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ΣΦΕ (Sigma Phi Epsilon), commonly nicknamed SigEp or SPE, is a secret letter, social college fraternity for male college students in the United Statesmarker. It was founded on November 1, 1901, at Richmond College (now University of Richmond) and its national headquarters remains in Richmond, Virginiamarker. It was founded on three principles: Virtue, Diligence, and Brotherly Love. It is the largest social fraternity in the United States in terms of current undergraduate membership, the fourth largest in terms of total members initiated, and has the highest first year retention rate of 92%. [443544]

Founding History

Founder Carter Ashton Jenkens

Carter Ashton Jenkens, the son of a Baptist minister, was an 18-year-old divinity student when, in the fall of 1900, he transferred from Rutgers Collegemarker of New Jersey to Richmond Collegemarker, a Baptist institution in the Virginia capital.. In the year that Jenkens had spent at Rutgers, he had been initiated into the Chi Phi Fraternity. At Richmond, Jenkens was quickly drawn in to a close-knit group of friends which included Benjamin "Ben" Gaw, William "Billy" Wallace and Thomas "Thos" Wright. . By the fall of 1901, the four friends were meeting regularly in the third-floor room in Ryland Hall shared by Gaw and Wallace. They called their unofficial group the Saturday Night Club. Soon, two others were asked to join the group: William Carter and Billy Phillips.

The Origin

By early October, 1901, Jenkens had persuaded his friends to join him in trying to establish a chapter of Chi Phi at Richmond. The group of friends, which by mid-October had grown to twelve men, was composed largely of students who were spurned by the existing fraternities on campus for their high sense of morality (seven of the twelve were studying for the ordained ministry) and for their rural, middle-class backgrounds. Jenkens had convinced the others that their chapter could be different from the other fraternities on campus and assured them that Chi Phi's principles were in line with their own. The group's request for a charter, however, was met with refusal as the national fraternity felt that Richmond College was too small to host a Chi Phi chapter. Insulted though undaunted by the rejection, Jenkens and his friends knew that their bonds of friendship constituted something worth preserving, so they sought to perpetuate their values and their loyalties by founding their own fraternity.

Original Name and Meeting with the Faculty

After several secret meetings throughout October 1901, the new fraternity took shape and on November 1, 1901, the fraternity's first membership roster was publicly posted at the school, listing the twelve founders in this order: Carter Ashton Jenkens, Benjamin Donald Gaw, William Hugh Carter, William Andrew Wallace, Thomas Temple Wright, William Lazelle Phillips, Lucian Baum Cox, Richard Spurgeon Owens, Edgar Lee Allen, Robert Alfred McFarland, Franklin Webb Kerfoot and Thomas Vaden McCaul. After much discussion, the group settled on a secret motto and called their fraternity Sigma Phi. Soon thereafter, Jenkens, Gaw and Phillips met with a faculty committee to seek official recognition for their new fraternity. The faculty members were reluctant to recognize Sigma Phi for the following reasons: 1) there were already five fraternity chapters on the Richmond campus, drawing members from a base of less than 300 students, 2) more than half the new fraternity's members were seniors whose graduation would leave the group with only five members and, 3) another national fraternity already existed using the name Sigma Phi. The three founders responded to the faculty's points one by one: 1) although there were already fraternities at Richmond, this new fraternity would be different; it would be founded not upon false notions of social hierarchy and snobbery but, rather, upon biblical notions of God's love and the principle of peace through brotherhood, 2) new members would quickly be taken in from the undergraduate classes to increase the new fraternity's size and strength and, 3) the name of the fraternity was still under debate within the group, so since the name Sigma Phi was already taken by a national fraternity, the name would be changed. With these assurances from the founders, the faculty committee approved the new fraternity's request for official recognition. Shortly afterwards, the founders met and decided to rename the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon.

