Reflections on the 150th Anniversary Celebration
Why Phi Society? Why not Phi Delta Theta? The answer lies in both the history and the heritage of our organization.
Over 500 people – alumni brothers, spouses, and active undergraduates, attended the 150th Anniversary Celebration of Virginia Beta in October 2023. Why did so many people travel to Charlottesville for the largest gathering ever of UVA Phis? Was it because of – Friendship? Duty? Honor? Respect? Humility? Truth? Devotion? Or perhaps even love?
These are all important and consequential words that describe the core values of what is now called Phi Society at the University of Virginia: the only independent fraternity recognized by the University of Virginia and run solely by its Alumni.
The very reason Phi Society exists is rooted in truth, honor, and devotion. Ideals that can also be characterized as fundamental Jeffersonian principles. It is appropriate that we celebrate them in Charlottesville, where Thomas Jefferson founded our University and continues to serve as the cornerstone of our community in his Academical Village.
In 1999, the Virginia Beta chapter of Phi Delta Theta at the University of Virginia was in turmoil. Our House had not only been suspended, but it had lost its Fraternal Organization Agreement with the University. And its Charter had been revoked by the National Organization of Phi Delta Theta. The organization we all cherished was on the verge of extinction.
During this same difficult period, the National Organization of Phi Delta Theta adopted a policy that no alcohol would be permitted on any Phi Delta Theta fraternity premises nationwide and insisted on each member nationwide signing a written pledge that they would never have or consume alcohol on fraternity premises – in our case, at One University Circle. This policy also applied to Alumni on premises. As a result, virtually all socials would need to be held off-premises (at hotels, conference centers and restaurants, often involving driving) and abandoning a core social purpose of the House. Our young men took the prospective imposition of this mandate very seriously. Our active brothers viewed it as a matter of honor – if they were going to sign a pledge, they must be unconditionally committed to abiding by it. So, one Sunday evening, in the Chapter Room at One University Circle, the undergraduate members, with the support of the Board of Trustees, took a vote rooted in truth and honor. They voted to leave the National – not to make an empty pledge.
You may have heard that the Phi Society’s separation from Phi Delta Theta National organization was about alcohol. It was not. It was about truth, honor, loyalty to an ideal, and devotion to each other and the brothers and alumni we know.
On the Friday evening of the 150th Anniversary Celebration, many Phi Alumni walked up to our house at One University Circle. The front yard was swarming with people – young and old, fathers, spouses, and sons – all talking and dancing as the Phi house band played. It was loud. It was vigorous. It was the model of vitality and active friendship – alive with energy – the way it should be. Honor intact.