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This Week in MIT History

On September 10, 1974 The Tech reported that the MIT chapter of Sigma Nu was forced to separate from its national organization. The decision, made by the Sigma Nu Grand Chapter, came after the fraternity allowed women to live in the house in 1970 and elected a woman as president of the living group in 1974. The national organization felt that the all-male fraternity could not exist in a co-ed house under the national’s policies. The Epsilon Theta chapter of Sigma Nu became what is now Epsilon Theta. Sigma Nu as it is known today was founded in April 1995.

The members of the new Epsilon Theta published an column explaining the change [“Sigma Nu to Epsilon Theta: Why?” September 10, 1974], an excerpt of which is reprinted below.

“In the past six months, the roles of women with respect to the chapter, and the chapter with respect to the national have been questioned by some members of the national fraternity. As a result of unfortunate publicity about the election of a woman as the president of the living group, the High Council (the executive body of the national fraternity) suspended the charter of the MIT chapter, the Epsilon Theta of Sigma Nu, pending clarification of these issues.

The publicity began with a public interest story in Tech Talk about the election of Carol McGuire ’75 as the commander of the living group. At Tech Talk’s suggestion, the article was released to the Associated Press, with the naive assumption that the distinctions between house and chapter would be preserved. Careless editing reduced the article to a captioned photograph stating that McGuire was commander of the chapter. This appeared in newspapers all over the country.

From the time that women were admitted into the living group in 1970, there have been two distinct groups: the chapter, Epsilon Theta of Sigma Nu, composed entirely of the male initiates of the fraternity, and the “house,” consisting of men and women, living and working together as equals. This group, although its identity is clear in the minds of its members, had no distinct name and was therefore confused with the chapter by outsiders. When the publicity of last spring brought it to their attention, the High Council felt the situation had evolved to the point where women were misrepresenting themselves as Sigma Nus. The Council felt that firm measures were in order to correct this misunderstanding.”