Photo by Matthew Hembree
By Fleming Smith and Tess Steele
The sorority Phi Kappa Epsilon (PKE), originally chartered in 1980, recently lost their University Avenue location in the Chaplin’s House and will be relocated to Emory Hall this fall. Over the past few years, PKE accrued thousands of dollars in damages to their house due to both vandalism and daily use, with Physical Plant Services often withdrawing money from their budget to fix the damages. In light of these costs, a new theme house for the Interfaith organization will replace PKE in the Chaplin’s House.
PKE’s relocation has been a topic of discussion since the fall of 2015, when the house suffered $20,000 in damages after a renovation in summer 2014. “The last two years, we have done a lot better job by finding out the individual responsible and writing a report. The school considers us to have made improvements last year, but then we did worse this year,” commented Laura Katherine Crum (C’17), former president of PKE.
The sorority made several efforts to keep their house, including restricted keycard access, holding individuals responsible for damages, informing other Greek organizations of the severity of PKE’s housing crisis, and educating members on appropriate precautions to exercise while at the house.
Most Sewanee fraternities own their houses, meaning house damages are not required to be reported to the school. This allows fraternities to avoid many costly fines. Even when fraternities are fined, national fraternities enjoy greater financial backing from alumni that local Greek organizations like PKE lack.
In contrast, sorority houses are considered residence halls and therefore subject to the same rules as any dorm on campus. PKE is one of the largest Greek organization on campus, and while only home to 12 girls, the sorority welcomes hundreds of students every weekend. The exceptional traffic of the sorority resulted in destruction to the house from individuals across campus, with the responsibility for such damages falling exclusively on PKE.
“We did not have the opportunity to explain and try to justify some of the damages and incidents ourselves. The closest we opportunity we got was meetings with Residential Life, and then they had to relay our feelings on behalf of the sorority,” commented Crum. “We are grateful for Residential Life’s help, but the process was stressful. It felt unfair that we didn’t get a seat at the table when the final decision was being made…ultimately, it would’ve been nice for those deciding our fate to talk to us in person.”
Several members of PKE feel unfairly targeted because of their status as a sorority, believing that their presence on University Avenue played a crucial role in helping women feel safe while going out on “frat row,” since PKE was the only sorority on the street. “The school is going to see major backfire when moving such an important safe place somewhere irrelevant,” said Emmie Chambers (C’18).
“The fact that University Avenue is now going to be completely male dominated, which it already is enough, as we have seen with many of the damages to the house, is absurd, and not to mention dangerous,” Molly Mueller (C’18) commented, echoing Chambers’s concerns.
Interfaith, a group formed in 2013 to discuss issues facing the Sewanee community through religious dialogue across faith lines, will now have a theme house in PKE’s current location. Although not a religious organization, the group strives to include all faith and non-faith backgrounds.
“The Interfaith House was created so that students of diverse religious, spiritual, and secular views will live together in an coexisting community working towards community building activities around the topic of faith and inclusion,” explained Zahnib Kalsoom (C’20), Interfaith’s new president. “The Interfaith House on campus will allow students to explore their own beliefs as well as learn about others through interacting with the residents and participating in house sponsored events.”
The theme house will lay in an unusual location among “frat row,” since many theme houses currently reside on Georgia and Mississippi House Avenues. “I had no idea where they would be placing us, and it is somewhat of a big shift from being PKE’s infamous party house to an Interfaith House, but the residents and I are looking forward to bettering the community through inclusive, open discussion,” Kalsoom commented.
In contrast, PKE’s new location in Emory Hall removes the sorority from central campus and will likely have an effect on its ability to integrate its activities into campus life, such as with rushing, sisterhood events, and functions with other Greek organizations on campus. Residential Life hopes the new location will prevent destruction that largely resulted from the sorority’s central location in the Chaplin’s House.
“It is a shame that the University has decided to move us, because I believe our home is one of the most welcoming Greek residence halls on this campus, and a haven for many. We will continue to excel in the ways we have before, but there will be a void on University Avenue without PKE,” said Mary Margaret Murdock (C’19). “I don’t now know what the effects of this will be, and I can only hope they aren’t as dramatic as I feel they could be, but PKE will continue to be a group of smart, cute, and friendly women who will be waiting with open arms to accept any and all on Florida Avenue.”