Kenyon’s chapter of Phi Kappa Tau (Phi Tau) — the Zeta Kappa chapter — will disband at the end of this semester, bringing its approximately 10-year-long presence on campus to an end. Current members and Phi Tau alumni reached this decision after considering the difficulty the organization has had with recruiting new members, an issue it has faced since the pandemic.
The College currently has five active fraternities (including Phi Tau), four sororities and one co-educational service society. Phi Tau’s decision to disband follows a general trend on Kenyon’s campus succeeding the disbandment of Psi Upsilon in 2009, Delta Phi in 2020 and Phi Kappa Sigma in 2021. The disbandment comes after the organization was granted an extended recruitment period in February after it failed to recruit any new members during the official spring recruitment period. The organization had only six active members at the beginning of this semester and has struggled all year since it lost 10 graduating seniors in 2022.
According to Gibson Oakley ’16 and Peter Granville ’16, the founding members of the Zeta Kappa chapter, Phi Tau was first introduced to campus in 2013. Tristan Neviska ’13 was inspired to begin an interest group for the organization after he met members of the national fraternity while volunteering at Flying Horse Farms, a local camp for children with serious illnesses. After Neviska graduated, Oakley and Granville continued their efforts to establish the group’s presence on campus, and by 2014, had enough interested students that the national organization recognized the group in limited capacity. In 2015, the group had around 25-28 members and was offered a charter by the national organization.
Although the Zeta Kappa chapter has thrived in the past, Phi Tau President Cyrus Griffin ’25 said that it has been in a precarious position since the pandemic, during which it also received very little interest from potential recruits. Phi Tau’s steadily dwindling membership was the main reason why the current members and the board of governors (part of the organization’s governance structure made up of alumni) decided to disband. The chapter did manage to attract a few interested individuals during its recent extended recruitment period, and according to Griffin, the organization still hopes to hold an official initiation before the semester ends so that they can become a part of the national organization.
Although Phi Tau could have remained on campus, Griffin said that few of the current members or those on the board of governors anticipated that the challenges would become any easier to manage. “We wanted to end things while they were still good and go out with our heads held high, knowing that we’d done the most that we could, rather than trying to keep the thing on life support,” he said.
Oakley, who currently serves on the board of governors, testified to the difficulties of trying to lead and grow a small organization, and noted that the current members seem to have faced an additional challenge of what he believes to be a recent trend of declining interest in Greek life. “We’re in a period right now where I think everyone is questioning what the role of fraternity and sorority in Greek life are on a modern college campus,” he said.
Director of Student Engagement Caleb Young, who serves as the Greek Council advisor, reiterated this sentiment. “The chapters who have recently left Kenyon are a part of a national trend concerning Greek life at college campuses, which is that students have more varied interests than ever and as such we have more student organizations than ever before,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Greek organizations take a great deal of time and commitment from its members to ensure sustainability, and though oftentimes unfair, there is a social stigma surrounding Greek life and its traditions.”
Without Phi Tau physically present on the Hill, Oakley urged the Kenyon community to honor the values that inspired Neviska to begin efforts establishing the Zeta Kappa chapter on campus, and their influence on the organization and its members since. “He set out with the intention and understanding that a group of people united by a common purpose could have more impact not just on the campus community, but within the wider Gambier and Mount Vernon community, than any individual acting alone,” Oakley said. “If you look at our organization’s approximately 10-year history, you’ll see that that intention and goal has remained constant and has been achieved.”
Granville added that despite Phi Tau’s imminent absence, the Brothers will still be able to rely on one another. “The chapter no longer having [an] active presence on campus doesn’t change all of the bonds that we have as a community of now 80-plus members,” he said. Griffin concurred, and emphasized the role Phi Tau will continue to have in the lives of its members. “It would be a very different vision if the outcome were us ceasing to exist,” he said. “That is absolutely not the case. This community of people is here and will continue to be here.”
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Odd that the supposed "advisor" to Greek life on campus cites a vague "declining interest" rather than the specific anti-Greek actions the College has repeatedly taken (prohibiting formation of new local chapters in 2020, increasingly stringent requirements effectively embargoing all campus parties, targeted action against specific Greek organizations viewed as trouble, to name a few).
The college may soon face declining interest in Alumni giving as its decades-long question to destroy Greek life gets closer to the end game.
Reply to Nick '11