Badge and Colors Chosen by Founders

Under Jenkens' inspiration and leadership, the new fraternity was formed around a spiritual philosophy of brotherly love, a philosophy that Jenkens referred to as the "rock" of the fraternity. Specifically, the founder described these words of Jesus: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself" ( ) as "the greatest truth the world has ever known." The colors red and purple were chosen to represent the fraternity while the golden heart was chosen as the fraternity's symbol. Finally, the principles of Virtue, Diligence and Brotherly Love, known to members as "The Three Cardinal Principles", were woven by Jenkens into the very fabric of the new fraternity. Jenkens also designed the fraternity's distinctive badge. The badge of Sigma Phi Epsilon was designed as a golden heart surmounted by a black enameled heart-shaped shield. Upon the shield are inscribed, in gold, the Greek-letters of the fraternity, ΣΦΕ, and below these letters, a skull and crossbones. The meaning of these symbols is divluged during the initiation ritual and known to members only. The founders' badges, bordered by alternating garnets and rubies, were designed and ordered before the addition of "Epsilon" to the fraternity's name. Thus, they had only a "Sigma" and a "Phi" inscribed on the lobes of the heart, with the now-familiar skull and crossbones below. A last minute telegraph sent to the jeweler in Goldsboro, North Carolina requested that an "Epsilon" be added "somewhere" on the already-complete badges. The resourceful jeweler removed the bottom-most gemstones from the founders' badges and put, in their place, a black enameled "Epsilon." The badges of founders William Hugh Carter and Thomas Vaden McCaul, illustrating this unique piece of the fraternity's founding, are on display at the Sigma Phi Epsilon headquarters at Zollinger House.

Balanced Man Program

In 1991 Sigma Phi Epsilon implemented a four year, continuous development 'Balanced Man' program, which abolished pledging altogether, instituted year-round recruitment, encourages lifestyles based on the three cardinal principles, and includes a number of tasks geared towards creating diverse experiences that promote the ideals of "a sound mind and a sound body". First adopted at the New Hampshire Alpha chapter at Dartmouth College, the program has been adopted by approximately 81% of Sigma Phi Epsilon chapters. SigEp headquarters credits the Balanced Man Program as the driving force behind the continued growth and success of the fraternity. Some of these accomplishments include SigEp's 90% undergraduate retention rate, a major improvement in the national average SigEp GPA (3.04, Fall 2007), and SigEp's status as the nation's largest fraternity by undergraduate membership. Other fraternities have since chosen to adopt similar programs, such as Beta Theta Pi's "Men of Principle", Sigma Alpha Epsilon's "True Gentleman", Pi Kappa Alpha's "True Pike", and more recently Lambda Chi Alpha's "True Brother Initiative".

The Balanced Man Program consists of four challenges labeled Sigma, Phi, Epsilon, and Brother Mentor. Each challenge contains required tasks that progressively develop a member's self, chapter, and community. A new SigEp brother is welcomed with the introductory phase of the program, the Sigma Challenge, and must complete a program based on self-discovery, chapter activities, and community service. After completing the Sigma Challenge he enters the Phi Challenge, which is centered on building balance. Here, more advanced tasks await him that include becoming a member of other on-campus organizations and taking a leadership role in the chapter. The third challenge in the Balanced Man Program is the Epsilon Challenge, centered on being an effective campus and community leader; at this level the brother has a full understanding of the Fraternity, the brother is also expected to hold an executive or chairman position in both the Chapter, and at least one outside organization. The Brother Mentor level is an additional level introduced with the Balanced Man program. Brother Mentor signifies a brother's commitment to his chapter by completing all three levels of the Balanced Man and by going beyond and completing the challenges set forth by the Brother Mentor program. These include a very large community service requirement and tasks that better the chapter as a whole. All challenges in the Balanced Man program are self-paced. They can also be tailored to suit the chapter's and the individual brother's needs.

Chapters are accepted into the Balanced Man Program only after an overwhelming majority of the chapter votes to convert from pledging model to Balance Man Project Chapter. New Sigma Phi Epsilon chapters are started as Balanced Man Program Chapters. Once a chapter becomes a Balanced Man Program chapter they are not permitted to return to the pledging model of member development. The fraternity has a goal nationally that 90% of the undergraduate chapters will use the Balanced Man Program for member development by 2011.

