Tau Delta Phi and minorities at Colby
Calvin Lee ’14
As World War I came to a close, the influx of immigrants as well as the return of the men and women who had chosen to set aside their educations and serve their country boosted enrollment numbers exponentially. The Jewish people, despite sthe financial and social hardships accompanied by immigrating to a foreign country, found themselves contributing significantly to that total sum. However, the growing population of qualified Jewish students pursuing higher education began to blur the lines that had once defined the social elite. In Going Greek, Marianne Sanua writes, “Merely being a college student was no longer automatically an indicator of high social status.” As college education became more accessible and enrollment numbers grew, the preservation of the WASP ideals within higher education became increasingly difficult.
During a time when many universities feared for the preservation of their traditional WASP identities, Colby encouraged any qualified student to apply regardless of their financial or religious background. However, despite Colby’s progressive admissions policies, the college was not immune to the discrimination and anti-semitic culture being cultivated in its Greek letter system. Because Colby’s existing fraternities refused to accept members from its minority student body, Julius Sussman (’19), along with six of his Jewish peers, informally organized Gamma Phi Epsilon during the fall of 1918. Sussman and his Jewish classmates longed to fill that void which fraternities had satisfied for so many of their peers and the faculty saw reason in their pursuit. Ernest Marriner recounted the reasoning behind the administration’s support of Gammi Phi Epsilon: “If Jewish boys could not be admitted to the existing chapters, they should be allowed to have one of their own.”
Though Colby’s Interfraternity Council initially did not approve, on November 21, 1932, after 13 long years, Gamma Phi Epsilon solidified a six to two vote in favor of their recognition, entitling them to all the rights and privileges enjoyed by the other eight national chapters at Colby. On February 11, 1933, Gamma Phi Epsilon officially announced its affiliation as a nationally recognized chapter of Tau Delta Phi with the approval of President Johnson, the administration, and the Interfraternity Council. Tau Delta Phi was chosen for its nondiscriminatory membership practices and its acceptance of all racial and religious backgrounds.
With the conclusion of World War II, the focus of segregation and discrimination seemed to shift away from religious affiliation to racial differences thus igniting the civil rights movement. At Colby, students responded to the shift in discrimination and was an influential presence during this period of social change, participating actively in the civil rights movement. In 1962, the Board of Trustees and President Strider approved the Nunez Proposal, stating that no fraternity, sorority, or student organization can select their members based on criteria pertaining to their race, religious identity, and national origins. The exclusivity and elitist ideologies that many of Colby’s fraternities perpetuated had been done so by membership, and through the leadership of Jacqueline Nunez (’61), it became increasing difficult for fraternities to maintain the high social class and status that fraternities had traditionally stood for.
Harold Kowal (’65) encountered the discriminatory membership policies of Colby’s fraternities in 1960. He recounted that, though there was a mutual interest, the Lambda Chi Omega chapter of Colby College could not accept him as a full member due to his Jewish identity. Tau Delta Phi, however, welcomed Harold with open arms. Harold eventually became chapter president.
Students at Colby during the 1960s and early ’70s, like Nunez, believed that their mandate was to, as Charlie Miller (‘69 and Tau Delta Phi member) simply puts it, “fix the world.” In March 1970, amidst the black campus movement that was swept through U.S. post-secondary institutions, 19 African American Colby students occupied Lorimer Chapel in protest. Frustrated by the enrollment policies of President Strider and his administration and emboldened by the rampant civil unrest, the students of Colby College felt it was time to be proactive in their desires to inflict change. Charles Terrell, one of the leaders of the Lorimer Chapel takeover, was an African American member of Tau Delta Phi. Because Tau Delta Phi’s nonsectarian ideology attracted such a large number of Colby’s minority students, it is no surprise that their members were not only active but took leadership roles during this movement on campus.
Tau Delta Phi, which was founded as a result of the social dissension and segregation dividing the student body, would become a driving source of social change and equality for minorities at Colby College.