Violets? Sweethearts?? Goddesses??? Greek Houses shed light on a long-standing tradition

Pictured: Marilyn Wagner, one of SAE’s Violet Sweethearts — Photo courtesy of archivist and special collections librarian Adriana M. Flores

This spring, Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) had elections for their next Violet, calling attention to a lesser known aspect of Greek life. The Violet is a representative of the fraternity, someone who SAE believes embodies their values. Other houses on campus also participate in this tradition. They choose honorary members yearly, electing men and women that exemplify the values of the house.

This tradition has fluctuated in importance among the houses on campus. Many houses have let the tradition completely die. Pi Beta Phi formerly had Ring Ching King, and Gamma Phi Beta used to have the Captain Crescent, until recently. But for many houses, the tradition is thriving. Phi Delta Theta has the Goddess, Alpha Phi has the Brother and Sister of Bordeaux, and Sigma Chi has the Sweetheart. These positions are becoming more diverse; many of these roles are no longer gendered.

   Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s Violet represents the changing norms of greek life. The Trail met with SAE’s president, Brendan Amend to discuss this phenomenon. According to Amend, the Violet is a fairly recent position, a step in a new direction for the fraternity. Earlier in SAE’s history, they had the Little Sisters of Minerva as, a similar phenomena, though with a larger group of women. This tradition ended on Puget Sound’s campus years ago.

The Violet functions as a sort of bridge between Greek life and the rest of campus, according to Amend. “With being in Greek life it’s easy to come across stereotypes and stigmas,” Amend said. “We realize that the Greek community has not always been in favorable eyes amongst the student body, and we’re trying to improve that,” he added.  The Violet is meant to bridge communities, to encourage connections between a perceived disconnect.

“The Violet position is what I choose to make of it,” said Tomicia Blunt, the recently elected Violet. She understands the role as a symbol of friendship and comradery. She also sees the Violet as someone who provides resources and new connections. “The responsibility is to extend the fraternity’s reach on campus,” Blunt said. She spoke about her work as a writing advisor for the Center for Writing Learning and Teaching and how she can provide academic resources to the fraternity.

Blunt emphasized that she is the Violet because of shared values. “I was attracted to SAEs core values because I saw the members doing things that align with my personal values,” she said. “I think I just mesh well with the fraternity,” she said, calling it “a perfect fit.”

   The Violet is a fairly recent position, there have only been three Violets so far: Caroline Harris, Maggie Berrens, and Tomicia Blunt. Recently, both men and women have run for the Violet position. The Violet embodies a sort of informal advocate for the fraternity. Though they have no formal responsibilities, they are chosen because they represent connections between communities.

While Sigma Alpha Epsilon has reformatted this long standing tradition, other fraternities and sororities are maintaining this custom as they always have. Sigma Chi has continued with its tradition of the Sweetheart. Lilli Patton, a Junior at Puget Sound is one of the current Sweethearts.

   According to Patton, the Sweet heart is “just somebody who the members of the house feel portrays and lives out the values of the house.” Patton’s father was a Sigma Chi, so she feels strongly connected to the fraternity. “I really feel like one of the brothers, one of the guys,” Patton said.

   When prompted about the responsibilities of the Sweetheart, Patton said that the position doesn’t have any formal duties and that she is simply “welcome to be a part of rush and welcomed into the house whenever,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll bring them treats like cookies or pizza,” she added.     

There are disparities among the Greek houses on campus as they choose—or don’t choose—to continue on with the tradition of having someone represent the house. With the change that has occurred in recent years, it will be of interest to watch whether these customs will see more reform or continue with the same values as before.