“A Church collegiate fraternity? I thought there was no such thing.” That was Steve Floyd’s response when a friend in his ward mentioned Sigma Gamma Chi. The friend, who was then serving as vice-president of the fraternity, invited Steve to attend one of the activities. After attending, Steve decided to join. He is now serving as president of the chapter at Boise State University.
“I always thought belonging to a fraternity would be fun, although I knew that, traditionally, some of them had a reputation for being pretty wild, and I just didn’t want that,” Steve says. “I didn’t know that there was anything else.”
Many members of the Church don’t. But Sigma Gamma Chi and its companion organization for young women, Lambda Delta Sigma, offer an alternative to traditional college fraternities and sororities. Under the direction of the Melchizedek Priesthood Department and the Relief Society, Sigma Gamma Chi and Lambda Delta Sigma are part of the approved Church program for LDS students. Founded on LDS ideals and standards, the organizations strengthen students and allow them to have an influence in student affairs, render campus and community service, enjoy wholesome social activities, and build lasting bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood.
Lambda Delta Sigma is not new. Founded in 1936, it served for a number of years as a Latter-day Saint student association, providing activities for college-age men and women at LDS institutes of religion adjacent to colleges and universities throughout the United States. In 1967, the coeducational structure of the organization was changed and the fraternity was founded, with the name Sigma Gamma Chi taken from the organization’s motto, “Service to God and Country.” The original name was kept by the sorority.
In 1978, the Delta Phi Kappa fraternity, a Church fraternity for returned missionaries, merged with Sigma Gamma Chi. Since that time, chapters of Lambda Delta Sigma and Sigma Gamma Chi have been organized at various colleges and universities in California, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, Texas, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and even Nova Scotia.
What can a Church fraternity or sorority offer a young person? The most obvious answer is social activities and friendship. Both Sigma Gamma Chi and Lambda Delta Sigma sponsor a variety of social activities, including dances, parties, movies, river trips, sporting and cultural events, and “exchanges,” in which fraternity and sorority members participate in various activities together. The organizations are open to all unmarried college and university students who are willing to live LDS standards, regardless of religious affiliation. Students who do not have chapters at their school may contact the Melchizedek Priesthood Department or General Relief Society about starting a chapter in their area.
The social activities meet a vital need, especially where LDS students are a minority on campus. The chapters at Boise State University in Idaho are a good example. Phil Boren, who was serving as institute director at the time of their organization four years ago, says that the organizations help LDS students find friends who share their ideas and standards. “If there’s a close-knit group of thirty or forty, that’s thirty or forty immediate friends,” he says. “That warm, LDS friendship is really important.”
Many members of the Boise State chapters admit that it was the need for LDS friends that first drew them into the organization. Julie Holgate says that as a new freshman she was concerned about making friends at college—until she joined the sorority. She was immediately assigned to work on a committee, where she got involved and made many new friends.
Penny Blazek, who served a mission in the Fiji Islands, says that her involvement with the sorority helped her to adjust socially after her mission. “I have probably twice the number of friends I would have had otherwise,” she says. “And I think it helped me maintain a missionary attitude.”
Another returned missionary had several nonmember friends who, he admits, “weren’t the best influence.” Then he heard about the fraternity and decided he would like to be involved. He is now active in the Church and in the fraternity, where he serves as treasurer.
Certainly both the fraternity and the sorority provide opportunities for friendship and social interaction with other LDS young people. But neither the fraternity nor the sorority is primarily a social organization. Both have “ideals”—areas in which members strive for personal improvement. Both give awards and scholarships to outstanding members.
One ideal, for example, is academic achievement. At some schools, members of the sorority and fraternity have set up tutoring systems to help each other with their studies. They also set goals about how much time they will study and what grade-point average they want to achieve.
Spirituality is also stressed. Firesides, testimony meetings, temple trips, and service projects are all a part of both Lambda Delta Sigma and Sigma Gamma Chi.
One way the fraternity and sorority build spirituality is to offer young men and women the chance to associate with their peers in the Church and to set a good example for each other. “If we see somebody else who has achieved those things that we want to achieve, we can follow after her and achieve,” says Patty Custer, historian of the Boise State chapter. “She can lead us.”
Associating with peers also teaches leadership and organizational skills. “Just this year, I have learned as much as I have learned anywhere,” Steve Floyd says, citing two particular skills—delegation and follow-up—as areas in which he has grown.
