Nathan Erickson graduated this May with a degree in Marketing from the school he almost died at five years ago.
Erickson, then 19, was found unconscious at an event for first-year Greek pledges with a blood alcohol level of 0.5, a result of being forced by members of the fraternity Phi Delta Theta to drink multiple cups of 190-proof Everclear grain alcohol after having already consumed five beer can shots.
This fall will mark the fifth year anniversary of Phi Delta Theta’s suspension from Drake University. It will also mark Phi Delta Theta’s return to campus.
“I think they needed to have some type of wake up call. Not just to (Phi Delta Theta) but to the Greek community as a whole,” Erickson said.
The four-year suspension from the Greek community was as much a punishment as it was a purging of sorts.
“When it happened, I had a lot of backlash from individual people trying to make my life as hard as they possibly could the last two years they were still in school,” Erickson said.
A calculated absence intended by both Drake and Phi Delta Theta officials operating under protocol, the suspension ensured that all then-Phi Delta members would be graduated by the time re-chartering commenced.
As the opportunity to re-charter approaches, Iowa Delta Housing President Tim Coonan set out to determine from fellow Phi Delta alumni if an attempted return to the university it had been a part of since the mid 1960’s would even be worthwhile.
“It was automatic. It was clear to me there was a mandate,” he said.
But a mandate from peers is no guarantee of realization. An entire Greek community and its governing bodies, in addition to University officials, must accept that mandate as well. A common sentiment amongst student and administration leaders alike is the desire for a Phi Delta Theta chapter with new principles and aspirations, not a continuation of past.
Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Kerry Jordan is confident that a return to campus will be an opportunity for Phi Delta to establish a chapter of capable, responsible leaders while learning from the past.
“A horrible incident occurred a little over four years ago. Nobody can change that. (Phi Delta) are going to do their best to recruit men of integrity who will not bring that Phi Delta back to campus,” Jordan said.
Even having secured the blessings of Dean of Students Sentwali Bakari, who has extended an offer of “as much support as possible to help (Phi Delta) achieve their goals,” a long journey lies ahead of Phi Delta Theta.
In order to receive recognition from Drake and the student-governing Interfraternity Council (IFC), Phi Delta will have to go through successful rounds of recruitment to become a colony, a de facto Greek organization awaiting official recognition. Drake’s current colony is Alpha Tau Omega, which will enter its third semester under the designation.
IFC President T.J. Lindgren anticipates Alpha Tau Omega will receive recognition as a fraternity soon, meaning Phi Delta will realistically aim for an official recognition by Drake and the IFC in Fall of 2015.
“It shouldn’t be an instantaneous process. They’re not all of a sudden going to show up in October and have 20 guys who are active members,” Lindgren said. “They’ll have a pretty long, drawn-out process.”
This will not dissuade the national organization from sending representatives to begin the recruitment process, however.
Erickson is now 24 years old and working for a local chapter of a national environmental group. Part of his job has him traveling to campuses to share its mission with students.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” Erickson said. “We all made mistakes that night. It doesn’t mean we’re bad people. It doesn’t mean somebody should have their life ruined or an organization that is otherwise a very stand-up group of people shouldn’t be allowed to function.”
Tim Coonan graduated as a Drake Phi Delta Theta alum in 1996, 13 years before Erickson was hospitalized with a blood alcohol level of more than six times the legal limit.
“We get a chance to come back fresh. We get to define the terms by which we are made, rather than inherit 50 years of stories,” Coonan said.
Aware of the past, he looks toward the future.
“It’s an exciting prospect to be able to do this right the first time,” he said. “And I’m confident we will do it.”