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UMass fraternities no longer characterized with ‘Zoomass’ party image

Six years ago, some North Pleasant Street houses – known collectively as “Frat Row” – were demolished. The destruction took out more than just houses, effectively ending the fraternity party culture on campus, according to officials and students.

Courtesy Collegeexperience.net

Christopher Pronovost, captain of operations at the Amherst police department, said in an email interview that the Amherst frat scene “has changed dramatically over the last ten (sic) years or so,” and for the better. He said there are fewer fraternity houses now than in the “Frat Row” days.

Christopher Lehmann, president of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, said the tradition of “Zoomass” is at an end, and is proud to say that.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Lehmann said in an email. But he added, “Not having the label of ‘Zoomass’ does not suggest that people at the University of Massachusetts don’t enjoy a social life, it simply means we do it more responsibly.”

President of Alpha Delta Phi Anthony Broding shared similar sentiments in an email interview, saying, “UMass is definitely not the party school it used to be. … With the average GPA going up every year and UMass clearly heavily endorsing research with the new lab buildings being constructed, the face of UMass is changing.”

Both Lehmann and Broding said that the defining moment in changing the image of the school was the destruction of “Frat Row” on North Pleasant Street in 2006. Lehmann included that he was proud as a fraternity leader to no longer have that association connected to fraternities.

Broding didn’t deny that parties still take place on campus, but said that fraternities do their part to handle the social aspect of college responsibly.

The APD responded to two fraternities this semester: Sigma Phi Epsilon at 57 Olympia Dr. and Alpha Tau Gamma at 118 Sunset Ave., according to Pronovost. Sigma Phi Epsilon was issued a nuisance house violation.

“Fraternities actually do a much better job at holding socials than other establishments (such as) houses, apartments,” he said. “Whenever we have people over at our fraternity, whether it’s a registered exchange with a sorority or even just a few friends over, our brothers always have risk management in their mind.”

Pronovost said most the frequent violations for off-campus partying occur at rental residences on Phillips, Fearing and Main streets, Sunset Avenue, Hobart Lane as well as Townhouse Apartments, but that there are no “regulars” that subsequently violate the rules.

“Many of the problems do occur each semester at the same addresses which are always used as student rentals,” he said.

For a first violation, such as unlawful noise, “the officers can use discretion and issue a warning or a $300 fine, they also have the option to arrest,” Pronovost said. “It usually depends on the severity of the situation and the amount of cooperation given to officers. Second responses to the same address typically results in an arrest of the occupants.

Broding also said that while a person holding a house party is only bound to their lease, fraternities are bound to an international community that can punish them much further than a landlord would punish a misbehaving tenant.

Lehmann and Broding both said that the true focus of fraternities is to better the community as well as to build young men into successful figures for the future.

“Our fraternity is built upon improving men morally, socially and intellectually, and I think we do a pretty good job at it,” Broding said. “People think that we are a fraternity so we party a lot but that’s just not true.”

“The key is maintaining a responsible balance between ‘work’ and ‘play’,” Lehmann said.

According to Lehmann, Pi Kappa Alpha has accumulated close to 1,000 hours of community service this semester and has raised close $4,000 towards philanthropy. Their cumulative GPA is around 3.0, and nine brothers hold positions in the Student Government Association.

Broding added that Alpha Delta Phi raises money every spring for childhood cancer research and study hours are held for any brother who is struggling academically. He said that it is disappointing that these efforts rarely make headlines.

Lehmann said that though the school has done its part to better the image of the university, it is time for the students to step up and do their part.

“Although it may seem cool at the time, once we hit the real world of job hunting having that reputation will only diminish the value of our education,” he said.

“We don’t want to endorse the Zoomass image, instead we want to improve UMass,” Broding said.

Kristen Kardas, Interfraternity Council advisor, and she agrees with the two fraternity presidents.

“I wouldn’t quantify UMass as a party school,” she said. “I think definitely there’s a social scene here, and it is an active one. I just don’t really think of it as the quintessential ‘party school’.”

Kardas advises 15 different organizations on campus, and while she admitted that the organizations do have a social aspect, she said, “that is not what we’re all about.”

Kardas highlighted that fraternities and sororities across campus are always participating in community service, organizing relief drives, and raising awareness for various causes and money and goods for various charities. Many fraternities and sororities have a national philanthropic partner.

“They’re really working towards fighting the stereotype,” she said.

Seven of the 15 organizations that Kardas advises have official housing, which she admits makes blaming the fraternities for rampant partying very easy.

“But I don’t think that it’s a fraternity issue, I think that it’s a campus issue,” Kardas said. “It’s not just fraternities that are social, it’s all over the UMass campus.”

When planning an event, fraternities and sororities are required to register with the IFC so that proper planning and precautions can be taken.

“We’re not telling them don’t have social events, but just do it in a responsible way,” Kardas said.

Kardas mentioned that the University has been taking steps to try to fight the stereotype of “Zoomass,” and shift the campus culture, such as with UMass Night Out. She said that such efforts to keep students on campus and away from the party atmosphere are in their infancy and that they have yet to become traditions, but it’s progressing.

Kardas also said that not every fraternity and sorority is perfect, and that while some have reached the milestone of cleaning their image up, there are still a few more steps for everyone to take before all of the fraternities and sororities are there.

A step that Kardas has been pushing for is the elimination of the word “frat” from people’s vocabulary.

“One of my big pushes here has been we are not frats, we are fraternities,” she said. “Frat has that negative, ‘Animal House’ connotation. Fraternity is being about a values-based organization, and really exemplifying those ideals in character and why your organizations were created in the first place.”

Chelsie Field contributed to this report.

Patrick Hoff can be reached at pphoff@student.umass.edu.

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