The Daily Explains: Who owns, manages and resides in Greek housing at Northwestern?


Daily file photo by Joanne Haner

710 Emerson. The house used to belong to Zeta Tau Alpha but was converted into a residence hall.

Russell Leung, Assistant Campus Editor

Students walk past Greek life houses on campus every day, from trips to Henry Crown Sports Pavilion through the fraternity quad to late-night Fran’s Cafe runs past an array of sorority houses. 

But many students unaffiliated with Greek Life have never been inside one of these houses, let alone understand how the Greek housing process compares to traditional campus residential life. The Daily spoke with students and staff members involved in the system to explain what lies behind the Greek-lettered exteriors of these houses.

Ownership and management of houses

The University owns most Greek houses on campus, but each house has its own management system for maintenance and operations. Most fraternities and sororities lease their houses from Northwestern via their housing corporations, which are alumni groups for Greek societies that help run the living spaces. 

Houses can opt to grant Residential Services primary responsibility for managing the facilities — including cleaning and furnishing — or they can opt out and direct their respective housing corporations to assume those duties instead, Residential Services Operations Manager Alejandro Domínguez told The Daily. Two Greek houses have opted in and 15 have opted out. 

Room selection process and residency requirements

Living in a Greek house counts toward students’ two-year on-campus residence requirement. Room prices vary by size and house but are generally comparable to, or cheaper than, those of residence halls. 

Medill senior Nick Papandreou, who is Sigma Phi Epsilon’s vice president for finance, said the fraternity charged $8,700 this year for a single room. The cost of a residence hall single room ranged between $11,937 and $12,633. 

According to several fraternity leaders, most students who live in Greek houses are sophomores, while juniors and seniors typically live off campus. Because of this flexibility, most Greek members who want to live in their chapter’s house can do so.

“Everyone who wants a room can get one,” Papandreou said. “There’s never competition.”

Papandreou said Sig Ep members choose rooms based on seniority in the fraternity, but other fraternities use randomized systems and prioritize executive members in room-selection processes.

Communication sophomore Hayden Sikora, the president of Delta Tau Delta, said the chapter also considers the house’s capacity — 34 residents — during the rush process because it wants everyone to be able to live in the house if they wish to do so. He said all freshmen who joined Delt this year plan to live in the house in the 2022-23 academic year. 

All houses have certain requirements to maintain their leases, Domínguez said. Houses often have to host a certain number of residents to be financially secure, or else the University can repurpose the house into a standard dormitory or other type of building.

NU works with fraternity and sorority housing corporations to determine how the University or Greek organizations can use these houses, University spokesperson Hilary Hurd Anyaso said in an email to The Daily. 

“We work with the housing corporations to discuss space utilization at times when chapter operations may limit the ability or need to house members, as well as timelines for a return to normal operation,” Anyaso said. 

Lambda Chi Alpha President and Weinberg junior Nathan Heyen said in an email to The Daily that the house typically needs at least 20 of 24 residents for the housing corporation to pay for the lease and other costs. In the past few years, however, the corporation has waived the requirement because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Of its 29 residents this year, Sikora said the Delt house hosted six juniors, an unusually high number, in order to reach its residency requirement. 

“If you don’t have enough people living in the house, the housing corporation can’t keep it open unless they charge each resident an obscene amount of money,” Sikora said. “So in order to keep it in the green, we have to have at least 29, 30 people living in the house every year.”

Navigating meal plans

Some fraternity and sorority houses offer members meal plans, typically ranging from 10 to 13 meals per week. Most offer at least two hot meals on weekdays but none on weekends, leaving residents to either finish off leftovers from Friday, eat cold food from the pantry or visit Evanston eateries Saturday and Sunday. 

Greek housing meal plans are typically more affordable than the standard ones offered by the University, multiple chapter presidents said. Sikora said Delt’s meal plan, which is required for members living in the house, saved residents nearly $600 per quarter. He added students can supplement it with an additional meal plan from the University. NU also offers an exclusive meal plan for Greek students who join their house’s meal plan but live in non-Greek housing on campus.

