Delta Kappa Epsilon returns, chapter history chronicled

A 1940s FILE PHOTO OF THE BUILDING WHICH WAS, at the time, the chapter house for Delta Kappa Epsilon. It has since been converted into the Admissions Building.

For the entirety of October, the Psi Omega chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon, often known as DKE or Dekes for short, is undertaking a refounding initiative here at the Rensselaer.

The work to reform DKE is being done by members of its international organization in a joint effort with Psi Omega alumni. Among those involved is Sam Heffner ’56, the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Delta Kappa Epsilon International and former Chairman of the Board of Trustees for RPI. Heffner has led the alumni half of the effort, while Doug Lanpher, the Executive Director of Delta Kappa Epsilon International has led the specific organizing effort. Additionally, active Rensselaer trustee and alumnus of the Psi Omega chapter John Broadbent ’59 has played an integral part. Others have taken residence in Troy, including Kevin MacDonald, the chapter consultant for Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, who will be here for the entire month. Eric Holland, Alex Hurley, and David Howe, also chapter consultants for DKE International, will be rotating in and out of the area to assist MacDonald. These consultants will organize and form the refounding class of active brothers following the conclusion of October’s recruitment.

The recruitment process has comprised of flyers, social media outreach, informational sessions, and meetings with various campus organizations such as the RPI Interfraternity Council and the RPI Panhellenic Council. Additionally, the organizers have held multiple events in the style of standard fraternity rush such as a bowling night and watching an NFL game as a group. Students who attend these events and pursue a continued interest will then make up the refounding class. MacDonald said about this class, “As November begins, DKE International will work with the final group in building and sustaining a chapter of the fraternity in accordance with RPI policy as well as the policies of DKE International. The process typically runs throughout the majority of the fall semester and will ready the refounding class for spring recruitment and other tasks regarding the daily operation of the chapter.”

DKE has a long history at Rensselaer, and the current work to re-charter DKE is not the first. The Psi Omega Chapter was originally chartered in 1867, during RPI’s first large Greek Life expansion following the Civil War. DKE maintained a strong presence on campus for its first 80 years, growing along with RPI’s Greek system. Like all other fraternities in the nation, DKE experienced a dramatic downturn in membership during World War II; however, it was one of the houses at RPI to flourish following the war, returning to over 35 members by the fall of 1946. Also between 1946 and 1947, DKE received a new house. The previous chapter house had burned down several years prior to the war.

Following the war, RPI also saw a large increase in attendance, which lead to its overall expansion. This expansion included the Auxiliary Dormitory Plan. According to the plan, “The Institute offered to assume the mortgages and deeds of existing fraternity houses and construct new houses for fraternities who were able to raise forty percent of the total cost.” The first building to come from it was the new DKE chapter house on the corner of Sage Avenue and Eaton Road, finished by 1947. Also coming from this initiative was the current Pi Beta Phi, and former Delta Phi house on Sherry Road, the current Acacia and former Alpha Tau Omega house, and the Delta Tau Delta house.

Unfortunately, DKE did not maintain residence at their new house for relatively long. The Psi Omega chapter left the RPI campus during the 1965–1966 academic year under somewhat unclear circumstances. The current organizers of the recolonization process, state that, “… the chapter experienced a dwindling membership compounded with consequential financial issues that unfortunately resulted in the disbandment of the chapter.” However, other sources found mainly through research within The Polytechnic archives have told different stories. The first poignant story to arise in 1965 was a Judicial Board case against the chapter involving “illegal contact with a freshman” pertaining to a live-in week during the pledge process. The Judicial Board ruled against DKE; however, the decision was overturned by the IFC. Next, in the week prior to April 28, 1965, there were three fires classified as “suspicious” which were reported at that week’s IFC meeting and then investigated by the police.

Chapter average GPA may have also played a factor in the decline. The Spring 1964 DKE average was 2.057 the second lowest of all campus fraternities. The Fall 1964 average dropped even lower to a 1.957 the very lowest of all houses at the time. However, the grades did take an upward turn for DKE’s final full semester with an average at 2.444 nearly matching the all-fraternity average. However, the averages were never reported again. (Note these GPA are on a 3 point scale.)

The Polytechnic never reported on DKE’s exit from campus, with their next reference in history being the repurposing of the old chapter house into Institute offices. The building first became the new Student Affairs Center, and is the Admissions Building today.

DKE was never mentioned for the remainder of the decade or the entirety of the 1970s by our predecessors on The Polytechnic staff. Then, when the RPI Greek system experienced a period of extreme turmoil in the mid 1980s, the events that lead to DKE’s exit from campus two decades earlier became a consistently mentioned topic of reference to the current circumstances. The first in The Polytechnic came on September 26, 1984 in the Greek Column for that week by current IFC President Alexis White ’84. White wrote on the recent increase in drinking age from 18 to 19 and how fraternities must comply with the law. He ended his column with, “I would hate to see another DKE on this campus.”

The next reference came on October 8 of the same year. When addressing the recently implemented dry-rush policy, and the penalties for its violation, White once again referenced DKE. He reminded those at the meeting how they had, “… lost their charter as a result of repeated violations of alcohol policies.” Then in 1987, when Chi Phi was suspended from campus for two years following an alleged sexual assault at their chapter house, the current Chi Phi president wrote a letter to the editor on the issue where he referred to their suspension as, “… the most severe penalty issued to a fraternity since the Financial Aid Building was occupied by [DKE].” One final history point for the 80s, the current RPI chapter of Phi Gamma Delta considered DKE as their national organization when they were just a local colony before 1984.

Greek life at RPI changed course and took a positive trajectory going into the 1990s. With this came the first large scale attempt by DKE to return to campus in 1992. This reformation attempt was led by Director of Chapter Services for Delta Kappa Epsilon Doug Sarti at the time. Sarti explained the Psi Omega exit in 1966 occurred due to “bad years” citing such factors as damage to the house, complacent members, and general student unrest. This return attempt was facilitated by brothers of chapters at nearby universities such as Colgate, Hamilton, and Syracuse along with RPI chapter alumni from the 1940s and 50s. The process took place without an association with the IFC; however, a full spring rush period occurred. While this attempt was unfruitful of a colony, a second attempt in the early 2000s did result in several lettered members recognized by DKE International. However, the colony was not sustained.

The current reformation effort appears to have found success so far with MacDonald calling it a, “… unique one in that there is a degree of interest in DKE from the student body as well as tremendous support from student organizations as well as from the Institute.” Additionally, the current prospective members of DKE are already participating in Greek community events, specifically the ongoing Greek Week, in which they are competing on the Blue Team.

Current IFC President Tyler Gumina ’15 commented on DKE’s return, “I think that it’s great that they are coming back to campus. I believe that more chapters and a more diverse Greek community really is what makes RPI special.”

MacDonald also provided, “On behalf of Delta Kappa Epsilon International, we would like to express our excitement for the return of one of our oldest chapters to the Institute. We are very much looking forward to becoming a part of the Rensselaer community and contributing to the continued success of RPI Greek Life. We would also like to extend our gratitude to the Institute administration for working with us to make our return possible and to the student body for being so welcoming and accommodating to our fraternity.”

The organizers of Delta Kappa Epsilon’s return to RPI will be holding two additional information sessions in room 3202 of the Union, one on October 23, and the other on October 30, both from 7-8 pm. Contact MacDonald at kevin@dke.org.

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