Lana Waite, president of the Boise chapter, says that the sorority has helped her in other ways, too. “I have learned to depend on the Lord, because he knows everyone and I don’t,” she says. Weekly leadership training classes for sorority officers have helped build her self-confidence, something that has helped her in the class presentations she frequently has to give as an elementary education major. “If I had had to do that two years ago, I would have been terrified,” she says. But through serving in Lambda Delta Sigma, Lana has acquired new skills and is helping others to do the same. “A couple of years ago if someone had said hi to me, I would have said hi to them, but I wouldn’t have gone out of my way. But now, when I see people who are shy, I try to help them.”
Associating with others also helps build self-esteem. Meggan Ward, a member of the Boise chapter, says that her association with the sisters in the sorority “has given me the courage to do other things.” One of those things is a mission; she recently received her call to Korea.
Other members of the Boise chapters have decided to serve missions as a result of their association with the fraternity and sorority. “Without the friendship—the fellowshipping of the members of the frat—I would never have decided to go,” says Brent Blazek, secretary of the Boise State chapter. “They didn’t push me; they just kept telling me what a neat experience it was. When I told them I was going, they were really excited, and that just reinforced my decision.”
Missions are “talked up” among the young women as well. The Boise chapter has had what members fondly term “an epidemic of missions”—nine young women in the mission field at the same time during the last year. Three more are preparing to leave soon.
Boise State is not the only place where missionary work is being stressed. Each semester, the Sigma Gamma Chi chapter at Ricks College presents a musical, The Saga of Joe. The play, written by adviser Glenn Stubbs and his wife, Kay, tells the story of a fictional star athlete who is reluctant to serve a mission but who finally decides to go. Through music and humor, the production chronicles his struggles and growth as a missionary and as a person.
Many young people who have seen the play have decided to serve missions. Others are preparing for missions through chapter-sponsored missionary preparation classes that meet four days a week after school. Instructors are returned missionaries who teach the missionary discussions as well as such practical subjects as companion relations, teaching techniques, and home-making skills. Interest is high, with as many as 150 students attending per semester.
The Sigma Gamma Chi chapter at California’s Long Beach City College sponsors “mission madness nights,” where one member of the chapter gives a presentation about his mission. Such activities help young people prepare and look forward to preaching the gospel.
But the organizations do more than prepare missionaries. They perform valuable service, based on individual community needs. Members of the Sigma Gamma Chi chapter at Fullerton City College in California have participated in a local “Adopt-a-Park” program. They have also prepared a widow’s house for painting, sponsored a food and clothing drive for a children’s orphanage in Mexico, and participated in a stake father-and-son outing with young boys who had no father at home.
Fraternity members at the University of Wyoming in Laramie have cleared rocks and mowed weeds in the parking lot behind their local stake center. The Weber State College chapter in Ogden, Utah, has organized a swim party for teenagers at a local alcohol and drug abuse clinic. Chapters at the University of Utah have sponsored a concert to raise money for recreational projects for handicapped people.
The chapter at Arizona State University in Phoenix sponsored a campus-wide dance, with proceeds going to refurbish the Statue of Liberty. In recent months, fraternity members at Boise State University have organized both a fireside for the deaf and a dance for physically and mentally handicapped youth in their area.
Members of Lambda Delta Sigma are equally active in serving others. The San Marcos chapter at Palomar College in California has participated in the Special Olympics program for handicapped youth and has visited the Home of Guiding Hands, an institution where physically and mentally handicapped people learn to take care of themselves and live on their own.
Members of the San Marcos chapter have also worked for the March of Dimes. When the young women began stuffing kits for a neighborhood “Mothers March,” many of the other March of Dimes volunteers had never worked with Latter-day Saints and had misconceptions about the Church. “Once they found out they could depend on us, their opinions of Latter-day Saints changed,” says Kim Kelly, chapter president. The chapter, which has a membership of only twelve, raised more than ten thousand dollars in a phoneathon. Later, dressed as clowns, they collected another six hundred dollars in a community “Mile of Dimes” parade.
The chapter’s experiences with the March of Dimes have had a great influence on Church and community relations in the San Diego area, says Kim, who served as chairman for the March of Dimes in San Diego and Imperial counties. “In a pinch, they always called on us,” she says. The chapter received a March of Dimes Service Award, and Kim has spoken to community groups about birth defects—which has also given her an opportunity to talk to others about the Church and even to give away copies of the Book of Mormon.
