New fraternity establishes MIT interest group

Alpha Sigma Phi seeks to expand to MIT, recruits founders after tentative start

A new fraternity may be coming to MIT. Alpha Sigma Phi, or “Alpha Sig,” the nation’s 10th oldest fraternity, has been trying to stake its claim as a colony among MIT’s current 24 existing chapters. Currently, it is attempting to recruit “founding fathers.”

Alpha Sig has targeted MIT as part of a current expansion process that has seen a 38 percent chapter growth in three years, said Geoff McDonald, coordinator of chapter and colony development for Alpha Sigma Phi. McDonald added that the organization wants to make sure that they are represented at “some of the nation’s finest universities,” MIT included. This expansion attempt comes on the heels of other recent colonization attempts at MIT; SAE in 2009 and SigEp in 2005 were successful, but Pi Kappa Alpha was not, and disbanded within a year of starting their efforts in the spring of 2010.

Tentative start

McDonald first arrived on the MIT campus on Feb. 20, and began his search for founders by attending MIT sorority meetings and asking them for referrals; Alpha Chi Omega (AXO) contributed the most names, with 24. “They were the biggest help we received on campus,” said McDonald of AXO. The referrals led to the formation of an interest group of five men, including members of the swimming, football, and baseball teams.

However, one week after McDonald arrived, sent initial contact emails, and met with the interested men, he left campus without informing the group. It was at this time that IFC President Tommy A. Anderson ’13 told The Tech in an email that Alpha Sigma Phi was no longer attempting to colonize MIT due to what he was told was a “lack of interest.” An email the next day from McDonald affirmed that the low commitment and financial cost did not “warrant moving forward with expansion efforts,” though he encouraged the already-formed group to continue recruiting efforts themselves.

McDonald said that he encountered trouble reaching out to student groups, and that it was difficult to “get in front of faces that weren’t already affiliated.” He said this was a problem he hadn’t encountered before; while most schools “would be excited to have 30 percent” fraternity participation, MIT’s 50 percent participation is extremely high. However, soon after McDonald left, he received several emails from other students who expressed interest in Alpha Sig. McDonald then directed these students to Austin D. Fathman ’15, a member of the core interest group, and central point of contact for Alpha Sig interest at MIT. The interest group currently has about 10 people, and McDonald plans to return once there are 12 potential members to conduct a pledge ceremony and begin further development efforts.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity to set a new standard for fraternities,” said Fathman. “As a founding father, I can help shape what this fraternity will look like.”

The founding fathers group that McDonald is looking to build would be comprised of 12 to 25 people, and would lead the status of MIT Alpha Sig from that of an interest group, to a colony (a status awarded after certain steps like recruiting and electing officers), and finally a chapter. The entire process of going from interest group to chapter often takes about 8-10 months, and involves steps such as recruiting members, hosting a philanthropy event, and establishing a budget, said McDonald.

The group, which would be initiated into the fraternity this semester, would also have the responsibility of creating a campus reputation and local, “healthy” traditions.

“Fraternity experience exists now almost as a satire, and over the years, the derogatory term ‘frat’ has been well earned, I think,” said McDonald, “The founding fathers are pegged with the task of creating the reputation that hasn’t been created for them for years and years.” The fraternity would begin as a nonresidential fraternity at first, though McDonald is not deterred by that fact. Though he said that they may look into housing in the future, he emphasized that “people join people, they don’t join houses.”

Ensuring Success

McDonald said that the national headquarters has several plans to ensure the success of the colony as it turns into a chapter. The founders would be invited to a summer leadership conference, and would also work with a development team from headquarters in their first year or two as a colony and then a chapter. The team would help with internal development and aid with recruitment strategies. One tactic to differentiate Alpha Sig from MIT’s other 24 fraternities, said McDonald, is to have a “constant recruitment” throughout the semester, and to emphasize “one-on-one” interactions, as opposed to “wining and dining” potential members.

The group would begin developing the fraternity immediately and start recruiting in the fall of 2012 during MIT’s rush period. Only time will tell, though, if Alpha Sigma Phi will become a successful chapter at MIT, or lose momentum and disband like previous failed colonization attempts.