By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – There’s a stigma attached to fraternities.
Oftentimes, this part of college life doesn’t get widespread media exposure unless it’s for something negative. Stories about hazing, out-of-control parties and offensive initiation rituals at schools across the nation aren’t difficult to find.
Austin Jacobsen is fully aware of this issue. He also knows members of the Greek community at the University of Nebraska at Kearney are doing their part to dispel these stereotypes.
“We all want to be better than our counterparts,” he said.
Jacobsen joined the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at UNK in September 2016, just a few weeks into his freshman year. The experience, he said, has been nothing but positive.
He was looking for the brotherhood he had while growing up in Sidney, a Nebraska Panhandle community of about 7,000 residents where it was easy to make friends. Jacobsen wanted to connect with fellow UNK students and find new buddies he could hang out with and turn to in times of need.
He accomplished this through Sigma Phi Epsilon.
“Having those relationships right away definitely knocks off all those first-year nerves you have,” said Jacobsen, who doesn’t live at the fraternity’s on-campus house but stops by often for the camaraderie.
The socializing is nice, but Jacobsen said his fraternity involvement has become “so much more than that.”
“It’s provided so many great opportunities for me to give back,” he said.
Jacobsen, who is double majoring in sports communication and exercise science, served as the fraternity’s vice president of programming last year, putting him in charge of planning social events, community service projects and other functions.
“Our community service is where I really wanted to get involved,” he said.
Sigma Phi Epsilon members are involved with TOPSoccer, a local soccer club for youths with disabilities, and the annual Big Event at UNK. They’ve assisted at VFW pancake feeds, cleaned up highway ditches, participated in Buddy Bowling, a program for youths and adults with disabilities, and volunteered at the Younes Conference Center.
“We go out there and help in any way we can,” said Jacobsen, adding that these experiences are an opportunity for “deeper reflection” for members.
“You can get something out of this while helping someone else out,” he said, whether that’s taking time to listen to a military veteran’s story or seeing a child’s face light up on the soccer field.
All of these activities align with Sigma Phi Epsilon’s Balanced Man Program, which focuses on five areas of development: knowledge and understanding of the fraternity; intellectual, emotional and cultural growth; physical health and wellness; leadership; and professionalism.
As the current vice president of membership development, Jacobsen is tasked with helping other members grow in these areas.
“We don’t want to build great fraternity men or great SigEp men,” he said. “We want to build great men that society will see.”
Jacobsen, who turns 21 next month, will continue his development this summer through a study abroad program sponsored by the national fraternity.
The UNK junior was one of just 16 members from across the country selected for Sigma Phi Epsilon’s Tragos Quest to Greece, a 10-day journey through the European country to learn about the beginnings of fraternity life and reinforce the Sigma Phi Epsilon core values.
Each participant prepares for the trip, scheduled for June 14-24, by reading three books about ancient Greek philosophy and culture. The learning continues overseas, with daily discussions based on scholarly readings and personal experiences.
Participants will discuss the Socratic method in the Agora where Socrates taught, hold athletic competitions in the original Olympic stadium and study the fraternity’s ritual in Delphi after learning about the Eleusinian Mysteries.
“The program provides an opportunity for self-discovery,” said Brian Warren, chief executive officer of Sigma Phi Epsilon. “It challenges participants to see the world through a different lens and return to their respective campus ready to leave a lasting and positive legacy.”
Jacobsen, who learned of his selection during a leadership conference in Oklahoma City, was shocked by the honor.
“It almost felt like I got the call to be on ‘The Bachelor’ or something like that,” he said.
He’s excited about the trip and the opportunity to meet the other fraternity members and hear their stories.
“It’s going to be quite the experience,” Jacobsen said.
Sigma Phi Epsilon, established in 1901, is one of the nation’s largest fraternities, with more than 15,000 undergraduate members on 240 campuses. There are about 80 members at UNK.
In addition to his fraternity involvement, Jacobsen works at the wellness center on campus and he’s part of the sports broadcasting team at KLPR, the student-run radio station. He’s been a Student Diplomat and a member of the Choraleers concert choir, and is currently interning as the social media coordinator for Cunningham’s Journal, a popular Kearney bar and restaurant.
“I’ve had so many opportunities,” he said of his time at UNK. “I don’t know if I could have done that somewhere else.”