BY ROBYN GIANNINI
Answering an interview question about Psi Upsilon, UMW’s unofficial fraternity, freshman Kelly Whelan inquired, “What fraternity?”
Asked again, Whelan stated, “I…don’t think about the fraternity. I don’t go there, I don’t ever intend to go there.”
Psi Upsilon, a nationally recognized fraternity, has a charter at the University of Mary Washington, although its existence is not officially recognized by the College, due to a mandate in the constitution of the University that requires all clubs to be co-ed. In other words, Psi Upsilon would have to allow girls to join the fraternity in order to be recognized by the University, something that does not typically characterize the traditions of a fraternity.
Members of Psi Upsilon are discouraged with the negative sentiments and stereotypes that UMW students often attribute to the fraternity.
The brothers of Psi Upsilon would rather prefer to be recognized for their positive social and service-related contributions that the fraternity provides for the Mary Washington campus and greater Fredericksburg community.
Jim Platner, the current president of the Mary Washington chapter of Psi Upsilon, explained that Psi Upsilon is one of the oldest and most prestigious fraternities in the country, one of which President Howard Taft was actually a member.
“There is a general nationally negative connotation for a ‘frat,’” Platner said. “A frat is a very derogatory term. […] We like to enforce the positive connotations of a “fraternity.” We’re not, you know, a bunch of heathens.”
Platner emphasized that, first and foremost, the most important aspect of a fraternity is its sense of community and brotherhood.
“There are very few opportunities where 10 or 15 guys that are just coming to the school who would otherwise never meet can bond and become like family,” he said.
Platner, who attends various conferences across the U.S., where he meets with other Psi Upsilon fraternity members, explained that the “family” aspect of the fraternity extends to a national level.
“We’ve got an alumni directory with tens of thousands of names in it, and basically brothers can call alumni from a different schools who are involved in their professional career, or something they’re interested in doing, and they’ll hook them up with a job or an internship,” Platner said. “It’s really something special to walk into a room with 300 or 400 guys and have an instant connection with all of them, ad be able to talk with all of them about anything…it really is like a family.”
Will Talbot, secretary of Psi Upsilon, emphasized the importance of the fraternity not only in establishing lifelong friendships, but also for providing academic support.
“We have people taking every type of class, so there’s always someone to help you out,” Talbot said, who, as a biology major, often tutors younger fraternity brothers who are having trouble with their studies.
Talbot said he originally perceived a fraternity in a negative way.
“[Like a] very elite, exclusive social group, kind of stuck up to their own ideals, like, you know, the fraternity douche-bag,” he said. “But meeting the people here, I knew right away that I’d be missing an opportunity not to do this, not to get to know these people better, because you can tell that everyone who was in the fraternity was a family.”
Not only does Psi Upsilon give social and academic support for its members, Mary Washington’s underground fraternity is incredibly active with service activities on both the campus itself, as well as the surrounding Fredericksburg area. Psi Upsilon was awarded the “Clasped Hands Award” three times within the past five years for its community service contributions.
The fraternity is directly responsible for organizing the Red Ribbon Campaign and the White Flag Campaign, two organizations that provide assistance to victims of domestic abuse. In the greater Fredericksburg area, Psi Upsilon participates in service organizations that include Rappahannock River Cleanup, Habitat for Humanity, and the Jimmy Schmidt Foundation, a widely-regocnized organization promoting stem cell research.
“We do a lot of stuff, together,” said Daniel Kaufman, a Psi Upsilon brother. “And it’s more fun as a group…service sort of sucks, if you’re the only one out there, but if you’re out there with fifteen to twenty other guys that you know, it can be a lot of fun.”
UMW’s Psi Upsilon devotes an entire week to community service each November.
However Platner and the other members of Psi Upsilon are discouraged by the negative stereotypes that continue to follow the fraternity.
As would be expected, the majority of members are convinced that their fraternity is “different,” insisting that the negative stereotypes that might apply to other fraternities simply do not apply to their own. Specifically, Platner commented that one of the professors at UMW teaches a class involving a book entitled ‘Fraternity Gang Rape.”
“There have never been any instances of any form of sexual abuse or rape,” Platner said. “Never through us, and we would not tolerate that under any circumstance.”
Talbot was equally frustrated with the negativity that is continuingly associated with the fraternity.
“Basically the stereotype is a bunch of preppy guys who are just wild and whose entire life revolves around getting drunk and getting girls wasted and ‘roofie-ing’ girls and stuff like that, you know, but that is not by any means our organization,” he said. “I mean, granted, we do party, but that is not by any means our primary focus.”
When questioned on the primary focus of the fraternity, Talbot commented that the fraternity’s primary focus was to “socially help our school and community.”
Psi Upsilon brother John Russo, sophomore, also commented that the “partying” aspect of the fraternity is not at all the defining factor of the fraternity, but that it actually helped him to mature.
“I feel like I’ve matured a lot more,” Russo said. “Like, I came here with the mindset, ‘Oh, this is college, I’m going to wall out and party a lot,’ and then it’s like, I meet a group of guys who will party, but at the same time will buckle down and focus on school, because obviously that’s what we’re here for.”
All the members of Psi Upsilon emphasize that the fraternity is beneficial to not just them, but the entire Mary Washington community.
Kauffman sums up his sentiments by saying “Psi Upsilon has defined my college experience…when I think back to college, that’s what I’m going to think about.”