to give back to your friends other than just getting drunk a couple of times a week,” Papagiannopoulos said. “We go beyond that.”

Reach Adrienne X. Shon at [email protected]