The History of Gamma Epsilon
The Gamma Epsilon Chapter of Sigma Chi has had a long and illustrious career, even as Sigma Chi chapters go. The beginnings of Gamma Epsilon are rooted around 1918. At that time, a group of men had formed and lived in a place called the Commons. Fraternities at Whitman in that day served the additional role of being the primary means for housing men; however, not all men were accepted into fraternities. The Commoners was formed by a group of men not selected by the current fraternities. The Commoners were almost an "anti-fraternity"; the emphasis was on an easy-going college life. The house did not go far. After all, even paying dues was optional. A group of men emerged from the ruins of the Commoners, and decided to form a fraternity of their own. They designed it to have the qualities they found lacking in the houses that were currently on campus. Keeping ever in mind the lessons they had learned from the Commoners, they formed Tau Delta Sigma.
Tau Delta Sigma petitioned the Sigma Chi Fraternity to become a Sigma Chi chapter. The process began in 1921 and took nearly two years to complete. Chester "Chet" Lesh, with the support of the first Grand Consul John S. McMillan, was instrumental in completing the work necessary to qualify Tau Delta Sigma as a Sigma Chi chapter. Finally, on October 13, 1923, Gamma Epsilon was formally installed as a chapter of Sigma Chi, with Brother McMillan as the installing officer. Waldo Carlson was elected the first Consul of Gamma Epsilon.
Through its time at Whitman College, Gamma Epsilon has swung between good years and bad years. Twelve Peterson Significant Chapter Awards were garnered, among other awards. In 1939 the original chapter house was torn down, and the old section of the current house was built. Twenty years later, an addition, the newer section of the house, was built.
In the late 60's, controversy on a national scale erupted within the Fraternity over the issue of racial prejudice. A stipulation within Sigma Chi in the past was that no man could become a Sigma Chi who was not, among other things, "a bona-fide white male." Whitman was among the many chapters that led the fight to remove this policy. Gamma Epsilon needed to go so far as to place its charter in the keeping of alumni, so that Sigma Chi nationals would not repossess it. A splinter group, Nu Sigma Chi, broke off from Gamma Epsilon, and made an unsuccessful go at forming their own fraternity. The racial clause was finally dropped in the face of this nationwide pressure.
Gamma Epsilon did not return to good favor with the national Fraternity, however. Around the years 1974-75 the Sigma Chi house became a major clearing house for drug trade in the Walla Walla area. During that time, a Washington State University Sig named Harlan Jones transferred to Whitman and affiliated with Gamma Epsilon. Harlan was elected Consul, and set about putting the house back on track, taking drastic measures. Members were expelled, some left, and the house membership dwindled to about six. House finances were a disaster (they did not even have enough money to heat the house in the dead of winter), and it was only the perseverance of the members of Gamma Epsilon in the mid to late 70's that allowed for this house to survive.
Since that time, Gamma Epsilon has led a relatively "normal" life. Active membership has varied from the 20's to the high 50's. Controversies have come and gone, house improvements have been made, and the attitudes and image of the house have fluctuated as well. In recent years Gamma Epsilon has faced the challenges of required liability insurance, alcohol policies-even going as far as being dry for a semester-differed rush, and fallout from the bad press fraternities in general have recently had to endure. Gamma Epsilon has, however, met these challenges and proven its excellence by gaining five Petersons in the past 15 years. We active member of Gamma Epsilon are hopeful and motivated to add more successes to the rich and varied history of this chapter.