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The Antelope

The Antelope

1990 student deaths lead to campus greek housing

unk antelope issue 6


UNK announced the movement of fraternity and sorority chapters from University Residence North and South to Nester Halls in the Fall of 2021 earlier this year. Some have suggested that an alternative plan would be to move FSL chapters to off-campus housing, but events of the 1980s make others hesitant.

The announcement of moving the chapters comes as budget cuts have stalled the building of new housing at University Village, and the current buildings are facing “significant maintenance and mechanical infrastructure issues” said Todd Gottula, UNK’s senior director of communications and marketing.

Fraternity and sorority life was moved into URN and URS in 1991 and 1992. Prior to the construction of those buildings, the chapters were housed off-campus. The decision to move the chapters on campus is commonly linked to the alcohol-related deaths of two students.

On July 17, 1988, Jeffrey Rehberg, 19,  fell from the balcony of an off-campus Sigma Phi Epsilon house during a party and died four days later from head related trauma, according to a September 1988 article from “The Antelope.”

In the same incident, 17-year-old Amy Chapman, a high school senior at the time, fell 22 feet from the balcony, causing “serious head and also permanent injuries,” according to the article. Her parents went on two sue the Nebraska Gamma Alumni Corporation of Sigma Phi Epsilon and the Sigma Phi Epsilon National Fraternity. 

Less than a month later, Gina Pearson, 20, was leaving a different fraternity house after drinking and died in a motorcycle accident. According to the 1989 “Blue & Gold Annual,” there was not a party in progress at the time.

The incidents prompted fraternity and sorority life to adopt a driving pool and buddy system, host alcohol-education events, and begin discussions of a greek row.

In the 1990 issue of our former yearbook, “Blue & Gold Annual,” fraternity and sorority members suggested a greek row would reduce overcrowding in residence halls, relieve tension on residential neighborhoods and center FSL activities on campus. 

Then panhellenic president Doris Grage said, “Greeks are starting to realize alcohol is a problem on this campus, and this is one step toward solving the problem.”

However, while it can be easy to link the student deaths and the decision to move fraternity and sorority chapters onto campus, other factors went into the decision.

In 1989, vice president of student affairs, Barbara Snyder, said regulating alcohol would be a “by-product” of moving chapters on campus and not the sole reason.

One year later, when the construction of URN and URS was approved, there was still not a final decision on who would be living in the buildings, though fraternity and sorority life leaders were pushing for a Greek row according to the 1990 “Blue & Gold Annual.”

Snyder again iterated that the primary purpose of  construction was to reduce crowding in the residence halls. At the time, Kearney State College had upwards of 10,000 students and the newest residence halls were the Centennial Towers — constructed in 1968. The need for housing was clear.

When URN and URS opened, university officials did decide to have the buildings house FSL chapters. Though this has been the primary housing for Greek life since, at times, chapters have lived in Mantor, Randall and the towers.

The claim that URN and URS were only built to last 20 years has been challenged by the architectural firm, but at the cost of $6.4 million for two university residence halls (UNK estimated replacement costs at $16 million), it is plausible that expecting more years of use is unreasonable.

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