SMU Zeta Tau Alpha sorority turns 100 but chapter remains silent

EDITOR’S NOTE on Oct. 28 at 3:33 p.m.: The Oct. 27 cover associated with this feature in print for the SMU Campus Weekly inaccurately depicts the Alpha Delta Pi house for the Zeta house. We apologize for the mistake.

EDITOR’S NOTE on Oct. 25 at 2:42 p.m.: Story has been updated throughout to protect the identity of sources at the sources’ request.

So many women from different sorority houses have lived at 3109 Daniel Ave. in recent years that it’s easy to forget this is the old Zeta Tau Alpha house. The SMU Zeta chapter turned 100 in 2015, but the chapter has been silent since 1993.

The red brick house with white columns hasn’t had many updates since then, and SMU students often wonder what became of the old sorority.

History

Zeta Tau Alpha’s Omega chapter was chartered in 1915 and became the third sorority to join SMU’s Panhellenic community. The Zetas played an active role in SMU’s vibrant campus community for decades.

ZTA 1950s house .jpeg
The Zeta Tau Alpha letters sit proudly above their newly built house in the 1950s. Photo credit: SMU Digital Collections

But in 1993, the culture of SMU Greek life was reorganization. New advisors were appointed to lead the Panhellenic and Interfraternity Councils and the Greek judicial system was established.

The Zeta Tau Alpha chapter officially closed in Dec. 1993 due to low membership and insufficient funds, according to an article published in the 1994 Rotunda yearbook.

Many Zeta sisters felt their low recruitment numbers were a consequence of a poorly disciplined Greek system at SMU. In the Zeta’s 1994 Rotunda farewell article, Zeta pledge trainer Joy Lockwood blamed the sorority’s decline on an arbitrary and unfair discipline system.

“The closing of the Zeta house shows that SMU needs to fix its Greek system,” Lockwood said. “Zetas keep the rules but other houses don’t. Panhellenic should [punish] those who break the rules.”

The House

While the Zeta Tau Alpha letters were stripped from sorority row back in 1993, the home located at 3109 Daniel Ave. remained in the Zeta name. The 99-year land agreement in place stated that Zeta Tau Alpha would continue ownership of the house, and SMU would maintain ownership of the property.

A group of local Zeta alumnae act as the housing corporation for the residence. To help cover costs of upkeep, the corporation leases out the house to affiliated sorority women or entire sororities seeking temporary lodging.

Over the years, active Panhellenic chapters have temporarily moved into the Zeta house while their respective houses underwent rebuilding.

campus map.png
Campus map labels Zeta house as “Panhellenic House #1” Photo credit: Southern Methodist University

While six of the eight active sorority chapter houses on campus have built new homes in the last decade, the house belonging to Zeta Tau Alpha appears to be in decline.

Peeled paint and dead bushes frame the front door of the Georgian-style house built in the 1950s although it maintains its imposing façade.

This year, the Zeta house is open for lease to Panhellenic students whose own sorority houses hit capacity. So far they haven’t had any takers, making the house director, an SMU law student who requested anonymity, in charge.

The house director, a recent graduate from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, heard about the position at a Zeta Tau Alpha convention last year. As the former president of her Zeta chapter, she was excited to fill the opening as a way to live on campus while attending the Dedman Law School.

Being the Zeta house director has its challenges. After living in the house for more than a month, she said she still hadn’t figured out how to use the cable, Wi-Fi or even the stove.

As the owners and operators of the house, the local Zeta house corporation used to be responsible for any repairs and troubleshooting things like Wi-Fi, until recently when they decided to contract out to a property management company. The Dallas Zeta House Corporation president Stacy La Rue Gannon said the house director works with the management company to remedy the continued maintenance that any house requires.

Sorority row has come a long way since the Zetas left nearly 25 years ago, but inside the Zeta house, it’s as if time has stood still. The rooms are decorated with the furniture left behind by the departed chapter, and the house has only undergone mandated renovations such as updating the security and alarm systems.

livingroomzeta.jpg
Inside the old ZTA house Photo credit: Jacqueline Francis

One SMU sorority member, who wishes to remain anonymous, is still haunted by the living conditions she and her fellow sororities sisters endured while living in the Zeta house while their chapter house underwent construction.

“I had bronchitis three times that year and I’m certain it was from the mold growing all over my ceiling,” said the senior, who is a major in the Meadows School of the Arts.

Only her room had a mold problem she said, but other girls shared their rooms with bees.

“We had to evacuate the house multiple times throughout the year,” she said. “Once for an exterminator to come deal with the bee infestation and a few other times due to a gas leak in the kitchen.”

Gannon admits to the weathered condition of the house, saying it’s in need of a new roof and that repair is next on their list. However, she added that the corporation has no plans to renovate or rebuild the home for Panhellenic purposes.

“It’s older, it really needs to be redone,” Gannon said. “But we’ll wait on that until hopefully the chapter is back.”

If Zeta Tau Alpha were to return to active status, the house corporation would transfer their funds to Zeta’s national housing corporation, which would then take over the house.

Will Zeta Return?

When the Zeta chapter closed in 1993, both SMU and Zeta were optimistic about its eventual return at a time that was right for both parties.

SMU and Zeta first considered reviving the chapter in the late ‘90s. In 1998, the university investigated five fraternities accused of hazing, reported the 1998 Rotunda. On the Panhellenic side, Alpha Delta Pi also closed after 83 years at SMU.

“The ‘90s were not a good time for sororities,” Gannon said. “So we continued to hold off.”

About a decade passed until the idea of reopening Zeta was revisited. This time Zeta Tau Alpha was ready to return, but the timing wasn’t right for SMU.

For Zeta to return to active status, SMU would need to sanction the expansion of the Panhellenic community. At that point, Zeta would have to compete with any other interested National Panhellenic Conference sororities for the vacancy.

SMU Panhellenic opened an exploratory committee in 2015 to research the possibility of adding an additional chapter to the council, said assistant director of student activities, Ashley Fitzpatrick. The committee was made up of Greek students and Panhellenic advisors, who looked at statistics from past recruitment processes, the health of the current sorority community and the interest from unaffiliated women on campus.

Two-thirds approval from the council is required for the expansion process to continue.

“In Spring 2015 the council held a vote which did not pass,” Fitzpatrick said.

Until this topic comes up again for a vote, Zeta Tau Alpha holds its silent status, and only the sorority’s alumnae events can take place at the house.

If students in the Panhellenic community are interested in living in the Zeta house, they can contact the house corporation president at StacyLGannon@live.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *