Freshmen won’t be the only students calling the 17th Avenue residence hall home this fall.
Administrators have set aside up to a third of the 600 beds for fraternity and sorority members in an effort to encourage greek participation and alleviate housing issues, which have especially affected sororities.
If the program is successful and the University of Minnesota’s greek population continues to grow, the University could build more facilities to house greek students, said Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart.
The University decided to support fraternity and sorority life because of greek students’ high engagement, Rinehart said.
“They have so many positive attributes in terms of contributing to leadership in the University, doing well academically, doing well in terms of graduation rates,” he said. “Many of the alums from the greek system have become very strong supporters of the University both financially and otherwise.”
In March 2012, University President Eric Kaler formed the Greek Community Strategic Task Force to develop a “sustainable and robust relationship between the University and the greek community,” which made recommendations for more housing in the face of growing numbers.
Greek membership has been climbing steadily since 2004, said Matt Levine, program director for the Office for Fraternity and Sorority Life. Sororities in particular are facing problems with housing all their members.
“I’d rather not call it a crisis — let’s call it a challenge,” Levine said. “We’re very full. It’s a great problem to have.”
Many chapters have more participants than they have beds available in-house, he said, so the extra space at 1701 University Ave. would allow members to remain close by.
Abby Johnson, president of Delta Gamma, said more than 40 women were looking to live at the chapter house this fall, but there were only 34 beds available.
“We will be looking forward to having the opportunity over the next few years with being able to expand,” she said.
As more chapters try to come to the University, the need for housing becomes stronger, Levine said.
“That has been a common question from national groups: Can we acquire a facility, if so, where? And what does it look like?” he said.
The University has the lowest greek participation rate of all the Big Ten schools — 6 percent of the students at the University were enrolled in greek life in 2011, as opposed to 22 percent at the University of Illinois.
The task force outlined goals to grow membership to 9 percent of the undergraduate student body by 2018.
Matt Niezgoda, former president of Beta Theta Pi, which is right across the street from the 17th Avenue residence hall, said he hopes the convenient location of the hall will make the option of greek life more viable for new students.
“I view it as an opportunity because that means we have more exposure,” Niezgoda said. “So that becomes a tool not only for recruitment, but also [for] image improvement.”
The sorority and fraternity members who choose to live in the residence hall would be bound to the same housing contract as any other student living in the dorms and would be required to buy a meal plan, according to the Greek Community Strategic Task Force.
Leah Sample, president of Lambda Delta Phi, said her chapter is looking to reserve some beds in the new dorms because of overflow issues, but she’s concerned they’re too expensive.
“It’s pretty much going to be just as expensive as living in a regular dorm, and you have to purchase a meal plan,” she said. “A lot of our girls think living in our house is a lot cheaper.”
Rates for living in the 17th Avenue residence hall will be comparable to living in Middlebrook Hall, said Mannix Clark, associate director of University Housing and Residential Life.
Sample said Lambda Delta Phi’s house in St. Paul only has 17 beds, but there are 32 members in the chapter. Sample said the chapter will likely reserve five to 10 beds.
There will also be two chapter rooms or “incubator spaces” for use by greek students, especially for chapters that don’t have a permanent meeting space yet.
In addition to the 200 reserved beds, the Pillar House Living Learning Community will provide 40 spaces for first-year students who are interested in greek life or leadership opportunities on campus.
“There’s not a lot of people, especially not in the Big Ten colleges, that are doing a partnership with the greek community,” Clark said.
Rinehart doesn’t expect to have any issues filling the 600 vacancies in the dorm.
“We’re not worried about filling the beds,” he said. “We just want to make sure we’re maximizing the opportunity.”
Rinehart said if greek membership continues to grow, there’s a possibility for an all-greek University facility in the future. The difficulty to upkeep large chapter houses could also contribute to the model of larger all-greek housing.
“We need to do something with the current facilities so they’re in good shape and they’re safe and everything,” he said. “But for the future, the idea of building more chapter houses is probably not very viable.”
Greek Task Force administrators have asked fraternities and sororities to provide a list of names for the reserved spaces by April 1.