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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Zeta Beta Tau Back on Campus: New brothers look to start a new chapter in their history books

    It is said that when one door closes, another has the opportunity to open. The saying can be applied to fraternity chapters at Stony Brook University—more specifically, Zeta Beta Tau, the nation’s first Jewish fraternity.

    Due to financial reasons, the ZBT National Headquarters closed the Delta Psi chapter of ZBT in the summer of 2010. As a result, the active brothers on campus and those who had graduated at the end of the spring semester were no longer recognized by ZBT as brothers and were stripped of their letters.

    “The national organization felt that [the brothers] weren’t living up to the expectations and values of Zeta Beta Tau,” said Kimberly Stokely, the assistant director of fraternity and sorority life and a sister of Phi Sigma Sigma. “They wanted to reorganize, re-colonize. They decided they wanted to start fresh.”

    As it turns out, Chanan “Jewok, Esq.” Kent, a 27-year-old senior earth and space science major, met ZBT Executive Director Laurence Bolotin at the end of last October at a Jewish leaders conference that roughly 1,000 students attended. From there, the seed was planted. Kent took interest in ZBT and Bolotin’s desire to re-colonize the fraternity on the Stony Brook campus in accordance with its mission and beliefs.

    Over the course of the fall semester, Nationals made contact with Stokely and the university.  Kent worked closely with Stokely and Sam Freundlich, ZBT’s expansion and leadership consultant, to get the fraternity off the ground again. Freundlich taught the founding fathers different aspects of the fraternity such as recruitment, what it means to be in a fraternity, and why others should choose ZBT over other fraternities.

    Currently, a moratorium is in place on all new Greek organizations and will not be lifted until there is a higher percentage of Greek life on campus.

    According to Kent; only two percent of the campus is involved in Greek life. However, because ZBT was recognized by the university before the moratorium, the start of a new colony was allowed, which surprised Kent.

    “I was shocked that the school was so willing to let us start,” Kent said.

    On March 5, 2011, the 14 founding fathers of Beta Tau colony officially became recognized brothers of ZBT.

    “It’s a challenging process to establish a new fraternity, especially one that’s already existed while the old brothers are still like around,” said Drew “Bojangles” Davis, a founding father and the ZBT social chairman. “There’s that kind of intimidation factor, although that’s not really a main concern. It’s a struggle to get something started like this and help it expand and grow and really secure ourselves financially and make a point socially.”

    In the late 1980s, every Greek organization in the country worked to eliminate hazing throughout their organizations. ZBT, however, found that the problem was not solely in hazing but within the entire pledging process. As a result, ZBT became the first fraternity to abolish the pledging process entirely; three days after a student receives a bid to join the fraternity, he is inducted as an equal brother.

    “It’s not a two-tiered system of pledge and brother,” Kent said to a small group of interested students at the ZBT re-launch party on March 15.  “We have 100 percent brotherhood as soon as you are inducted into our fraternity.”

    To make up for the lack of the, at most, eight-week pledging process, prospective brothers must undergo an in-depth interview process in order to receive a bid. Active brothers ask for characteristics and past experiences indicative of what they are looking for in a new brother—a process many of the brothers have a positive outlook toward.

    “This way, there is no hatred between the different classes,” said Eytan “Fink” Kessler, a founding father and sophomore linguistics major. “I would treat a person like crap for a month or two and then after they’re fully initiated you’re like, ‘No hard feelings, right?’ That’s kind of stupid.”

    Like many of the other founding fathers, Kessler got involved in ZBT though word-of-mouth. Daniel “Private P., Esq.” Graber, the fraternity’s treasurer and a fifth-year political science major, told Kessler about the organization while leaving the North Star Jewish Center where the both of them work.

    Graber, who is a former USG member, said that other fraternities are not a comfortable social setting for him, and when Kent presented him with the opportunity to join a Jewish fraternity, it meant a lot to him as a member of the Jewish faith.

