The sisters of Delta Delta Delta have to clear out of their house by 9:00 p.m. every night for curfew, despite having their own keys. They are not allowed to sleep over in the house.
The sorority houses, all located behind SMC on South Academy Street, are not residential, despite the fact that they are all repurposed faculty housing. Alpha Sigma Alpha’s new house, which was just repurposed at the beginning of this term, was once inhabited by Deans Deb and Craig Southern.
“It isn’t costing us any money to let them use that house,” Vice President of Student Development Anne Ehrlich said.
Meanwhile, five out of the six fraternities on campus have residential houses, most of which are almost 100 years old. Tau Kappa Epsilon, Beta Theta Pi and Phi Gamma Delta were built for the purposes of being fraternity houses back in 1920. Despite both Tri Delta and Pi Beta Phi’s introduction to campus before 1900, they only acquired their houses within the last 20 to 30 years.
“It has sexist agendas that run through it, even if that’s not what they meant to do,” junior and sorority member Katarina Ignacek said. Ignacek cannot disclose her sorority affiliation as she is a recruitment counselor for formal recruitment in the winter.
The one-story sorority houses can barely fit some of the chapters into their living rooms for events such as initiation and recruitment, let alone their large fundraisers on weekend nights. Instead, they hold these in the Wilson House.
The Wilson House was once known as the Panhellenic House, and all the sororities on campus used it as their space for fundraisers and chapter events. Now that the sororities each have their own house, it has been rededicated as a multi-purpose space.
Yet, the sororities still overwhelmingly use it as the venue for the vast majority of their annual fundraisers.
“Spacewise, there’s no way we could get anyone in [our house], it’s just way too tiny, so we do Wilson House,” Ignacek said.
While the three largest fraternity houses are visible from the main academic buildings, the sorority houses are rarely seen by non-members, located in a part of campus with minimal traffic.
“We’re in the corner, brushed under the rug, where we can’t make an impact. Whether [the fraternities] have a bad stigma or a good stigma, they have a stigma,” said Ignacek. “With us it feels like it gives the feeling that we’re incredibly exclusive, since they don’t see us around.”
A history of divisions and discrepancies
One theory for the lack of residential housing is a rumor about an Illinois law that states that more than six women living together in a house automatically qualifies it as a brothel. This law has no evidence of being in place in the state of Illinois.
Another commonly given reason is that the National Panhellenic Council (NPC), which governs all four sororities on Knox’s campus, has it in their national rules that women cannot have houses. This again is untrue, as many colleges across the country have Greek housing, including Monmouth College.
Yet, the houses at Knox remain non-residential.
The fraternity houses were built to be both large and residential. Each house cost about $40,000 to build in 1920, which is equal to about $400,000 in current U.S. dollars. Director of Facilities Services Scott Maust estimates that the sorority houses are probably today worth about $40,000 each.
Knox set up loan programs with each fraternity to help pay them back, and wrote up 99 year leases for the houses, two of which are still unbroken. They won’t expire until 2019.
The only rule written in the fraternities’ leases that are given in regards to the behavior inside the house is that the men living in the house will be given the same freedom as those who are living off-campus. TKS accessed the leases through the Special Collections and Archives at Knox.
The newest fraternity house lease, belonging to Sigma Chi, is also vague in terms of what the members are and aren’t allowed to do, only stating, “Be a good neighbor and prevent illegal and unsafe activities on the premises.”
The Interfraternity Council is more individualized toward each fraternity than the NPC is toward sororities, which 26 different sororities fall under. If the sororities were to live in their houses, the rules would be more complicated. There are several rules that the NPC puts in place for their sororities who live in a house together.
For example, no men are allowed onto the second floor or beyond of any sorority house. Only women are allowed to stay overnight in the house.
“That makes it inherently less attractive of a proposition to some of our students, because they don’t want that limitation. That’s not the college’s limitation, that’s the national’s limitation,” Ehrlich said.
Nationally, sororities are also not allowed to throw parties or have alcohol on the premises, even if the possessor is 21.
“It comes to double standards and things like that. Like there are no housing restrictions on fraternities, and there are so many stringent ones upon sororities,” junior and Sigma Chi President Jack Harman said.
Sorority houses in the dark
For some, the lack of a residential space is not bothersome.
The girls of ASA wrote the proposal for their house in a similar regard to the other three sororities on campus, asking for use for chapter events, recruitment and daytime use. However, the girls of ASA were under the impression that sororities did not have the option to live in their houses at all.
Senior and sorority member Stephanie Nikitenko isn’t sure that she would take the opportunity to live in a sorority house, but admits that it’s mostly a case-by-case situation.
“If we want to live with our sisters, we’re going to find a way to live with them. My roommate is my sister. And I have two sisters downstairs in a different suite, so you find ways.”
But not being able to spend the night at the houses isn’t the only issue that the members have with them. In the last few terms, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Tri Delta and Pi Phi have been broken into, and many sorority-specific, ceremonial items were taken from the houses.
“We talked to maintenance and Campus Safety about getting new locks or a keypad system, and they wouldn’t let us do that either, they wouldn’t pay for it, they wouldn’t help us,” Iganeck said.
While the items were recovered, the culprit was never found.
South Academy Street is poorly lit. Campus Safety has installed two different emergency poles on it near the sorority houses within the last five years.
“I’ve been catcalled. People say, ‘Hey, I like your skirt, let me take a look.’ Really scary things, people parking, getting out of their car, chasing me,” Ignacek said.
