Hillsdale’s fifth men’s fraternity, Mu Alpha, is the only one in the United States. While it’s technically not a fraternity at all, don’t let it’s members hear you say that; to them, it is.
An honorary almost entirely in name only, Mu Alpha is one of two men’s music organizations currently on campus, and the only one exclusive to Hillsdale. It was founded in 2002 when it split from Phi Mu Alpha, a national music fraternity.
“Sometime in the late ’90s conversations started to pop up within the Phi Mu Alpha chapter at Hillsdale,” said junior and Mu Alpha treasurer Gabe Kottkamp. “At the time, there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the way that nationals was mandating that rituals go. In 2002, 22 of the 24 active members voted to separate from Pi Mu Alpha and the remaining two members abstained.”
Ambrose Bykerk, Mu Alpha’s current president, added that exorbitant dues also lead to the schism.
“We were tired dealing with the national chapter dues,” Bykerk said. “We’re basically the America of frats, tired of paying taxes.”
Senior Sebastian Pestritto said that the process took involved much deliberation and took over the course of a year to go into effect. It also involved substantial conversations with Phi Mu Alpha national, Phi Mu Alpha alumni, and the college, especially Dr. Arnn and the provost.
Although Mu Alpha is an honorary, it functions much like a fraternity. Members are required to adhere to strict pin day attire and attend weekly chapter meetings. Most importantly, Mu Alpha, like the other fraternities on campus, has its own house which they acquired when they split from Phi Mu Alpha.
“Unlike how fraternities work at most colleges, the administration owns all the fraternity houses at Hillsdale,” Pestritto said. “When the separation occurred, we were the only music fraternity on campus since we didn’t have a Phi Mu Alpha chapter anymore. The administration basically just transferred some of their assets on campus to us, including the house.”
After 19 years, Pestritto said the house has become something of a giant antique store. Included in its inventory are two organs, a piano, a prominently displayed Blues Brothers poster, a frisbee dating back to 2000, every concert poster since before Mu Alpha split from Phi Mu Alpha, a tapestry depicting a Hun riding in a chariot, and a bottle of fish sauce that expired in 2013.
“Because we have so much weird stuff, I don’t even know where most of it came from,” Bykerk said. “People leave things here thinking funny stories will be told about them, but those random stories are eventually forgotten.”
However, not all of Mu Alpha’s stories have been forgotten. One particular story — the ‘Elevator Episode of 2016’ — lives on in infamy.
“They basically destroyed the elevator in Lane,” Bykerk said. “The entire executive board was in the elevator and two very large men decided to jump as it was going down. They ended up being trapped in the elevator for over an hour and a half.”
After only a few minutes of confinement, one Mu Alphan took to Facebook to live stream the harrowing experience. They remained trapped until an elevator repairman from Jackson, Michigan finally freed them.
According to Pestritto, every generation of Mu Alphas has been told the story since as a reminder “to not be stupid.”
Over the years, Mu Alpha has established many traditions.
“Our biggest tradition is probably the serenades which we do every semester,” said Matthew Holze, the group’s song master. “We go to the girls’ dorms and the sorority houses and sing a couple of serenade songs. Every spring since we’ve started, we’ve always done ‘Kiss the Girl’ from the ‘Little Mermaid.’”
Additionally, Mu Alpha hosts numerous concerts throughout the year as well as an annual pig roast. They have even invented their own sport, “frolf”, a cross between frisbee and golf. Essentially disk golf without baskets, players simply aim for the statues, trees, and other landmarks which comprise the 18 hole course around campus.
“We’ve ‘frolfed’ at all hours of the night,” Kottkamp said. “It always ends with chucking the frisbees at the door of Koons as hard as possible. It made more sense when Koon was a guys’ dorm, but tradition stands, so we still do it.”
Of course, not all of Mu Alpha’s traditions have remained standing since the fraternity’s founding. Before 2015, members were required to wear fedoras as part of their uniform for concerts and serenades. Since then, they have opted for ties and pins. Bykerk said the fraternity instituted the change because the internet culture around fedoras took an unexpected leftward turn.
As the only chapter in the nation, Mu Alpha has made great traditions and memorable stories that live on within the fraternity, Pestritto said.
“We have a very strong tradition of oral storytelling,” Pestritto said. “It’s great to hear about the guys who came before us, and it’s great to know that the generations who come after us will hear our stories.”