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story.lead_photo.caption The Alpha Chi Omega House at 722 W. Maple St. is among four major sorority construction projects on the campus at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. - Photo by David Gottschalk

FAYETTEVILLE -- Two new sorority houses at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville further spotlight a growing community within the university.

The opening of houses for Alpha Chi Omega and Phi Mu -- adjacent to each other on West Maple Street -- come after the two organizations reopened UA chapters in 2012, according to information published by the university.

Other major sorority projects include the early stages of house construction for the Delta Gamma sorority, as well as a renovation and expansion of the Delta Delta Delta house. The Kappa Delta sorority has demolished its previous home and is building a new one.

Costs for the projects altogether top $50 million, according to information provided by UA and the organizations.

Last fall, 4,429 UA students were members in what are now 11 sorority chapter organizations at UA that follow Panhellenic Council recruitment rules. Orientation for new recruits was scheduled to begin Friday evening.

The membership total has increased by about 37 percent compared with 2012, when UA had 3,231 sorority members, according to data provided by UA.

New housing projects may involve UA-owned land but they rely on fundraising by the organizations.

"We're estimating that the project will cost $12.5 million," Darlene Reyes, executive director of the Phi Mu national organization, said in an email. "We held a capital campaign among members to raise money and the members of the house will also pay rent."

Reyes said planning for the Phi Mu house goes back at least five years, when Phi Mu re-established a chapter at UA after being off campus from 1993-2012. The organization first established a chapter at UA in 1923, according to information published by the university.

"One of the best parts about being in a sorority is the opportunity to live in a chapter house with your sisters," Reyes said. The Phi Mu chapter had 439 members in 2017-18, according to data provided by the university.

The new house is on UA-owned land, Reyes said, "a partnership that we have on many campuses." The 30,800-square-foot house with a brick-and-clapboard exterior has 84 beds, according to information from the university.

Also newly open is the Alpha Chi Omega house, described as having space for 64 sorority members and being 26,600 square feet, according to information published online by the organization.

"This project has been in the works for some time and has involved the Alpha Chi Omega National Housing Corporation (NHC), University personnel, local advisors and alumnae as well as involvement from the local chapter," Erin Witt, director of marketing and communications for the national Alpha Chi Omega organization, said in an email.

Witt did not respond to a question about the cost of the house, which she said is owned by the organization's housing corporation. According to UA, the privately funded, brick exterior house cost $10.2 million. The Alpha Chi Omega chapter in 2017-18 had 396 members, according to UA.

Renovation work continues at the Delta Delta Delta house, also on West Maple Street near the new houses. The national organization did not provide answers to questions about the project submitted Wednesday, but, according to UA, it is set to open in early to mid-September.

Projects costs are about $16 million for the privately funded project, which involves a major addition while keeping the original 1932 Tudor-revival portion of the home, according to the university. The 44,000-square-foot house will have 98 beds, according to UA.

The Delta Gamma house is in an early stage and being built on West Maple Street east of Arkansas Avenue.

According to UA, the privately funded, 80-bed, 31,000-square-foot structure will cost $12.49 million and is expected to open in the summer of 2019. The organization re-established a UA chapter in 2016, according to information published by the university. The national organization did not respond to questions submitted by email Wednesday.

The Kappa Delta sorority is also beginning construction on a new house after demolishing their previous home, a project which, unlike the others, is being built on privately owned land, according to the university and online property records. The house on West Maple Street east of the main campus is estimated to open in the summer of 2019, according to UA.

Data reported by UA for a survey of universities known as the Common Data Set show that in 2017-18, 38 percent, or nearly 4 out of 10, undergraduate women joined sororities. For fraternities, 21 percent, or about 2 out of 10 undergraduate men joined the organizations. Fraternities and sororities are commonly referred to as Greek organizations.

"Our Greek students, alumni, and staff has played a pivotal role in promoting high academic achievement, service, philanthropy, and have continued to bring national recognition to our campus for these efforts," UA spokesman Scott Flanagin said in an email, stating that "students have continued to express a high interest" in joining Greek organizations.

Mike Johnson, UA's associate vice chancellor for facilities, said in an email there was "a strong desire" to place new sororities in houses on Maple Street and "create a natural extension of the existing Sorority Row."

Other considerations involved ensuring the "alignment and scale" of buildings "were appropriate to the character of Maple Street" and also requiring public pedestrian access.

"The final selection of which sorority got which parcel was part of the negotiation of the Greek lease with Student Affairs and our legal counsel," Johnson said.

Compared with similar large public universities in nearby states, UA has greater sorority participation based on the Common Data Set survey for 2017-18. At the University of Oklahoma, 33 percent of undergraduate women joined sororities. The sorority total was 25 percent at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, 28 percent at the University of Kansas, and 28 percent at Louisiana State University.

Universities with higher rates of sorority participation include the University of Alabama, with a 44 percent sorority participation rate among undergraduate women.

Prospective sorority members downplayed the importance of the new houses but also described their appeal.

"All those houses are, like, ridiculously nice," said Demi March, 18, an incoming freshman from Conway who said she plans to take part in rush activities.

She said a major appeal of sororities is to meet people and make connections that can help later in life.

"There's a lot of fun that comes along with it, too," March said.

Audrey Jensen, 20, said she's a transfer student from an Illinois college looking to participate in the sorority rush process at UA.

"The house size or the house popularity doesn't play a huge factor in my decision-making," Jensen said. She said she's looking forward to meeting new people and also learning more about herself as she goes through the rush process.

"I think of it as a new adventure," Jensen said.

Incoming freshman Anna Snyder, 18, from Little Rock said she's interested in joining a sorority to "be able to represent something," adding that she's interested in taking part in philanthropic work done by the organizations.

Information about University of Arkansas sororities.

Metro on 08/12/2018

Print Headline: UA gets two new sorority houses; campus ‘Greek’ life is on upswing

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