“Love, Charity, and Esteem: Exploring the Heart of Greek Life with Tau Kappa Epsilon”

For as long as most can remember, the college fraternity lifestyle has been seen as a fusion of somewhat negative stereotypes. Irresponsible behavior, dangerous activities, and a general aversion towards those outside of Greek life have all been associated with fraternities from the moment that the movie Animal House exposed the world to what life within such organizations might be like in the 1970s. And yet, as I sat across from TKE Vice President Jonathan Foust in a humble upstairs study room filled with books, alumni portraits, and not much else, I found myself devoid of any such misconceptions. Foust himself didn’t strike me as the fraternal type, possessing a down-to-earth, all-business demeanor that implied a sense of duty unlike any portrayal of Greek life I’ve seen in most types of media. The Zeta-Beta chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon, according to its members, doesn’t fit any of the stereotypes that others are so quick to pin on Greek life. Foust himself made that much clear. 

“The stereotypical frat boy is generally a jerk to everyone who isn’t in his fraternity, and is cool with hazing,” he said when asked about the general perception of Greek life in mainstream society. “I will say that I have seen zero hazing coming from my fraternity, which is great because if there was I wouldn’t have joined. In general, the stereotype can apply, and it can’t. There are certainly people in Greek life that embody the stereotype well, and also those 

who don’t. It’s less about being in a fraternity, and more about the people that are in the fraternity you’re joining, so just keep your eye open.”

Tau Kappa Epsilon was founded on January 10, 1899, at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois. At the time, they were known as the Knights of Classic Lore. There were five members in the beginning: Charles Roy Atkinson, Clarence Arthur Mayer, James Carson McNutt, Joeseph Lorenzo Settles, and Owen Truitt. Originally, these five men pursued a charter with another fraternity known as Phi Delta Theta, which was no longer active on campus at that time; however, their petition was denied each time they tried. As a result, they formed their own organization, and changed their name to Tau Kappa Epsilon. They envisioned an organization that would value its members based on their personal worth, as opposed to wealth, rank, or honor. This was a groundbreaking principle for its time and remains at the core of Tau Kappa Epsilon’s values today.

Tau Kappa Epsilon’s Zeta-Beta chapter, founded here at the University of Evansville in 1957, has seen lots of changes over the years, much like the fraternity has on a national level. For a long period of time, it was known as the “football fraternity” on campus, as many of its members participated in the school’s football program. However, when UE cut its football program in the late 1990s, the fraternity began to see a decline in membership. In more recent years, as UE has cut several majors and programs, TKE Zeta-Beta has dwindled in size even more so, with just under 20 active members as of this writing. The “Tekes”, as they’re called, seem to be unfazed; they recognize strength in numbers, even small ones. 

“I think we’re going to keep existing and keep growing,” said House Manager James Rizer on TKE’s future. “But I hope it doesn’t get too huge, because at that point, it’s super saturated and it’s not really a brotherhood anymore. It would just be guys in a fraternity.”

This attitude seems to be shared by many Tekes, and it’s an interesting and yet wholly valid perspective. Looking at other, larger organizations on campus with big houses and high membership, it’s understandable that smaller organizations like TKE might get overlooked. But the Tekes, nestled humbly in a 1940s-era brick apartment building on Lincoln Avenue between a pizza restaurant and a church, seem to pride themselves in their smallness. A lesser head count can result in a closer bond between its members. No one feels left out, and the fraternity is stronger for it. 

“When I came into college, I knew three people in Evansville,” said Philanthropy Chair Sam Tarter on why he joined. “And so, I felt pretty isolated. Then, I met Raf, who was the president of TKE at the time, and he was super friendly and supportive of me. I was going through a rough time. And so, when I was introduced to the other Tekes and saw how friendly and supportive such a small fraternity could be, I was like, ‘man, these are my guys.’”

