The students that attend Ferris State are not only members of the university community, but also of the Big Rapids community as a whole, and as such they have to abide by all of the city’s living ordinances.
For some time there has been a misconception at Ferris, as well as many other universities across the country, that an ordinance is in place prohibiting a certain number of single women, six or more in most cases, from living together. Within that category would, naturally, fall Greek sororities.
The “brothel ordinance” as it is commonly referred to, implies that in such a scenario with that many unmarried single women living together, the women in question are most likely prostitutes. However, when looking through both the City of Big Rapids Zoning Ordinance and the Code of Ordinances, the “brothel ordinance” is nowhere to be found.
According to Stacey Johns of Big Rapids Code Enforcement, the supposed ordinance does not exist. It was a myth created to explain the lack of Greek housing for sororities.
So what’s the real reason that sorority houses aren’t present on campus? The answer is simple: the sororities don’t want them.
“One day we were discussing sorority houses and Phi Sigma Sigma’s faculty and Chapter Key Advisor, Mary Bacon, said that all of the Panhellenic chapters on campus had previously voted to forgo unofficial housing,” said Ferris Phi Sigma Sigma accounting senior Brittany Byrnes. “With the ordinances already in place for Big Rapids where we can’t place letters on residential houses, and the threat of raised insurance costs for each chapter for housing which would increase our dues, we all voted to not participate in not having houses.”
Ferris business administration senior and Alpha Xi Delta chapter president Lyndsey Lampe also likes the idea of having a place that her sisters could communally call home, but understands why it isn’t currently possible.
“I can’t speak for everyone,” she said. “But from what I understand Alpha Xi Delta’s housing foundation has to own the house and obviously that is a significant expense that, at this time, we cannot afford.”
Despite the current situation, the girls can see the potential pros and cons of having Greek housing for their organizations.
“It would make having sisterhoods, chapter meetings and ritual type events easier because we would have a specific place to meet,” said Byrnes. “However, official housing means a lot stricter rules for everyone in the Greek community, especially Panhellenic women. Plus an obvious increase in dues to cover housing costs and insurance.”
As Byrnes mentioned, while there is not an ordinance directly pertaining to Greek women, there are a number of codes that do in fact apply to students living in houses off campus.
For example, according to the City of Big Rapids Zoning Ordinance, for every student living in a residence, there must be 250 square feet of floor area available. There are also strict limitations on how much parking is available and how big the lot of land is, in reference to the number of people living there.
If the sororities were to ever pursue their own housing in Big Rapids, they would have to be in compliance with these codes, as well as meeting insurance requirements and a number of other such restrictions.
According to Byrnes, it is expected that in the upcoming year there will be another vote by the Panhellenic Council on whether or not to pursue Greek housing at Ferris.