While Wabash welcomes the Class of 2026 to campus at this year’s ringing-in ceremony, a handful of new students’ housing assignments remain in limbo. In the past, enough incoming freshmen had accepted bids or requested to be placed in fraternity housing when they first moved to campus. However, a declining interest in greek life has left a number of students to be placed in fraternity houses, despite requesting placement in a residential hall.
This is a familiar issue for the College following the pandemic. Last year, a number of freshmen were similarly placed in a type of living unit they did not originally request. Now, following the second consecutive year of running out of independent rooms, Wabash is left with a choice; double down and provide more support for fraternity recruitment, or make changes to the current housing structure to accommodate more independents.
This year, 50 percent of incoming freshmen have accepted bids by move in, compared to only 40 percent last year. Of the independent students placed in fraternity houses last year, all were able to move into residence halls within the first two weeks of school. Associate Dean of Students Marc Welch ‘99 is hopeful for a similar outcome with the Class of 2026. “While not ideal, under the big umbrella of Wabash brotherhood and community, it works,” said Welch. “Last year, by the end of New Student Orientation, we were able to have all independents in residence halls which allowed for all fraternities to house only their brothers.”
The current residential infrastructure leaves the College to rely on fraternities to house a majority of students, meaning independent living becomes more stretched as more students skip the fraternity experience. Wabash currently owns all ten of the fraternity houses on campus, a decision originally made in hopes of standardizing the amenities and cost of joining a house. Wabash pays membership dues for students, reimburses houses for travel to fraternity events, and provides each house a budget based on how many members they have.
Coupled with a wide variety of houses on campus, the hope is that these efforts allow any student to join a house of their choosing.“I always encourage students to consider a fraternity and to participate in rush,” said Welch. “Given that we have ten nationally recognized fraternities, each unique in its own way, most students can find a home away from home in a fraternity.”
From the independent perspective, more and more students are finding a sense of belonging outside of fraternity houses. Independent Men’s Association President Filippo DeFranza ‘23 has led IMA efforts in providing such a community. “We have many events, such as Monday night football, where we watch the game and eat Bdubs. We even have bowling where independents can get two free games at the local bowling alley,” said DeFranza. “We also tailgate every home football game and we have many events that aim to bring campus together, not just independents.”
Additionally, independent participation in campus traditions has continued to increase, with almost fifty independents earning their “W’s” at last year’s Chapel Sing and even more participating in painting the Senior Bench.
While historically independents have had opportunities to participate in these traditions, up until this past year they have rarely been well-represented.100 years ago, almost 80 percent of students were a part of fraternities at Wabash. Statistics show that students who join fraternities see higher retention rates and end up giving more money back to their institutions later in life.
But nationally, greek life has drawn increasing criticism and opposition. “At some schools, there has been a complete anti-fraternity/sorority movement based upon many high-profile issues within higher education and beyond,” said Welch. “Wabash is not immune to such issues. That said, we have worked hard and will continue to work in partnership with students, alumni, faculty/staff, to improve and reimagine fraternity membership in 2022 and beyond – especially as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and approach the College’s bicentennial in 2032.”
Being one of the few remaining all-male institutions in the nation, Wabash further separates itself by being one of the few schools to still allow incoming freshmen to accept bids. Most other institutions require their students to wait until the spring of their freshman year before rushing. This buffer period is designed to give students an opportunity to get a better sense of college life before making a decision to join a greek organization. However, because Wabash relies on fraternity housing for the majority of their rooming, the large majority of this year’s freshman class accepted their bids before even stepping foot on campus.
For many, this unique approach to fraternity life has been instrumental in their Wabash experiences. Inter Fraternal Council (IFC) President Mason Allen ‘23 thinks fraternities continue to contribute to the success of students, even outside their respective houses. “Along with the Wabash brotherhood, you gain a more personal support network of men who will become some of your best friends,” said Allen. “These guys will help you succeed in the classroom, develop as a man, and maybe end up at your wedding one day. Along with that, fraternities allow you to develop your teamwork and leadership skills, which transfer well into the working world as you apply for internships & full-time jobs.”
IFC has continued to push houses to improve their recruitment efforts. Utilizing Zoom and other virtual platforms, they hope rush chairs can connect with a wider range of incoming students and continue to forge the brotherhood they continue to support.For the Class of 2026, a number of freshmen remain in either Phi Kappa Psi, Kappa Sigma, or Theta Delta Chi, despite requesting an independent placement.
The hope is that, like last year, enough students will choose to join houses and enough beds will open up in independent dorms to accommodate every student who wants to be placed there. For the students left in limbo, they’ll have to wait and see.