A New Chapter

Words by Desiree Bergstrom

Photos by Hannah Neill

As he looked at his profile on the Tinder app, checking out his photos and making sure it looked right, UO freshman Devon Houston asked the group of his fraternity brothers sitting next to him for advice. The guys began to chime in, offering playful encouragement like, “You’re looking good!”

“They give me motivation,” Houston said, adding that some of the brothers wanted to know how the Tinder experience was different for him. Unlike many of them, Houston was swiping left and right on guys.

Houston says prior to being in a fraternity, “I figured Greek Life was just this culture that wasn’t going to be accepting and this crazy party culture where all everyone does is drink,” Houston said. “But it has really turned out to be totally different.” Houston never had any intention of rushing a fraternity when he started college, but has now found a place and a home in the Delta Tau Delta (DTD) chapter on campus.

Though Greek life has a reputation for being both notoriously rowdy and heteronormative by nature, according to DTD members, the fraternity isn’t concerned with maintaining a “frat-boy image.” Members say they’re more focused on inclusivity, academics and being themselves. Along with other fraternities in Eugene and nationally, they’re trying to offer a different type of environment for all brothers, but especially for members like Houston who are openly gay and want to enjoy fraternity life.

In recent years, many Greek organizations nationwide have made headlines by amending their policies to be more inclusive to the LGBT community, including Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity in 2015 and Chi Phi fraternity in 2016, who voted to accept transgender males.

On the University of Oregon campus, DTD isn’t the only fraternity attempting to be more inclusive. Delta Upsilon (DU) also values inclusion of gay and transgender men. Its former president, Dominic Black said, “We wanted, and still want, to be the fraternity that allows people to be who they are without pressuring them to become something they aren’t.”

Though not alone in inclusivity, DTD stands apart from its Greek counterparts with the portion of their constitution that explicitly states, “Delta Tau Delta International Fraternity does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. Delta Tau Delta is open to all men of superior character including transgender males.” The new policy, enacted in January of 2016, replaced language which read, “Eligibility for membership in the Fraternity shall be limited to men of superior character and shall not be affected or determined in any manner by inappropriate or illegal discrimination.”

Despite the explicit policy, UO DTD Chapter President Robert Le Parc said, “We’re not trying to be anything we’re not; we’re just a group of really close guys.” Le Parc also said, “The diversity comes as a byproduct of really, genuinely caring about each other.”

Though Le Parc downplays its alternative image, DTD stands out among fraternities at UO. Houston says house members throw around the joke that it’s “the least ‘frat’ frat on campus.” The group views itself as laid-back, but still maintains a common set of values among its members.

“A lot of people get caught up in the idea of being in a fraternity and the idea that you have to party all the time,” Le Parc said, “For us, that’s not a priority at all.” He went on to say that the house gets some flak for being “the nerd house” or “gay house,” but he said Delts don’t care: “If you don’t like us, you don’t like us.”

Of these labels, Le Parc said, “There are a lot of stereotypes about our house, and it’s weird because they are trying to be negative, and we’re like, no, that’s awesome.” He said that the fraternity wants people to keep spreading the word that DTD cares about grades and is accepting because those are some of the best qualities about the house.

Though some on campus may call the house names, according to Houston, in Oregon and specifically Eugene, people are much more accepting of differences, including sexual orientation. Along these lines, the individuality of DTD is what brought Houston to it in the first place. Houston said, “I feel like Delts are very open to meeting new people and being around people who are unlike them.”

 

Rushing Into Things

Rush events are held twice a year, during the fall and spring. Each holds their own events, which are designed to both give prospective members a chance to learn about a house and help its members decide if a hopeful brother will be a good fit.

Houston’s rush process began after prompting from a freshman dorm-mate, who was rushing that fall and convinced Houston to accompany him. Houston is originally from St. Louis and said it wouldn’t have been a good option for him to rush there, because he feels that Eugene is a more accepting space than his home city.

Since he had preconceptions about fraternity culture, it was a surprise when he found DTD. Rather than splitting his time between multiple houses, Houston almost exclusively attended its events. “I pretty much “suicide-rushed” DTD,” he said of his strategy.

