The comings and goings of fraternities on the quad

Lawrence’s three-sided quadrangle, or quad, has been a beloved fixture on campus for over 70 years, serving as both formal group housing and a favorite spring-time hangout for generations of Lawrentians. It also has a past that is often misunderstood and mythologized on campus: Rumors about why fraternities have buildings on the quad and why they have left have circulated for years. The truth is that both the building of the quad and its transformation over time are integral parts of Lawrence’s past, and this history reveals a lot about Lawrence’s unique community.

The quad, built in 1941, was the brainchild of President Henry Wriston, but was not completed until after he left for Brown University. At that time, nearly eighty percent of all upperclassmen were in fraternities, but the Greek houses were often blocks away from the university, and too small for their burgeoning memberships.

Dr. Wriston believed that if Greek life was to be a positive influence on the university as a whole, then it needed a closer location to interact with the campus community. An innovative proposal was agreed upon by the administration and fraternities. The five fraternities would donate their former houses to the university, many of which today are guest housing, administrative offices or other formal group housing near the Conservatory. In return, the university would build Greek-themed housing that placed all five fraternities on an equal level and in close proximity, and charge those students room and board at the same rate as the remainder of the student body. The original five fraternities to stand on the quad were Phi Delta Theta, Delta Tau Delta, Phi Kappa Tau, Beta Theta Pi and Sigma Phi Epsilon. One further fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta, arrived on campus in 1958 and had its own house built to match the others.

When fraternities failed to fill the houses, however, the administration also had to develop a plan to ensure the quad would be continually used. This happened almost immediately after the quad was finished, as the outbreak of World War II meant the vast majority of men on campus enlisted in the armed forces, and women moved into the brand-new quad buildings.

When involvement in fraternities began to decline during the 1960s and 70s, Lawrence again responded with a unique method of addressing the situation. Phi Gamma Delta left campus in the 1980s due to a lack of size, and their house now stands as Draheim, the all-women’s dorm. Beta, Phi Tau, Delt and Phi Delt have also left the quad at various points in time and for various lengths.

These groups moved off the quad solely due to lack of size, not due to any egregious offenses to the campus community. In their absence, these houses have either been general student housing or home to other formally structured groups, such as Lawrence’s Swing Dance and Gaming clubs, which currently occupy the quad. Though these groups are not Greek, they still use the quad as a gathering place of like-minded individuals.

Over seventy years after construction, the quad’s buildings are beginning to show their age. But even today, despite changes to the groups that may reside in them, the quad still carries out President Wriston’s original vision—to promote on-campus groups and develop the Lawrence community. In the future, Lawrence may need to replace the quad, but it would prove short-sighted if the university failed to continue providing formal groups, Greek and non-Greek alike, with a place to call their own.