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Kappa Sigma is the first nationally affiliated house to establish itself at Pacific University

Photo Credit: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Sophomores Pablo Nieves-Valenzuela and juniors James Ramos and Ryan Beck are the force behind efforts to establish a Kappa Sigma chapter at Pacific University in Forest Grove. The national fraternitys flag is pinned to the wall inside the trios house on Highway 47.In the summer of 2013, James Ramos had an inspiration.

His best friend from high school had joined Kappa Sigma fraternity at Linfield College in McMinnville, and Ramos — who'd just finished his freshman year at Pacific University — was intrigued.

He wanted to meet new friends, widen his circle of influence and show that fraternities aren't simply clone-filled clans rife with John Belushi-style academic deadbeats and partiers.

He called fellow Boxer football player Ryan Beck and suggested they drum up interest in bringing a new kind of fraternity to Pacific — one that challenged those labels.

"He said, 'Dude, I'm down,'" recalled Ramos, a junior this fall at the Forest Grove school.

The pair found a "start a chapter" link on the Kappa Sigma website and moved quickly to organize what the national fraternal group calls a "colony" — the beginnings of a new chapter. With help from Ramos' Linfield connection and a mountain of moxie, the men planned several events aimed at recruiting "pledges," or members-in-training.

On April 13 at a hotel in Hillsboro, 36 men joined Pacific's Kappa Sigma house as pledges, and the school's first nationally-sanctioned fraternity — that is, one on track to be awarded a national charter — was born.

With 28 additional men joining its ranks in August, Kappa Sig is up to more than 60 pledges with a goal to reach 80 by 2015, Ramos said. Joe Lang, Pacific's director of media relations, lists current membership at 50, but in either case, it's the largest fraternity on campus by far.

The next-biggest is 10-year-old Pi Kappa Rho, a local chapter with a dozen members. Phi Lambda Omicron, a women's sorority, claims 20 members. All part of the "Greek" system at Pacific, they meet as part of an umbrella organization called a senate.

"Our Greek Senate requires all chapters to embody four values: friendship, scholarship, service and leadership," said Lang. "The chapters are left to determine how they best live those out."

People from other areas

For Beck, a junior from Arizona and an offensive linebacker for the Boxers, the chance to start a new fraternity at his school was an exciting opportunity.

"It felt like Pacific kind of had a lot of cliques," said Beck, who's majoring in exercise science and integrated physiology. "Football players hang out with football players, that kind of thing.

"We wanted to get people from other areas."

He and Ramos invited Pablo Nieves-Valenzuela — a Pacific sophomore involved in student leadership but unaffiliated with its sports teams — to check out Kappa Sigma.

"Pablo is an example of a cool guy you might not talk to if you just hung out with the football team," said Ramos, a Boxer cornerback studying sociology.

Nieves-Valenzuela, who hails from northern California, said the fraternity represented a chance to broaden his network.

"These guys have done a really good job getting guys from all over," said Nieves-Valenzuela, who's involved in Pacific's College Democrats and Hispanic Heritage groups. In addition to service and academic club affiliates, "we have baseball players, track athletes, swimmers and wrestlers — there's a lot of diversity."

Kappa Sigma has 318 chapters across the country, noted Ramos. Though the fledgling organization at Pacific doesn't have a brick-and-mortar chapter house — that takes millions of dollars and might not become a reality for a generation or two — the undergrads are happy to provide the building blocks.

"Giving back to the community is huge," said Ramos, who's serving as the colony's first president.

With five uncles on his mother's side of the family who are members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Beck admitted to feeling pressure to form an SAE chapter in Forest Grove. But Kappa Sig's motto, "Leading In Full Force," swayed him in a different direction.

"I like that we raise the most money for charity and perform the most community service hours" of any national fraternity, said Beck, the chapter's vice-president.

"Also, I really respect the four pillars (scholarship, leadership, service and fellowship) and what they stand for."

Kappa Sigma is a big supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit that offers a variety of programs and services to injured veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Before the colony can become an official chapter, its officers must raise $2,500 for the national organization, write acceptable bylaws, garner 60 pledges and perform 10 hours of community service.