Members at Arizona State University in Mesa planned a danceathon, where they raised $1,300 to help build a new house for a family whose home had been destroyed in the Mexico City earthquake. They also provided Christmas for a needy family last year. At ASU, the sorority also takes turns with Sigma Gamma Chi in sponsoring Friday night dances to help raise money to support missionaries from their stake, many from their own chapters, who could not be serving missions without financial help.
Not to be outdone by their sorority sisters in Mesa, the University of Arizona chapter in Tuscon adopted a Cambodian “boat family” and raised over a thousand dollars to help provide their transportation to the United States. They also located, painted, and furnished a house for the family, then provided needed food and transportation. The project was such a success that its chairman received an award from a Catholic relief organization in Tuscon.
In Idaho, members of the Boise State chapter have visited the Bishop Foote Guest House, where cancer patients stay while undergoing treatment at a nearby hospital. As part of a combined leadership conference with Sigma Gamma Chi and the Latter-day Saint Student Association (LDSSA), they also helped clean and repair a local nursing home—a project that was recognized and commended by community and state leaders. Members of the Ricks College chapter deliver lunch daily to an elderly man as well as usher for concerts on campus. During the 1985–86 school year, they performed more than three hundred acts of service.
One of the greatest principles young people learn from service is to look for ways to serve others, wherever they are. “What we’re trying to get the students to do,” says Gary Beckstead, institute director at Boise State University, “is to find opportunities to serve, not always in a formal, organized service project, but just to see a need, act on it, and take care of it. I think they are beginning to catch that vision.”
Indeed, in many areas, the existence of the fraternity and sorority has created additional opportunities for service. Both organizations complement and strengthen existing local Church programs—in student wards, single adult wards, institutes of religion, priesthood quorums, and Relief Society. An example of such strengthening occurred at Dixie College in St. George, Utah. In 1979, when the St. George Utah College Stake was organized, the sorority and fraternity were disbanded because local priesthood leaders thought that they would compete too much with ward programs.
“We felt, through all those years, that anything that could be done could be done by the Relief Society and the priesthood quorums,” says James Eardley, president of the stake. But local leaders also knew that not all LDS students attended priesthood meeting or Relief Society and that the fraternity and the sorority might help reach some members and provide additional callings in which more students could serve.
In 1985 President Eardley and local Church leaders discussed the situation and determined that they still didn’t want the fraternity or the sorority. But as President Eardley sat down to write a letter informing the General Authorities of the local leaders’ decision, he felt strongly prompted that both the fraternity and the sorority should be reorganized at Dixie.
He followed that prompting and has been glad he did. “The fraternity and the sorority are an appendage to the priesthood and the Relief Society,” he says. “They are an ‘activities arm’ rather than a competition with regular ward activities.”
Several chapters have had nonmembers join first the fraternity or the sorority, and later the Church. At Long Beach City College, a visiting professor dropped in at a Sigma Gamma Chi Halloween party and later commented about how impressed he was that students could have so much fun in such a wholesome setting. Students at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, have influenced other fraternities to have a “dry” rush week—without liquor. At Boise State, the fraternity and sorority invited members of other Greek organizations to the institute for rush week activities.
Involvement with other social organizations often leads to chances for members to talk about their beliefs. “In many cases, you don’t even have to bring it up; they ask you about it,” says Steve Floyd. “They become the ones instigating all the questions. It’s really easy from there.”
One key to involving others, says Janeen Brown, rush chairman of the Boise chapter, is letting them know you care. She serves on a “calling committee” to let other young women know about sorority activities, and one evening she called and invited a nonmember. “She couldn’t come that night, but she thanked me for caring enough to call.” Such sisterhood and brotherhood is appreciated by Latter-day Saint and nonmember alike.
The sororities and fraternities have found that constant fellowshipping is the key to sharing the gospel. “Who wouldn’t want some ideas for growth or some strengthening activities?” asks Maria Leseburg, a member of the Boise chapter. “We need to be excited about these things and to share them with other people.”
That’s what it’s all about—sharing. Members of both Lambda Delta Sigma and Sigma Gamma Chi have a lot to share. Both organizations offer friendship and social activity while strengthening college-age students emotionally, academically, socially, and spiritually. They offer opportunities for leadership and service. They not only prepare better missionaries; they offer opportunities for missionary work and fellowshipping on a daily basis. As Farrell Young, president of the Rexburg Idaho College First Stake, says, “The fraternity and sorority allow young people to practice during the week what they learn in church on Sunday.”
Maria Leseburg puts it another way. “There’s a real spiritual current that flows through the sorority,” she says. “Plug into it, and it lifts you up.”