Controversy of Balanced Man

Many of the remaining pledging model chapters openly protest the Balanced Man Program. Pledging model chapters claim that the Balanced Man Program members do not form the bonds that a pledging model chapter has. Pledging model chapters also contend that Balanced Man Program chapter members tend to know less about the history of the fraternity or its unwritten traditions and lore. The remaining pledging model chapters also claim that the Balanced Man Program has lessened the stance of SigEp among greek communities at many colleges and universities. They assert that the Balanced Man Program is focused more on increasing enrollment nationally than building a strong brotherhood that is concurrent with SigEp's founding principle of Brotherly Love. Finally, many pledging model chapters claim that the Balanced Man Program cheapens the process by not creating any obstacles to become a SigEp.

Controversially, Pledging model chapters are being actively converted to the Balanced Man Program through a process of charter revocation and reinstatement . Every new and re-chartered chapter must adhere to the Balanced Man Program. Currently over 75% of SigEp chapters use the program. As with any organization as large as this fraternity some chapters do a better job with their member development program than others. The statistics have shown that chapters using the Balanced Man Program have better grades. Risk Management violations from Balanced Man Program chapters are fewer than those from Pledging Model chapters.

All chapters are expected to offer a four year member development program regardless of whether they use the Balanced Man Program or pledge model development.

Additional modern programs

Sigma Phi Epsilon also promotes the Residential Learning Community (RLC) Program. Under this program, each fraternity adopts a resident scholar and a faculty fellow. The resident scholar is a graduate student (not necessarily a member of SigEp) who lives in the facility and advises the undergraduate chapter on operations, academics, and community involvement/philanthropy activities. The faculty fellow is a member of the college or university faculty who advises the undergraduate chapter, holds office hours in the house, and gives occasional lectures.

The Sigma Phi Epsilon Leadership Continuum is an award-winning series of distinct and progressive leadership opportunities aimed at teaching to and reinforcing SigEp values of a Brother from the day he joins to the day he graduates. Through self-discovery, analysis, and interaction, Brothers develop skills necessary to lead balanced lives and to continue leading the fraternity world. Consisting of EDGE, Carlson Leadership Academies, Ruck Leadership Institute, Grand Chapter Conclaves, and the Tragos Quest to Greece, the Leadership Continuum is a tailorable, structured continuous development plan for the college man.

EDGE New Member Camp

The fraternity offers its own innovative program for first-year members, EDGE. EDGE is about making healthy choices that match your personal values and those of Sigma Phi Epsilon. Participants build greater self-awareness about the consequences of their actions and those around them through interactive discussions and reflective activities. Participants have fun through challenging experiences as ropes courses, physical challenges, and activities based upon camaraderie. Participants choose the lifestyle they wish to lead and receive training on overcoming obstacles with regard to alcohol and drug abuse, personal wellness, and goal achievement. The program involves a highly regarded faculty of senior undergraduates, distinguished alumni, and renowned guest speakers.


Sigma Phi Epsilon is currently partnered with YouthAids [443545] as their officially sanctioned philanthropy. All SigEp chapters are encouraged to raise funds to donate to YouthAids through events and awareness programs. Also, following Hurricane Katrina, SigEp national headquarters encouraged individual chapters nationwide to donate to a relief fund. For every dollar donated by a chapter, Nationals, partnered with several businesses, donated to relief efforts. Together, the fraternity raised $16 million for the cause.

SigEp firsts

Sigma Phi Epsilon can claim many innovations and achievements in the world of national fraternities. SigEp was first
  • To charter a chapter in all 50 states.
  • To provide financial assistance to brothers for graduate school through the Resident Scholar program.
  • To establish a housing trust for all chapters and create a National Housing Corporation.
  • To eliminate racial requirements from the Greek Society.
  • To receive a grant from the federal Department of Education to enhance member development programs.
  • To establish a traveling staff to assist chapters in effective operations.
  • Fraternity whose Educational Foundation built an endowment greater than $15 million.
  • To partner with the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy[443546].
  • In the spring of 2005 Sigma Phi Epsilon also became the first national fraternity to have a national grade point average surpassing 3.0. Nationally, the fraternity has stated that it hopes to raise this to 3.15 by 2011.

Notable SigEps


Vanderbilt UniversitymarkerUniversity]]

Arts, entertainment, and media


Government and politics


Science and medicine




  1. Photoplay, 'I Saved My Brother's Life,' by Helen Martin, p. 94, February 1967.

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