By James Pero
Purchase College has never been known for its Greek life; primarily because, unlike most other universities, it’s never had any.
But for the first time in the SUNY school’s history, a group of students is actively sowing the seeds of what they hope could be the college’s first-ever school recognized fraternity; Sigma Alpha Mu, otherwise known as “Sammies.”
Ari Vizzo, 19, a sophomore studio composition major at Purchase, as well as the currently unrecognized fraternity’s treasurer is—with his 14 fraternity brothers—intent on bringing Greek life to the school in an official capacity; even if most members of the student body don’t want them there.
“A lot of kids aren’t in support of us being here,” Vizzo said.
Since its inception, Purchase College has never been especially welcoming to fraternities and sororities. Founded in 1967 as a bastion for the visual, performing and liberal arts, its goal was to foster an environment in which all cultural identities could flourish.
According to Ernie Palmieri, vice president of student affairs at Purchase, neither fraternities nor sororities were a part of that vision.
“Since the inception of the college in the late 1960s, the founding administration at the time did not want fraternities or sororities to be part of Purchase College’s campus culture,” he said. “This in part was due to the problems experienced at other college campuses around the country with Greek organizations during this time period.”
Now, he said, keeping in tradition with the original founders of the school, Purchase College plans to continue the same policy.
“The following administrations since the college’s founding have maintained this policy to the present day,” he said in a prepared statement.
In addition to Purchase’s long tradition of eschewing fraternities and sororities, official school policy states that no group or organization can discriminate based on gender, religion, or any other variety of factors, making fraternities like Sigma Alpha Mu—which requires that its members identify as male—much more difficult to gain recognition at Purchase compared to other universities.
According to Vizzo, despite the obvious appeal to being recognized by the university—school funding and resources chief among them—he said he would like the non-discrimination provision of recognized organizations to stay.
“While [school recognition] would be amazing…I don’t want that discrimination policy to be changed,” he said, noting that changing such a rule could open the door for gender-based and other forms of discrimination.
Still, such obstacles haven’t stopped the group of 14 students from pushing forward to legitimize their fraternity’s colony at the school. According to Vizzo, the brothers hope that soon their fraternity will become chartered with Sigma Alpha Mu’s national organization.
“We’re a colony,” Vizzo explained, noting that such a distinction is the official first step towards a legitimate fraternity. “They let you run things as if you are a chapter until we prove we can handle things on our own.”
Since word of Sigma Alpha Mu’s presence on campus has spread, a significant portion of Purchase’s student body has rallied to prevent the fraternity’s foray into campus life. According to, Cassidy Hammond, a junior anthropology major at the college and president of FORTH, the school-sanctioned feminist club, the sentiments from students have been far from welcoming.
“There’s a large group of the population that says ‘No, we don’t want [a fraternity],’” Hammond said. “A lot of people come up to me and are like…‘I think it’s really dangerous.’”
According to Hammond, much of the student body’s concern has centered on the issue of safety, which critics of the fraternity say could be jeopardized by bringing an institution like Sigma Alpha Mu to the campus.
While rattling off disconcerting statistics about sexual assault, hazing, in addition to drug and alcohol abuse, Hammond explained that fraternities can bring a myriad of problems to campus life.
“I don’t think of them as inherently dangerous people,” said Hammond referring to the members of Sigma Alpha Mu. “I think the institution [of fraternities] is really dangerous.”
Though the unrecognized fraternity is still somewhat new to the campus, Hammond said that discussions between members of FORTH and Sigma Alpha Mu have already occasionally turned into full-blown confrontations.
During a meeting held by FORTH in which members were invited to discuss their sentiments about a fraternity coming to the college’s campus, Hammond said members of Sigma Alpha Mu made an unexpected appearance that turned contentious quickly.
“It got pretty intense,” she said, adding that the meeting digressed into an argument between about 10 fraternity members and 15 FORTH members after concerns over the fraternity were voiced.
Vizzo stated that similar confrontations have erupted when members of the fraternity were approached by students while playing music on campus.
Whether or not Sigma Alpha Mu will go on to become officially recognized is still very much in the air according to Vizzo, who cites the student body’s backlash and many administrative boundaries as major obstacles.
This, however, won’t stop him and his brothers from pushing forward with the idea.
“The end goal is not really official university recognition,” said Vizzo. “It would be more the student body wanting to work with us and join us.”