On January 28, Phi Sigma Sigma Sorority announced that the Penn State Beta Eta Chapter will be moving off campus to downtown State College. The organization has leased a former fraternity house on Beaver Avenue for the next three years. Leaving their on-campus sorority floor behind, Phi Sig will become the first sorority in Penn State history to inhabit an off campus house.
Having made Greek life history at Penn State, students and faculty alike have been left to wonder how Phi Sig managed to break the mold — and why it took until 2019 to begin to see equality in the Greek community.
“I think it all began with the ‘brothel law,’” states Allie Kasper, a sophomore sister and executive board member of Phi Sigma Sigma.
The “brothel law” refers to the rumored historical prohibition of large groups of unrelated women from living with one another. However, what Kasper cities may be better coined as the “brothel myth.” Pennsylvania state history proves there was never a law put in place restricting female group cohabitation, and even State College borough records do not distinguish between fraternity and sorority houses in their zoning regulations. To put it simply — the law never existed, yet it was a commonly accepted fallacy in sorority life for the past century.
“The rumor overtook Greek life, and nobody questioned it,” explains Kasper. “It just became the tradition that fraternities live off campus and sororities live on.”
But all this will change beginning Fall 2019 once Phi Sig makes its historical move downtown. The perks of off campus living will be plentiful for the sisters of the chapter. Planning involving new decorating, study room installation, cleaning services, a private cook and opportunities to host meetings and philanthropic events have already begun within the sorority. But for Kasper, it isn’t all about luxury.
“Having a house makes a chapter so much closer,” she tells VALLEY. “A sorority floor does not provide the same opportunities to bond and unify as a fraternity house has allowed for its brothers.”
With members of Phi Sig looking forward to Saturday game day breakfasts and Sunday chapter-wide dinners, the push toward gender equity in the Greek community has begun. Phi Sigma Sigma’s transition downtown is pioneering the path toward off-campus living for all Penn State sorority sisters, many of whom will be watching to see if Phi Sigma Sigma is successful in its move.
“I personally hope that other sororities are going to make the move off campus, and I think it would be awesome for all Panhellenic women to have this opportunity,” says Kasper. “There are so many sororities watching us, and everyone is going to be waiting for us to make a mistake — it’s a lot of pressure! As long as the Greek community bands together and supports this, the future of Greek housing can be amazing for everyone.”
For a sorority to move off campus, the chapter needs support from both its national organization and the university itself. Although Kasper did not specify the extent to which Penn State encouraged this change, she indicates that the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life has been nothing but helpful and supportive. In fact, a sorority shift off campus may alleviate housing issues for the university, by opening up dorms in South Halls to non-Greek students.
Despite logistical concerns having been raised regarding next year’s sorority recruitment coordination, bussing for potential new members has been proposed to minimize the transportation time between the new Phi Sigma Sigma house and the on-campus sororities.
With a long history of the gender-driven housing structure, it will be a shock to see sorority letters in “frat land,” but Phi Sig hopes to see more ladies moving into the neighborhood in the coming years.
“We are the going to be the guinea pigs,” says Kasper. “We hope that other sororities move off campus, too. There had to be a first. One sorority had to make the move and we hope to make it something really great.”