When he first pledged into the Gamma Sigma fraternity as a freshman, senior Jon Riffey got an impression from the brotherhood that left him with no worries for the future.
“They were a bunch of cool guys who were rough around the edges,” said Riffey.
But within the last few years, the oldest fraternity West of the Mississippi has dwindled significantly in terms of membership and their image has not always been one welcomed by alumni and the campus community.
“I’ve definitely tried to change the image of Gamma,” said Riffey, now the chapter president. He explained that Gamma is still seen as the “party crew” on campus that associates with “women, drugs and fights.”
“You can only do so much,” he added.
Perhaps the biggest contributor to Gamma’s reputation was the loss of their house, which was the only Greek house for some time and the hub of many weekend parties.
“It was the foundation that Gamma seemed to be built on,” lamented Riffey. But according to the president, the loss of the Gamma home was due to improperly paid rent, back taxes over the years and overall lack of care for the property that eventually led to a “For Sale” sign being planted in the yard.
“We thought it wouldn’t sell but it did,” said Riffey.
But in the midst of loss, Gamma has found their following in terms of philanthropy.
The brotherhood is now getting involved with Habitat for Humanity because as Riffey explained, Gammas can relate to the population without a home because their own house was “the foundation that Gamma seemed to be built on.”
The loss of their habitat has left Gamma at a disconnect from students as well, according to Riffey.
“That’s how we met people,” said Riffey of the house’s atmosphere. “We’re having to completely redefine what we do.”
And within this redefining, Riffey has stepped up to bring guidance to an organization that he said is “not structured.”
Riffey expanded that alumni “didn’t build the fraternity in a way to pass it on.” He recalled his transition into presidency as being handed a bunch of papers and responsibilities with no explanation of their meaning or how he was meant to perform the duties.
“Traditions are not really handed down, either,” he added.
To change this process and make sure that his brothers are left in good hands after he graduates, Riffey plans to take sophomore Reed Feldman in as his equal during the spring. He will teach Feldman his responsibilities and make sure that he is properly trained on what is expected of a Gamma president.
Another constantly looming weakness that Riffey has seen is maintaining numbers. Although the chapter welcomed three new brothers this fall, Gamma still struggles in terms of the brothers’ other commitments.
“I hate to point a finger at sports,” said Riffey. “But that’s our weakness. Sports are a fraternities in themselves,” thus, leading two active members to change their status to social for the time being.
Despite all of the struggles with commitment, alumni input and the overall organization identity, Riffey said confidently, “we’re brothers. No doubt about it.”
Riffey also extended thanks to his sisters in the Theta Nu Alpha sorority. He said the girls have always had Gamma’s back and were girls that they “could rely on.”
Although maintaining relationships with the sister sorority are important, they are not as important, in Riffey’s eyes, as keeping in touch with the alumni of the brotherhood. And with the recent 150th anniversary taking place at Homecoming, Riffey was confident that there was opportunity to be seized in terms of relations between current and future Gamma alumni.
And yet, when asked about what the next step was to preserve the Gamma legacy, Riffey answered, “If you could tell me, that’d be awesome.” He hopes to find guys that are “cohesive with us but will stick around for more than a year.”