Back in the days of our youth and enthusiasm, Beta Sigma Gamma was a really great experience. We had lots of fun, debated many issuers into the night, and thought we were on the leading edge of a wave that would spread to all the colleges and make a significant contribution to the civil rights movement.
It didn’t work out that way and it’s a great disappointment to see the Strattfield segregation of college campuses today in housing, clubs and activities.
I described how it all got started and how I joined in blogs dated 3/6/13 and 6/12/13.
Here’s a little more to the story in seven vignettes of life at Beta Sig.
- After Getting Approval from the UCONN administration to take over one of the new housing units, we were able to gain acceptance from the other fraternities because we had a stockpile of musical groups that were available for parties. Our musician members, led by Donny Conn, helped to get entertainment for these parties. In addition, we had a number of members who were outstanding athletes so we shined in intramural basketball and track.
- Picketing the Barber Shop. There was one barber shop among a few stores on the south end of the campus. In our attempt to further our cause, we decided to picket the barber shop because they didn’t want to cut the hair of our black members. So we mounted a picket line and were immensely proud of ourselves for creating a stir and making a statement. We were brought back to earth when some of our black members said, “Why did you bother? They don’t know how to cut our hair. We’d rather go into Hartford to get a haircut.”
- The Great Debate. When I was president, about 1953, someone (don’t remember who) proposed we install a quota system to limit the number of members by religious or racial preferences. It was a contentious proposal and sparked a series of very heated debates. Some of the discourse got really hot and I was concerned it would tear things apart. Fortunately, when it came to a vote, the quota system idea was soundly defeated.
- Robert Wagner—yes, the famous actor and the young star of the movie Blue Moon—came to dinner with Robert Benchly. Wagner was our age so it was an exciting evening.
- Myron “Buzzy” Bazarian, one of our member’s who was a classical music student needed to make some extra cash so he would occasionally play in one of Donny’s musical groups. The only problem was he didn’t have his own bass. An elaborate scheme was hatched where Buzzy, with two helpers, would jimmy open a basement window at the music building so a bass could be borrowed for the evening. The bass was returned the next day exactly the same way. It was a successful caper, never to be exposed.
- Not To Be Outdone by all the other fraternities, we felt we had to have an induction ceremony for our new pledges. It was led by our prankster-in-chief, Donny Conn. The only difference was this became a comical satire of pledge induction ceremonies. Everyone was laughing so hard, we never saw anyone get inducted.
- In 1953, We Helped encourage and support the founding of a Delta Pi, a women’s sorority based on the same principles of equality as Beta Sig. We now had two successful living models on the UCONN campus.
Beta Sigma and Delta Pi closed their doors in the late sixties after almost two decades in existence. Explanations for their demise vary, but enrollments declined as the Viet Nam War and political unrest raged. It was a time when interest in Greek organizations on campus waned and Beta Sig and Delta Pi had no large national organization for support.
Some might ask, “Does It Matter”? Yes, the experiment worked. Every day we learn of another hateful act of violence or divisive language fueling clashing ideologies across America. Somehow the need for tolerance and understanding through personal engagement with those of differing views seems very relevant indeed. Although Beta Sig and Delta Pi no longer exist in brick and mortar, their spirit prevails. Bravo for the good guys.
Sad to report, the light of my good friend and founder of Beta Sig, Donny Conn, passed away recently, on September 2nd.