This story was updated in print and online 10/15/12, to include comment from several of the groups.
Thirteen student groups have applied for three 114th Street brownstones, including the Student Wellness Project, a new fraternity, and the three fraternities that used to occupy the buildings, a Student Affairs spokesperson told Spectator on Friday.
While all three fraternities are trying to get their former brownstones back, they’ll face tough competition from 10 additional groups, including four other Greek organizations. Among the applicants are Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a new fraternity that has formed a colony at Columbia; the fraternity Phi Gamma Delta, which has been waiting to get a brownstone since 2005, when the University reinstated its charter; the sorority Alpha Chi Omega, which has been looking for a brownstone since the 1990s; and the Asian-American interest fraternity Lambda Phi Epsilon.
These organizations will be up against several non-Greek groups, including the Student Wellness Project, an organization that formed last fall after a student suicide and has worked to improve mental health on campus. The other applicants are the Application Development Initiative, Music House, Q House, Writers House, and Manhattan House, a joint entry by several Native American groups.
Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger told Spectator earlier this month that the committee would favor groups that can impact student life across campus.
“Part of what they’re going to look for is, what’s the value added to their organization to have a residential space?” Shollenberger said. “What could they do with that space that they couldn’t do by meeting or reserving a room in Lerner?”
Student Wellness Project founder Wilfred Chan, CC ’13, said that a brownstone would help the group hold events, discussions about wellness, yoga classes, and potlucks.
“Stuff like that would be able to be hosted in an intimate housing-type setting, where you don’t have to get kicked out after one hour because someone else has space reserved,” Chan said. “That’s really the goal—to create a sort of home.”
“One of the particular challenges is it’s sometimes tough to find private, comfortable spaces where students can create an honest and supportive dialogue about wellness,” he added. “We have events that sometimes respond to tragedies on campus, or topics that may be sensitive or difficult, so that’s one of the rationales.”
Andrew Hitti, CC ’13 and president of the Application Development Initiative, said that while his group hasn’t had problems finding space, a brownstone could change the tenor and frequency of its programming.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to have consistency that allows people to be sure that they’re going to the right space,” Hitti said. “And we hold a lot of events at varying times, and having a committed space that we would be able to schedule ourselves would make things a lot easier.”
Native American Council co-chair Fantasia Painter, CC ’13, said that the Manhattan House would provide a home for Native Americans, noting in an email that “a college campus is not culturally conducive to many of our Nations way of life.”
“There has been a surge in the admitted Native Americans here at Columbia in recent years,” Painter said. “Because of that there is a critical need for a set space for that population; a space that will be culturally conducive to matriculation and retention.”
Representatives for the other groups could not be reached for comment by press time.
The Student Affairs spokesperson, Katherine Cutler, also said that Daniel O’Leary, SEAS ’14, had decided to resign from the Brownstone Review Committee. O’Leary is a founding member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
“I have decided to step down because an organization that I have been affiliated with has applied for a brownstone,” O’Leary said, according to Cutler. “I did not want my participation to cause any appearance of bias towards the decision making process or any question as to the integrity of the committee.”
Still, when it comes to the application process, the Greek organizations might have an edge. The Brownstone Review Committee is now made up of four administrators and six students—four of whom are members of Greek organizations.
Shollenberger said that administrators made a deliberate decision to include several members of the Greek community on the committee.
“We did purposely ask students who were part of Greek life because I wanted to honor that, historically, those brownstones have gone to Greek organizations,” Shollenberger said. “While at the same time, I wanted to make sure the applications were open to any special interest group.”
Painter, though, took issue with the committee’s composition.
“I wish the committee better reflected the undergraduate population as a whole,” she said in an email. “I think this lack of balance puts the Manhattan House, as a non-greek applicant, at a disadvantage.”
The committee will choose finalists and invite them to make presentations. It was originally expected to choose the three winners by Nov. 9, but Cutler said that it decided to extend its decision deadline to Nov. 30.
Emily Neil contributed reporting.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Phi Gamma Delta has been waiting for a brownstone for a decade. Spectator regrets the error.