The meal plan, Sikora said, can be inconvenient at times when he is away from the house because he cannot grab lunch at a campus dining hall. He added that weekends can be “kind of a tossup.”

“If Friday’s meal is not very good — we don’t really like it or it just doesn’t save well, it’s not a good leftover meal — then it’s like, ‘Well, I guess we’re just eating out every meal,’” Sikora said. “I used to eat a lot of cereal on the weekend. It’s not too bad, you get used to it.”

Some Greek societies that usually offer meal plans did not this year because of low membership. Papandreou said Sig Ep typically includes an optional meal plan for members that he described as “way better” than NU’s meal plans, but there weren’t enough residential members this year for it to make sense financially.

Medill sophomore and Delta Delta Delta member Jamie Dickman said the sorority members in the chapter collectively decided at the beginning of the academic year to purchase NU’s Open Access Meal Plan instead. She said they compared the costs of each option and concluded the University meal plans were more worthwhile and would work better with members’ different schedules.

“It would be very inconvenient for all of us to come back to the house and come down (to South Campus) whenever it was time for a meal,” Dickman said. “Some of us have jobs, some of us have a lot of classes up north and it was really more of a convenience thing than a cost issue. Also, I think having a chef for a handful of people just really isn’t necessary.”

Residence rules and supervision

Greek house residents mostly follow the same regulations as other students who live on campus. Papandreou said Residential Life guidelines on everything from candles to bicycles apply to fraternity and sorority spaces as well. 

He added Greek houses also enforce a ban on consumption and ownership of alcoholic beverages for all residents, even for those who are of legal drinking age. Regular residence halls do not adhere to this rule.

“I can’t emphasize enough the strictness of the policies,” Papandreou said. “There’s misconceptions regarding fraternity spaces — people think that we can do whatever we want.”

Although Greek houses do not have resident assistants, Papandreou said all fraternities will host a live-in, graduate student residential adviser who enforces house policies starting in the fall. He said the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life has long asked fraternities to appoint an advisor, and Sig Ep has employed one for years. However, it was difficult to find candidates during the pandemic, so many fraternities did not have a residential adviser, he added.

Greek houses also have internal procedures for handling discipline. Heyen said Lambda Chi has a student house manager who enforces rules and coordinates with the housing corporation, in addition to a risk manager who oversees the house along with the chapter president.

Sikora said Delt has a student honor board, composed of its sergeant at arms and two members from each year, that mediates violations like failing to keep the house clean or getting severely inebriated. The purpose of the honor board is to promote accountability, he said.

Weinberg sophomore Matthew Nielsen, president of Pi Kappa Alpha, said the University also installed security cameras inside the fraternity house. If Pike violated the Student Code of Conduct, NU would meet with the chapter’s executive board to determine disciplinary action like sanctions, he said.

Due to a violation of code of conduct, Pike was suspended Spring Quarter and has lost its house until fall 2023, Anyaso said in the email.

NU initially suspended Pike on Feb. 9 and upheld this suspension on March 7 following an appeals process, Anyaso said. The University announced Wednesday that Pike’s former house, 2313 Sheridan Rd., will be a residential hall in 2022-23 and will likely be managed by Residential Services through the 2024-25 academic year.

Nielsen said he hasn’t been able to see a lot of his close friends from the fraternity because NU randomly assigned Pike members to residence halls across campus after its suspension. He said losing the house has been one of the worst parts of his experience in Greek life.

“If you’re in Greek life, housing is a pretty integral part of that experience,” Nielsen said. “If I knew my freshman year I would be removed from the house, I don’t think I would have joined Greek Life.”

Nicole Feldman contributed reporting.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @rjleung7

Related Stories:

Northwestern converts former Greek life housing into residence halls for 2021-22 academic year 

Greek life recruitment to resume in January, but several IFC chapters still banned 

Sex educator Riley Brennan discusses systemic issues with Greek life at NU College Feminists event