    “It means a lot to associate with people like myself,” Graber said. He also added that, unlike groups such as the Hillel on campus which is focused on the Jewish religion, ZBT is “socially based with a cultural lowest common denominator.”

    In fact, some of the founding fathers did not believe that they would ever actually join a fraternity.

    “I never pegged myself as a frat guy, but if I’m going to join a frat I’m going to do it among my own friends and if that’s the case, we’re going to do things our way,” said Alex “Jewbacca” Neufeld, the ZBT vice president and junior biochemistry major.

    However, the establishment of a new colony has not had a positive response from every member of the campus community. In fact, some former brothers have expressed some dissatisfaction toward the creation of a new colony.

    “I was kind of like, ‘Are you kidding me?’” said former brother John “Yeti” Darminio. “We’re all still here. It’s kind of like a slap in the face a little bit.”

    Davis, however, said that he understands Darminio’s feelings.

    “They were a very tight-knit group and there’s a lot of pride in those letters,” Davis said. “To see a whole new group of people wearing them—I’m sure it’s tough.”

    The closure of the old chapter came as no surprise to some of the former brothers who were aware of the chapter’s financial situation from the moment they received their letters. Despite efforts to raise the amount of money necessary to get out of debt, the brothers were not able to generate the funds.

    “We’re going to school,” Darminio said. “School’s what our priority is—every one of us here. We knew it was going to happen eventually. We go to a state school, we’re not the richest kids in the world.”

    The former brothers set up a payment plan with Nationals, but Darminio added that it had little effect. Each brother, regardless of the amount of debt accumulated, has to pay roughly $300 when joining the fraternity.  According to Stokely, those dues cover the costs of many of the organization’s services, including the national insurance policy, the staff at headquarters and publications distributed by the organization.

    “If we don’t have the money,” Darminio said. “What good is a payment plan?”

    The former brothers were contacted by headquarters and asked not to join the new colony or wear their letters anymore. To wear the letters as an expelled brother is considered copyright infringement, which could result in legal action.

    “I didn’t join for the letters,” Darminio said. “I joined for the people wearing them.”

    For the duration of ZBT’s colonization period and for some time during the early stages of being a chapter, national ZBT will closely watch and work with the brothers to ensure that they are upholding ZBT’s mission. Stokely doesn’t think this will be difficult for the brothers.

    “All the individuals that I’ve met from the group that are new brothers are very optimistic and very, for lack of a better word, gung-ho about the organization and making it not only what they want, but what national ZBT wants out of a chapter,” Stokely said.

    Neufeld said that ZBT is looking to raise the bar for all of Greek life on campus, and added that he hopes the reputation they will get is “Jews who know how to have fun.”

    “We want to support school life and student life on campus,” Kent said. “We want to foster better Greek life as well as Jewish life on campus.”

    The founding fathers have already started looking for ways to become a well-rounded organization. Davis, who is acting as the social chairman, has been working with other brothers on ways to become an active force on the campus through events such as rush events, social events for the brothers, paintball outings and the establishment of a ZBT cheering section at sporting events.

    They are also hoping to develop strong academics within the brotherhood. The brothers are working to compile all of the classes that they’ve taken so that if anyone needs any information about a class, they have somewhere to turn to.

    There is a common belief that brothers become close during the pledge process but the founding fathers have proven that a pledge process isn’t necessary to achieve that level of brotherhood.

    “It goes a lot farther than just being friends,” Davis said. “If I’m in a conflict and I need my friends’ help and if I call my friend at home at like two in the morning, they say, ‘Dude, it’s two in the morning, call me in the morning.’ I call a brother, he’s there for me, and I know it. He’ll be there for anything I need and I’ll be there whenever he needs.”

    Though Kent will be graduating in the spring, he has high hopes for the full-fledged colony that he helped to create.

    “I want ZBT to grow not just on this campus,” Kent said. “I want ZBT to not just be big here, but to catch fire and be big in all of New York state.”

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