For Houston, the people were what drew him there. At other fraternities during rush, he observed that members looked quite similar to each other, but not at DTD. Houston explained that even at first glance, each person in the house was different and its members acted differently too. It was as if the house went out of its way to welcome him.

Zach Lusby was the first person Houston met. During a barbecue, Lusby took the time to have a conversation with Houston about music, and the connection was instant. Lusby said that afterward, he told the chapter recruitment chair that Houston was the only person he had a genuine conversation with, which led to a formal bid.

Lusby and another friend of Houston’s, Kyle Heiner, are currently senior members of DTD. They say they had similar sentiments to Houston about participation in Greek life going into their freshman year: neither had thought about rushing a fraternity. That changed when they found DTD.

“I didn’t rush my fall term,” Heiner said. “I was still in the closet at the time.” Heiner said he wasn’t sure if DTD was a place that he could really become himself. However, later he met some Delts in his Clark Honors College classes. He became interested in the group, and in particular Zach Lusby, who was already out.

Lusby’s experience when joining DTD was quite different from that of Houston and Heiner. While visiting campus for freshman orientation, Lusby ended up at the DTD house. Following his visit, the house offered him a bid without having to rush. Lusby speculated that “no other house would have gone so far out of their way to recruit me like Delts did.”

‘Brotherhood Sustains Us’

Houston has found a broad sense of brotherhood in the house. “Not only do I have other brothers who are a part of the LGBT community, but also straight brothers who are very respectful of me and treat me just like any of their other brothers,” he said.

The DTD website lists the house’s values, which all chapters strive to live by. One in particular reads “Brotherhood Sustains Us.”

“People come to fraternities looking for brotherhood,” said Le Parc. “Ours is fostered through really genuine relationships.” He went on to say, “You find that across a lot of fraternities, but I always thought that we were a little different in that sense.”

According to Houston, he feels comfortable talking to everyone about anything. “Brotherhood in our house is very carefree,” Houston said.

Heiner said, “For me, ‘Brotherhood’ is less about best friends, and at the end of the day you might fight and completely disagree with each other…but you have a commonality shared between you and you respect one another.”

Delta Upsilon is the only non-secret fraternity on campus, meaning that anyone can attend their meetings and see the way they operate. Former President Dominic Black told the current chapter’s story and revealed that it’s the third installment of the fraternity on campus.

The first installment was kicked off campus in the late 1960s or early ‘70s according to Black, and the second was disbanded in 2009 because they didn’t have enough members. That being said, upon reforming in 2014 and becoming official in 2015, Black said, “We wanted to be an inclusive fraternity, so we wrote into our bylaws that we could initiate anyone who identified as a man.”

Black is considered a founding father of the current installment. For him, starting from the beginning has been one of the best decisions he ever made. “I’ve had the opportunity to help shape the foundation of our organization and build traditions with a group of young men who are all passionate about creating a positive fraternity experience,” Black said.

According to Black, the group of individuals who started DU back up in 2014 came from diverse backgrounds–whether racially, religiously or socio-economically. Black said, “We wanted to make sure that we extended that inclusivity into our future.”

Though the UO chapter was ahead of the curve, the fraternity didn’t adopt the policy on the international level until the summer of 2016. The official policy states, “Any individual of merit who identifies as a man is welcome to seek membership in the Fraternity.”

According to Black, the UO chapter accepted its first transgender member in the fall of 2017.

For Heiner, DTD has been a place for him to learn about himself and step out of his comfort zone. One experience in particular is a moment he holds close.

After studying abroad in Oxford the spring of his sophomore year, Heiner returned and spent summer in Eugene. Following the start of junior year, he was attending DTD chapter (a once-a-week mandatory meeting of the entire fraternity) when the room was opened up for announcements.

“I stood up and I didn’t really know what I was really saying; I was kind of blubbering at the time. But I kind of just said it,” Heiner said, describing the moment when he came out to his brothers. “Everyone, like, stood up and started cheering and came up and hugged me; commending me,” Heiner said, “It was such a fantastic moment.”