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A Personal Perspective on Alcohol-Free Housing and How It Changed My Chapter


By Sean Wagner – Associate Executive Vice President

I recently returned to my alma mater (Widener University) for my Chapter’s (Pennsylvania Mu) 25th Anniversary celebration.  Of course, 15 years into my Chapter’s history, and halfway through my collegiate career, an interesting thing happened to Phi Delta Theta; the alcohol-free housing policy was implemented.  While this meant a lot of things to a lot of different people, what it meant for me at the time, as a 20-year-old chapter president, was that I now had to make sure this policy was enforced and that we were not recruiting new members at Friday and Saturday night parties at our house.

While I can go on and on about the trials and tribulations of that experience and that what I learned during those years is a big part of who I am today, what I realized during my time back on campus is how the transition that my chapter brothers and I went through has now impacted the brothers now residing at 511 E. 13th St.

My Chapter brothers were great guys, and to this day are some of my best friends.  Prior to alcohol-free housing being implemented, we were pretty content on meeting the potential new members that came down to rush and to our parties on weekends, just like everyone else on Greek Row.  But once July 1, 2000 arrived, we were forced to get out of the house and recruit men that weren’t just looking for a party.  We had to search for those who were interested in learning what we were all about and why we had a house that wasn’t full of beer cans and puke.

I will never forget talking to one potential new member who was referred to us by his RA.  John Lynn was a freshman with a 4.0 GPA and all the leadership potential in the world and wanted to make an educated decision about the organization that he was about to join.  John wanted to know if he could truly get as much out of the experience as he was planning on putting into it.  I’m not going to lie, recruiting John was an exhausting process as he examined every single aspect and detail of our organization and received input from the people that mattered in his life.  I think we recruited him for about three weeks including a four hour Q&A session in my room where he eventually decided that Phi Delt was right for him.  John would later go on to become my little brother and give and get plenty as he succeeded me as Chapter President.  This started a slow transition for our chapter of recruiting through referrals, activities on campus, and organizations to find individuals that were better men than us, always pushing the Fraternity further ahead.

So here we are 10 years after the policy was implemented.  While recruitment numbers are down at Widener and we’ve lost a few chapters, Penn Mu is bucking the trend and bringing in terrific leaders.  They have had the largest spring recruitment classes for the last three years (Widener features deferred recruitment for freshmen). They aren’t perfect, but the membership roster does boast four student orientation leaders, three IFC officers, and five presidents of major student organizations on campus all within a Chapter of 22 members (largest on campus).  I take no credit for what is going on there now as I am only an alumnus who lives 600 miles away, but I take solace in the fact that the chapter continues to evolve learning (both the good and bad) from their predecessors, and that what was a tough transition for those of us who went through it, has turned into a success for the men of Pennsylvania Mu.  As a proud alumnus and a guy who has spent the last 7 years as a GHQ staff member, this is reassuring and seems to be a microcosm of what we have seen throughout Phi Delta Theta, a continual evolution of our chapters under this policy, aspiring to live out an oath familiar to all of us: “…to transmit the Fraternity to those who many follow after, not only not less, but greater than it was transmitted to me”.

Sean has been a member of the Fraternity’s GHQ staff for over seven years serving as a Leadership Consultant, Director of Expansion, Director of Alumni Services, and is currently the Associate Executive Vice President.  Sean graduated from Widener University (PA Mu) with a Communications Degree in 2002 and received his Masters in Public Administration and Non-Profit Management from Northern Kentucky University in 2009. A native of Philadelphia, Sean currently resides in Cincinnati with his wife Michelle where he also serves as a board member of the Inner City Tennis Project, an organization that teaches health and life lessons through the sport of tennis, ran in Flying Pig Marathon as an Iron Phi member of “Team Fat Guy” raising money for ALS and the Phi Delta Theta Foundation, and is a member of the Who Dey Nation.

Sean’s blog post is part of a series to celebrate Phi Delta Theta’s Brotherhood: Our Substance of Choice campaign, a 10-year celebration of alcohol-free housing.  Read the white paper, written by Dr. Edward G. Whipple, Past President of Phi Delta Theta and Vice President for Student Affairs at Bowling Green State University, recapping 10 years of alcohol-free housing.

3 thoughts on “A Personal Perspective on Alcohol-Free Housing and How It Changed My Chapter

  1. This is embarrassing to read. Phi Delta Theta is a fraternity, not a resume building club. I was initiated in ’68 and went to Vietnam the next year – the two things they taught us in the marine corps that brings men together is drinking, and suffering. Obviously hazing is illegal, but robbing college men of the opportunity to drink together is the single biggest crime Phi Delt nationally has committed.

    Shame on you.

  2. @robert, I don’t think the point is to keep kids from drinking together. And empirical research has shown that this policy won’t significantly reduce drinking. What this policy does, as I understand it and as Andrew commented on our blog post (http://ow.ly/3m6V7), is give brothers the assurance that if they need to study on a Tuesday night, they can do so without having to worry about loud noise and messy bathrooms. It also means that people can stop by the fraternity and know for certain there won’t be beer cans. I agree that there needs to be space for “boys to be boys.” But there is plenty of room for that outside of the fraternity house in that big wide open funhouse called College.

    If restricting drinking on fraternity property is the biggest crime PhiDelt has committed, I think they’re doing alright.

  3. Shame on “Robert.” What a terrible response to well-written post by Sean.

    “Robbing college men of the opportunity to drink together” is one of the most mistaken perspectives of alcohol free housing that I have ever had the displeasure to read.

    With the plethora of college fraternities that are available on campuses today, it’s reassuring to know that Phi Delta Theta does exist on some campuses as an alternative to the beer can and puke strewn fraternity houses of the past.

    I will have to say that I am hardly surprised to read that John Lynn ultimately chose PDT over the other Greek letters. From Sean’s description, John sounds like he was an intelligent and a discerning evaluator of an organization that he would become a member of for life and not just for his four years in college.

    What does surprise me is that “Robert” also chose PDT because it sounds as if he could have been happily living anywhere with an acronym and a beer, whether it be a KA, SAE or USMC.

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