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'Alpha Class' documents the rise and fall of a beleaguered fraternity

ASU alums document both the failures and strength of a fraternity in strife

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Members of ASU's Phi Sigma Kappa chapter toast at one of their houses in Tempe, Arizona, in 2008. 

Danny McManus and Joseph Forte, ASU alums, successfully chartered Phi Sigma Kappa after the fraternity they were pledging in 2006 was banned from campus and disbanded. 

McManus and his brothers began filming “Alpha Class” to document the success of their newly chartered fraternity. But instead they captured the rise and fall of their chapter after controversy and divisions among fraternity brothers destroyed the organization.

"We're falling apart from within. You can see in the film that we weren't holding ourselves accountable," McManus said. The documentary captures initiation rituals, out of control parties and physical confrontations among brothers, he said.

Forte said as soon as the new fraternity was established “there was a clash of priorities” between members who propagated stereotypes about Greek life and the members who wanted to ensure the long-term success of the organization. 

“I think that the movie confirms a lot of the stereotypes but also gets people to look at fraternities in ways they haven’t been looked at before,” Forte said. “We believe it shows a very honest picture of fraternity life, both the good and the bad." 

Years ago, ASU's reputation was that of a party school. The ASU chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon  was voted the worst fraternity in the country by Rolling Stone in 2013. Fraternities have appeared in headlines for allegations sexual harassment, hazing, physical violence, as well as deaths involving alcohol abuse, often by underaged members. 

There is no shortage of mentions of ASU in these reports. But despite the negative attention some frats receive, Greek life at ASU is making a comeback. The Greek community has seen a gradual increase in the number of undergraduates pledging despite a downtick in spring 2017 and new on-campus Greek housing is being constructed. ASU’s Fraternity and Sorority 2016-2017 Annual Report puts the number of active Greek houses on campus at 76. 

Andrew Christiansen, a junior studying journalism, is working to establish an ASU chapter of Alpha Chi Rho. 

Christiansen said the fraternity’s goal is to give those who didn’t fit in the at other organizations the opportunity to participate in Greek life. 

“We want to move away from that image," he said. "I want to have a good clean image. The purpose of a fraternity for me, is establishing connections that you’ll have for the rest of your life.” 

Christiansen said he wants his brothers and himself to distinguish themselves as proactive members of the community. However, he conceded that stereotypes about Greek culture pervade campus.

ASU’s Interfraternity Council Vice President of Community Relations Jared Moreda said he would "absolutely not" talk to The State Press

The State Press was unable to get comment from other fraternity leaders on campus in time for publication, including IFC President Danny Goldberg.

According to McManus, campus involvement is huge in Greek life and Greek members have higher percentages of graduation than the general population.

ASU reports that local Greek chapters have served 360,000 hours of community service within the Phoenix metropolitan area between 2013 and 2017. The school also reports that Greek members have a higher GPA than the general population of students. However, it's worth noting that Greek students only make up 9 percent of the student population at ASU, which skews the data. 

Forte said the film doesn’t try to dispel any of the stereotypes that surround Greek life, but instead opts to try and get those involved in the lifestyle to reflect on issues and think about the longevity of the Greek system. 

McManus said the ultimate purpose of the film wasn't to change anyone's mind about Greek life but rather to show that it is a more complex experience than what some might imagine.

“I really want viewers to learn the lessons in the film and the reasons why our organization failed,” McManus said. "A lot of people have preconceived notions about Greek life. A lot people expect an 'Animal House' experience. The purpose of making the film was not only to show that, 'hey that aspect does exist,' but there are also themes about leadership and accountability.” 

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