No rush to live like Greeks in converted frat houses

By Danielle Fox / Staff Writer

There is no rush, initiation or hazing. The easiest way for a freshman to go Greek this term is to be assigned to a house — by the University.

While first-year students typically live in on-campus dormitories, such as Litchfield Towers and Sutherland Hall, about 60 first-year male students currently live in three of the University-owned fraternity buildings. At least one of the buildings became available after a fraternity violated its code of conduct and lost recognition by the University.

Each of the converted houses accommodates about 20 male students and one resident assistant. Like the other first-year dormitories, there are 24-hour security guards in the buildings.

There are eight University buildings located in upper campus that were designed to house the brothers of Pitt’s Greek organizations. Currently, six of the 19 chartered fraternities in the Interfraternity Council each lease one fraternity complex. 

During the past five years, the remaining fraternity buildings, including House 1 and House 9, were renovated to accommodate first-year students instead.

Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and two graduate dental fraternities previously inhabited the three properties. The two dental fraternities opted out or altered their leases with the University and left the buildings uninhabited. One was converted in 2007 and the other in 2009, which was the first year that students were housed in a fraternity building.

“I think every single one of us was not expecting to be placed in a fraternity house,” said James Kirwan, a freshman resident of House 1. “I think all of us were expecting to be placed in Towers, Sutherland — not the frat houses.”

Over the past decade, the total number of Pitt undergraduate and graduate students has slowly risen. According to University Fact Books, the population increased from 26,795 students in 2003 to 28,769 students in 2013.

Although Mark A. Nordenberg Hall opened this year, the University needed additional space to accommodate more than 3,500 incoming first-year students this fall. Nordenberg Hall, located on Fifth Avenue, provided 559 additional beds for first-year students. 

Some redecorating was done to the ex-fraternity complexes. The insignias and artwork on the interior walls of the buildings signifying Greek life had to be painted over. The houses were furnished with new furniture, carpeting and Panther Funds readers for the laundry facilities.

Students who live in the converted houses encounter a few inconveniences that students who live in traditional on-campus housing might not.

Joseph Fuoco, a freshman who lives in House 1, pointed to the large room formerly used to host fraternity social events.

“That room was sticky,” he said. “Just gross in general.”

Since the converted houses are connected to on-campus fraternity houses, freshman Joseph Javier can hear the music played at fraternity parties on the weekends reverberating through his dorm’s walls.

“Sometimes you like to jam to [the music], but sometimes you’re trying to study,” Javier, who lives in House 1, said.

The unconventional living scenario also comes with some perks. The converted houses feature common areas previously used by the fraternity, including a kitchen, functioning wet bar and expansive common room. 

The dorm rooms, which house two students, are also larger than the double rooms in Towers. 

House 1 also features a big-screen television, a foosball table and an ice cream cooler, which residents said was presumably left by the previous inhabitants.

Gathered around the television, Kirwin, Fuoco, Javier and other House 1 residents, Billy Donner, James Cotter, Andrew DePatie, Adam Ferg-Demopoulos, Derrick Kemp and Asa Walker agreed that the positives outweigh the negatives. 

First-year students younger than 24 years old who are not military veterans are guaranteed on-campus housing for their freshman year if they pay the required enrollment fee and housing deposit by the May 1 deadline. The students, already accepted by the University, are required to select their top three preferences for dormitories on their housing applications.

Pitt spokesman John Fedele said in an email that incoming students’ choices for housing are “only preferences.”

“With the guarantee, you are guaranteed a bed space, not an exact location,” he added.

Fraternity housing, including converted fraternity housing. was not one of the listed options.

When Kemp received his housing assignment at the end of the summer, he said he was surprised and apprehensive.

“I’m not going to lie. I was skeptical at first,” said Kemp. “But now, it’s awesome.”

The students’ parents had mixed views on the nontraditional housing assignment.

“My mom was not happy,” said Ferg-Demopoulos. “[My parents] thought that someone would be getting blackout drunk every day.”

Other parents were more than satisfied.

“My dad was pumped,” Fuoco said. “He seemed more excited than I was.”    

Fraternities at Pitt are not permitted to have official off-campus housing, according to the Fraternity and Sorority Policies and Procedures Manual. All official fraternity houses are owned by the University, which then leases the properties to the organizations.

The Zeta Beta Tau fraternity previously occupied House 1 until the end of last spring semester. After members of the fraternity violated Pitt’s Student Code of Conduct, Zeta Beta Tau’s lease on the property was not renewed, and the University retracted the fraternity’s charter.

In order to be recognized by the University and lease housing, Greek organizations are required to abide by a separate code of conduct, in addition to the University’s policies for every student’s behavior.

“Fraternities could violate their lease for numerous reasons, however, suspension of recognition can be a determining factor in a violation to a housing lease,” Fedele said in an an email.

The University would not comment beyond acknowledging that Zeta Beta Tau is currently not recognized as a fraternity by the University. 

Noah Diamondstein, former president, and Laurence Bolotin, executive director of the national chapter, did not reply to requests for comment. 

If Zeta Beta Tau becomes reinstated at Pitt and requests to resume living in its former residence, Fedele said the Department of Housing and the Division of Student affairs would create a bidding system for any fraternities who are looking to lease the property. 

Brant Orlowski, the sophomore resident assistant of House 1, said he enjoys living in the converted fraternity building because he is in charge of fewer students. 

The residents of House 1 fondly refer to the building as “Brant’s house” and collectively authored a haiku to summarize their feelings about their untraditional housing assignment:

“Well, here at Brant’s house / We were all afraid at first / But, now, things are great.”

Correction: A previous version of this article reported that five of the 19 social fraternities live in on-campus housing. Six of the social fraternities live in on-campus housing. The article reported that Houses 1, 3 and 9 were renovated to accommodate first-year students within the past five years. A social fraternity currently lives in House 3. The Pitt News regrets these errors.