However, being a smaller organization isn’t always easy. Because there’s less hands to handle the responsibilities, the brothers of Tau Kappa Epsilon often have to take on more work on an individual level than most members of other organizations would. For example, positions that might ideally be managed by multiple people only have two people or even one person in charge of them at any given time, such as the Philanthropy Chair position. That position, according to Tarter, was recently split into two divisions, with Philanthropy and Community Service becoming their own positions. While it was not a planned change, it ultimately made the processes easier on both sides. Such decisions are often necessary to keep the division of labor fair and viable for each and every member of the fraternity. 

“There’s a lot less people to divide the responsibilities among us, so there’s almost no way you can get out of having at least one kind of major responsibility,” said Sergeant-At-Arms 

Collin Boyles on the subject. “Everyone here has to put in a lot of effort to help out and make sure the fraternity is running, and also to make sure that we can actually grow and recruit more members and things like that. It’s definitely a big challenge because I know a lot of people have to take on a lot more than they maybe could or would like to take on, just to make sure everything is working. So, having a small opportunity is nice, and it does feel a lot closer than a bigger organization even with those challenges.”

For those unfamiliar with Greek life, it may come as some surprise that Greek organizations are, in fact, a tight ship to run. In addition to philanthropy, Tau Kappa Epsilon also has committees for rush, athletics, finances, house, social, SGA (Student Government Association), and IFC (Interfraternity Council). Furthermore, there are also several official positions: president, vice president, chaplain, historian, secretary, treasurer, sergeant-at-arms, and educator. With so many spots to fill in a fraternity of under 20 members, it’s easy to understand why organizations such as Tau Kappa Epsilon quite literally require all hands on deck to function. 

Even when things are running smoothly, however, outside forces can sometimes rock the boat. Housing has been a huge issue for the fraternity in recent years. The fraternity’s previous house, for example, was much larger than its current residence and was in a more convenient location. However, the house was owned by the university and not Tau Kappa Epsilon. The fraternity was powerless when UE decided that it wanted to build a new residence hall right where the house stood despite being massively in debt, the necessity of which has been questioned not just by the fraternity, but the student body as a whole. As a result, the old house was torn down, and the fraternity was moved into another UE-owned apartment building that was in such bad condition that its basement cannot be used to this day, unless it’s for an 

emergency such as an incoming storm. Despite having this space that cannot be used, TKE still pays UE a rate that is comparable to what other fraternities pay, despite the residences of those organizations being much larger. With the smaller membership that TKE has, they’ve certainly had to be resilient in their continuance to thrive on campus.

“In recent years, we’ve definitely struggled with size and the amount of money we bring in versus the other chapters,” said Treasurer Allen Hungate on TKE’s recent challenges. “A lot of them have nicer things and nicer abilities, and have more knowledge and backlogs of alumni for support. We’ve lost track of a lot of contact, and so we’re heavily back in a rebuilding phase. Right now, we’re trying to reconnect with our alumni. There are still many brothers who we’re proud to call alumni who are willing to sit down with us, guide us, and just be a part of the chapter even when they’re no longer in college. Other than that, we’re still trying to reach out and continue to appeal to students that come into the university, just like everyone else.”

TKE Zeta-Beta isn’t blind to its struggles. But it should be noted that overcoming some of the hardships that they’ve already endured took a lot of grit and vigor. While incoming freshmen, if they’re interested in Greek life to begin with, might be more inclined to look towards the larger fraternity houses that flank Weinbach, Tau Kappa Epsilon shines by being an outlier. An alternative organization for those who might want an alternative experience. Where they lack in numbers and finances, they more than make up for in their three core values; Love, Charity, and Esteem. These values are exercised daily and extended towards everyone who enters the TKE house, Teke or not. Furthermore, Tau Kappa Epsilon acknowledges that different organizations are suitable for different people, and that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to Greek life. After all, the point of a brotherhood is to build up both the individual and the others around him, which can be accomplished in many different ways.

“If you don’t know which fraternity to join, look for some real people,” Vice President Foust said in closing. “If you go somewhere and your gut instinct tells you it’s fake, trust it. Take six months to truly get to know these people before you spend the next four years of your life with them.”

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