Ramos, Beck and Nieves-Valenzuela are well on their way.

"We put on a volleyball tournament last spring and raised $270," said Ramos, a sum matched by Pacific President Lesley Hallick and the campus' food-service provider, Aramark.

Last Friday, Kappa Sigma participated in "Step In Her Shoes," a campus-wide event designed to combat domestic abuse and sexual assault.

The men look forward to the dedication later this fall of a bench and plaque memorializing Kiden Dilla and Ayan Osman, two Pacific students killed last April in a car accident near Forest Grove. The Kappa Sig house donated a portion of the $1,000 cost to help make the bench a reality. Other groups and individuals are also involved in the project, noted Lang, who said "logistics and details" were still being worked out.

"I was happy that most people in the school came to support the [volleyball] fundraiser," said Matt Walker, a sophomore from Texas and a Kappa Sig pledge.

Walker knew Dilla and Osman from classes — and by reputation as active members of Pacific's Black Student Union. "They were both very smart and quiet, but they did a lot for [Pacific]," he said.

No 'Animal House'

Academic achievement within the chapter — Kappa Sig requires a 2.7 or higher grade-point average for membership, the same as Pacific's minimum GPA for admission — will be a focus for Beck, who'll come up with ways for pledges to keep up with their studies.

Chapter meetings every Monday evening in Marsh Hall will include discussions about how to make the Kappa Sig experience a part of every man's journey toward a successful life.

"For me the house has been more of a support system, and not a distraction," said Nieves-Valenzuela, who eventually hopes to attend law school and help develop public policy. As the chapter's scribe, his focus is on establishing a healthy precedent on paper.

"I was pretty involved in writing our bylaws," he said.

Ramos and Beck would like to do away with the stereotype — parodied in the 1978 film "National Lampoon's Animal House" — that all fraternities operate as chaotic, hedonistic drunk-fests.

"There's that impression that all we do is party," said Ramos, "but it's not true. We're much more about community service and brotherhood."

Underage pledges caught drinking could be kicked out of the Kappa Sigs, added Ramos, who'd like to bring back campus dances that sparked controversy at Pacific last spring.

Reports of alcohol-related misbehavior and sexual misconduct at the "Bring It Back Dance" — formerly known as the "Boxer Ball" — last May prompted the school's Activities and Cultural Events Board to reconsider whether to hold the activities in 2014-15. For starters, any dances scheduled this year won't take place in the Stoller Center, but instead in the campus' multi-purpose room.

Ramos said the Kappa Sigmas might consider hosting a dance themselves — possibly in the two-story house on Highway 47 where he, Beck and Nieves-Valenzuela currently live — monitoring students' sobriety upon entry.

"Dances are super fun," Ramos said. "I think we can show the administration and other students that you can go out on the weekend and enjoy yourself without drinking."

University has long, varied 'literary society' history

Forest Grove’s Pacific University gained its first fraternity in 1863, when Gamma Sigma, a Greek-letter society, was granted a charter. Eight years later, in 1871, women on campus organized the Philomathean Society (now Phi Lambda Omicron).

Originally called “literary societies,” the school’s fraternities and sororities were listed in an 1870 catalog as “an approved method of supplementing the instruction of teachers.” Activities, all academic in nature, incoluded debates, public speaking and music.

Alpha Zeta came to Pacific in 1901, and Kappa Delta followed in 1904. In 1925, the Phi Alpha Tau society became Pacific’s first, and only, national honor fraternity.

In 1928, Gamma Sigma became the first fraternity to acquire its own house off-campus, with the Alpha Zetas following in 1932. Only one fraternity, Phi Beta Tau, has ever obtained a house with historic ties to Pacific — in the 1960s it purchased the former residence of Alanson Hinman on Hawthorne Street.

After waning interest during the Great Depression and World War II, by 1958 Pacific boasted a dozen fraternities and sororities, with the high point at 16 chapters in the early 1970s.

The number of active Greek-letter societies hovered between four and six in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s. Today there are 10 such organizations at Pacific.

— From “Splendid Audacity: The Story of Pacific University” by Gary Miranda and Rick Read

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