Former Phi Delta Theta starts school year as W&L’s only local fraternity

Now known as Phi Zeta Delta, the fraternity disaffiliated from its national Greek organization in April


The imprint of the Phi Delta Theta letters can still be seen on the fraternity house. Photo by Tate Mikkelson, ’20.

Tate Mikkelsen

For many, being a part of a national Greek life organization offers a lifelong brother or sisterhood, networking opportunities or a resume booster.

However, on April 11, 2018, the Zeta chapter of Phi Delta Theta at Washington and Lee University was provisionally approved to become a local fraternity, effectively disaffiliating from their national Greek organization.

On Sept. 14, the local fraternity’s representatives met with the university’s Student Affairs Committee, outlining their new bylaws to be officially recognized as an organization of the school.

The students comprising the former chapter of Phi Delta Theta now refer to themselves at Phi Zeta Delta.

Phi Zeta Delta is the second Greek chapter at the university to localize, following the chapter of Kappa Delta, which disaffiliated from their national organization in the winter of 2017.

Kappa Delta’s chapter became known as Delta Society, and co-presidents Allie DiPietro, ‘19, and Emma Richardson, ‘19, said the organization has been treated equally to the five national sororities on campus.

“We saw a misalignment of our values with the direction nationals wanted us to go in,” DiPietro said. “As students, we prioritized our leadership and schoolwork on campus. [Kappa Delta] was demanding too much of our time.”

Richardson said she believes localizing is a pushback against the bureaucracy of the traditional Greek system, alleviating the stress of financial expenditures that go towards a national organization the chapter did not strongly identify with.

“There was no personal connection, and in our W&L environment we value self-governance,” Richardson said. “Students are starting to realize that if they are in an uncomfortable situation with an organization they can empower themselves to take action.”

Phi Zeta Delta President Trey Moore, ‘19, said he felt that there was a difference in Phi Delta Theta’s expectations and his own chapter’s beliefs.

In a letter to W&L’s Phi Delta Theta alumni, Moore wrote: “First, the national organization requires very high dues — some of the highest on the W&L campus — for very little in return […] By going local, we aim to retain the most positive aspects of our brotherhood, while making the fraternity more accessible to all men in the university community.”

The letter also said the new organization hopes to focus their new philanthropic efforts in the Lexington and Rockbridge community, rather than continuing to participate in Phi Delta Theta’s national charities of choice.

Moore’s letter also referred to Phi Delta Theta’s updated Risk Management Policy, which did not align with the risk management policy of Washington and Lee.

“Phi Delta Theta’s dry house rules force social events off-campus, where the possibility of drunk driving accidents significantly increases. We prefer to plan events in accordance with Washington and Lee’s policies, which would enable us to host more events in our chapter house,” the letter read.

Moore said there was an overwhelming amount of support from graduated alumni of the fraternity.

“A lot of people had the same experience and difficulties with nationals that we had. When we sent out the letter we got 75 or 80 positive e-mails back,” he said. “Our biggest concern in localizing was insurance, but now that we’re a student group the school covers it. Some of our dues have gone down, too.”

Phi Zeta Delta Treasurer Stephen McCaffery, ‘19, played a significant role in the fraternity’s localization last spring.

“The option had been discussed for the last five years,” McCaffery said. “Phi Delt just wasn’t the support system [it was] supposed to be.”

Since the university owns the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house, the students were able to keep their house, even after disaffiliating from the national letters.

“We get to keep our house, because we weren’t kicked off. We made this decision,” McCaffery said. “Our W&L Phi Delt network is still committed to this chapter, not the national brand. We didn’t lose anything.”

On June 13, Phi Delta Theta’s National Headquarters sent a letter to the former chapter at W&L, which said, “Please know that the chapter has lost its rights to identify as a related entity of Phi Delta Theta […] please be advised that you should not falsely identify yourself as a member in good standing of  Phi Delta Theta.”

In a September 13 press release, Phi Delta Theta said the chapter was suspended for violating risk management policies.

McCaffery said he thought the letter was a response to the chapter disaffiliating.

“They were trying to make an example of us so that other chapters won’t see how simple it is to localize,” he said. “The school’s official response to their letter was, ‘We don’t have a Phi Delt chapter here.’”

Corey Grant, the director of Greek Life at W&L, said he was not presented with any issues or challenges that needed to be addressed when the group went local, but he does not necessarily think the change will inspire other fraternities to also disaffiliate from their national organizations.

“I’ve brought up Phi Delt’s transition to go local and can honestly say that folks have not shared an interest in following suit,” he said.

While Delta Society and Phi Zeta Delta are happy with their decision to localize, not every Greek chapter on campus decided to pursue this option. Kappa Kappa Gamma, which considered going local previously, decided to maintain its ties with the national sorority.

President of W&L’s KKG chapter, Caroline Schraibman, ‘19, said the sorority has compromised with their nationals and alumni on areas where the girls were unhappy.

“We had a lot of disagreements in values. We’re number one to W&L and not to Kappa, but our alumni really wanted us to stay,” Schraibman said.

Schraibman said after a lot of discussion, the girls received benefits like getting their house redone and less national interference.

“All we wanted was for Kappa to back off, but we don’t know what the future holds,” said Schraibman. “W&L has their own checks and balances, so I support [Phi Zeta Delta’s] decision.”