Sunday, August 06, 2006

Who Really Owns the Sorority House?

Sorority house heads to court
By Elizabeth Neff
The Salt Lake Tribune

The Delta Delta Delta sorority has left the University of Utah, but a debate over what legacy its house will leave went to court this week.

The national Delta Delta Delta sorority filed suit in 3rd District Court on Thursday claiming its Theta Phi chapter, which had been on the U.'s campus since 1932 and has owned a house on Greek Row since 1939, has refused to hand over the house title.

Utah alums say they have good reason: They want proceeds from the sale of the house they built memories in to benefit the local community, rather than going into the national sorority's general operating fund.

The house is owned by a corporation created by the Theta Phi chapter. Corporation officer Colleen Malouf, who graduated from the U. as a Tri-Delt in 1958, said the house was constructed with funds from local alums and students.

A group of alums gathered last week to form a plan for the house, which she said could appraise for between $500,000 and $750,000.

"Anyone involved with the sorority can't benefit from the sale of the house," she said. "So we want to do something that will benefit the community and have a living legacy."

Malouf said that her group will elaborate on its hopes for the house when the time is right.

"We have had respect for Tri-Delta national for 25 years and been good supportive members," Malouf said. "It's really difficult, but it's the right thing to do. That is how our whole corporation board feels."

Two fraternities have expressed an interest in buying the home, according to Malouf: Pi Kappa Alpha and Kappa Sigma. The house has a large dining hall and kitchen, a chapter meeting room downstairs, smaller bedrooms and large bathroom facilities.

The Delta Delta Delta National Executive Board closed the U.'s chapter earlier this year, citing problems with recruitment and strained finances. The Tri-Delta sorority was the U.'s smallest, with just under 30 members.

Malouf has served as an advisor for the chapter over the years, meeting scores of young women. She still plays bridge with her sorority sisters and considers sorority life an enriching experience for young women.

Lexi Casalino graduated from the U. as a Delta Delta Delta member in 2002 and says she too hopes the sale of the home can benefit the community.

She remembers "a lot of the late nights hanging out doing our homework together, fooling around dancing and singing at midnight because we are so tired," she said. "I lived in the house all four years. I had the same roommate for two years and she is one of my best friends."

More than anything, Casalino said she learned leadership skills.

"I think if I didn't join a sorority I would have gone a completely different route from where I am today," she said. "I don't think I would be the same person."

Alpha Tau Omega President Ali Hasnain said his fraternity had at one time hoped to buy the Tri-Delt house, but is no longer planning to make a bid.

The departure of the sorority will be felt by all houses on campus, he said. Hasnain hopes another fraternity or sorority will purchase the property.

"It's sad to see anyone go because unlike an institution in the South, where there is a larger Greek community, it's small enough that these things significantly impact the entire system," he said.

The lawsuit has been assigned to Judge Anthony B. Quinn and does not seek monetary damages.

"We felt like we had to take some action to get things going," said attorney Leilani Marshall, who represents Delta Delta Delta. "We definitely hope that it's not an acrimonious or contentious situation."