The houses also don’t have fire alarm systems, since they don’t need to have them in order to be a recreational facility.
In the construction plans for the fraternity houses, one condition that the fraternity brothers outlined was that they got to help decide what the houses were going to look like. The sororities did not have this kind of freedom, some being donated by community members.
“It wasn’t like we had our pick of where we wanted to go, it was a property that someone gave to us, so take what you can get at that point,” Ignacek said.
Money from alumni, Knox
In order to be up to code, the sorority houses would each need to have a fire alarm and sprinkler system. Maust estimated that doing this renovation would cost about $100,000 per house.
ASA’s house was residential last year, and would not need to be updated. That would leave about $300,000 to upgrade the rest of the sorority houses.
Ehrlich and Vice President of Finance Keith Archer figure that this money would need to be raised by the sororities themselves.
Yet, in 2006, Knox purchased the Sigma Chi house for $360,000, from a family member of one of the fraternity brothers, who did the renovation on the house themselves. While the older frat houses were eventually paid off by the fraternities, usually by alumni, the Sigma Chi house purchase was not seen as a loan. Knox estimated that the room and board from the members living there would be able to pay off the house in about 10 years.
The lease, however, states that the house won’t be fully paid off until 2046. But that is not the members’ responsibility.
It’s not the only time Knox has put money into a fraternity house without getting paid back. In 2001, Phi Delta Theta took out a roughly $160,000 loan from Knox in order to do larger renovations on their house. Knox helped hire the contractors, did the renovations and then asked the fraternity to sign off on the loan.
“When it came time to sign the note for the payback of the loan, nobody wanted to sign it. It kind of sat in limbo. Basically at the time, the college was absorbing the cost,” Maust said.
The fraternity was disbanded by Knox two years after the money was given to them, and to Maust’s knowledge, Knox wrote off the loan and never got the money back.
Maust is fairly certain that if the sororities wanted to do renovations, the money would be the chapters’ responsibilities rather than the school’s.
Yet the work invested into the fraternity houses is unparalleled by the sorority houses, which haven’t had many major renovations since the women acquired the houses. Most of the construction on the fraternity houses is funded by alumni.
The Betas launched a campaign in 2013 to renovate their house, and have since raised over $1,000,000. In the 1990s, TKE launched a “Save the TKE House Campaign,” where they raised over $200,000 in order to save the house from being torn down, as was suggested by former Dean Anand Dyal-Chand.
“There’s no reason why they wouldn’t have [alumni support], when the fraternities do,” Ehrlich said.
Ignacek doesn’t feel the sororities get that same support.
“Our alumni do have money to give, but most of them give it to Knox … We’re just less of a socially thriving unit, historically.”
The fraternities find support from the school in other ways than financial.
“I’ve had one time when the Beta house, the fire department was coming over with their locks and window stickers and signs that said, ‘This house is closed,’” Maust said. “I was able to stop it, only because they knew I was going to be able to take care of it. But we’re trying to get away from that, and we’ve done good the last four or five years ago.”
The sororities have had a different relationship with the administration and Campus Safety.
“We pay our own electricity, our own water, it’s very much like we run our own stuff. But at the same time Campus Safety has the jurisdiction to kick us out if we’re there at night, and they do have the jurisdiction to avoid helping us get keys, so what I’m fuzzy [about] is how much are they actually involved in helping us,” Ignacek said.
Looking to make change
Ignacek is determined to give sorority members a residential housing opportunity at Knox. When she arrived her freshman year, she was shocked by the lack of residential houses and wanted to make progress by the time that she left.
“There’s no way that we can be in a society like we are now that’s so progressive and has allowed women to be such a part of our nation and still brush things like this under the rug,” she said.
In order to obtain a residential house, the sororities would first need to talk to their nationals, in order to see if this is something they would support the chapter in doing. Ignacek’s talked to her nationals to make sure that they were on board, and says they’re very supportive.
She has also opened the conversation within Panhellenic Council at Knox, who agreed that it was a conversation worth having. Her sorority sisters are also on board with the idea of changing sorority housing at Knox.
She’s been talking to Title IX Coordinator Kim Schrader about the lack of residential spaces for sororities potentially being a violation of Title IX, which also extends to same-sex organizations, such as sports teams.
Obtaining a new house or improving on the old would also be a conversation to have with Ehrlich, Greek life advisor Eleanor Kahn and Maust, if it were to happen.
“As far as I know in recent years, there hasn’t been a sorority that has said seriously to the college, we want a residential house. I think it’s been brought up for discussion, but if they did, we would work with them,” Ehrlich said.
If the chapters were to receive approval from nationals, they’d need to look for a house, if they wanted something bigger than the current chapter houses. Maust isn’t optimistic about other properties being open to the sororities anytime soon.
“We’re pretty tight on space, and unfortunately a lot of the houses around the outer perimeter of the campus that become available aren’t worth it. Most of them need to be torn down,” he said.
Kahn brought up that the NPC holds equality among chapters in a high regard, and if one house wanted to become residential, the nationals might only approve it if all the other sororities on campus also acquired a residential space. By the same token, if one sorority doesn’t want a residential space, then all the other nationals might say no.
The complications are extensive, but Ignacek is determined to change the discourse at Knox.
“Just because we’re Greek, just because we’re women, doesn’t mean we should be put in the corner.”