Zeta Psi fraternity at 180 St George Street, one of the earliest fraternities at U of T. STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

Greek life at U of T has recently become the focus of attention in the campus community following an open letter penned by City Councillor Joe Cressy calling for fraternity and sorority houses to be properly regulated as multi-tenant houses. The coverage has since brought into question the Greek’s relationship to U of T. Here, we break it down.

In 1879, Zeta Psi, an established American fraternity, started the world’s first non-American chapter at U of T. Kappa Alpha Society opened a Toronto chapter in 1892, and Alpha Delta Phi in 1893. The first Canadian female ‘fraternity’ was Kappa Alpha Theta, organized in 1887. The first Black fraternity at U of T, Alpha Phi Alpha, was established in 1908 and had two members on record, although the fraternity closed its chapter two years later.

The relationship between U of T and these Greek letter organizations began early on, starting in 1899 when a residence in the west wing of University College was closed due to financial issues, prompting U of T to use fraternities for student housing. Loans, favourable interest rates, and long-term land leases were given to various chapters. In 1901, Kappa Alpha leased the land known today as Massey College for $1 a year in a long-term contract with the school. By 1927, U of T was host to a reported 42 chapters, compared to 23 at McGill University in the same year. In 1959, U of T expropriated several fraternity-occupied properties on lower St. George Street, leading to their relocation north to today’s Annex neighbourhood.

Currently, two societies govern Greek life at U of T: the National Panhellenic Council, which recognizes seven sororities, and the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC), which represents 10 fraternities. Among these fraternities is Delta Upsilon, which is self-identified as being uniquely “non-secret.”

The individual houses tend not to provide media outlets with comment because, as IFC President Sam Jenison explained, the IFC voted that no individual house is allowed to talk to the press.

The current relationship, or lack thereof, between U of T and Greek letter organizations is also elusive to non-members. In an account of the University of Toronto’s history, author Martin L. Friedland reveals that after 1960, when a Black female student was denied entry into a sorority, U of T formally dissociated itself from Greek organizations based on their exclusivity.

This dissociation continues today. The university’s Director of Media Relations Althea Blackburn-Evans said in a recent Varsity article that the university does not recognize fraternities or sororities as campus groups “because they’re not open to everybody who wishes to join.” In his conversation with The Varsity, Jenison confirmed U of T’s dissociation, writing, “We don’t work under ULife and we have no affiliation with U of T.”

Stay up to date. Sign up for our weekly newsletter, sent straight to your inbox:

* indicates required

Tags: , ,