Formals. Informals. Smokers. Pledging, pinning, paddling. Hazing. Initiation. Pan-Hellenic and Inter-Fraternity Councils. Homecoming floats and “house decorations.” More often than not, social activities at Beloit College in the 1950s required membership in a fraternity or sorority, and the vast majority of students obliged.
But what about those students who couldn’t or wouldn’t join? There were several reasons students did not join fraternities and sororities, including financial and religious, but it was also a period when most Greek groups did not pledge minorities, non-white international students, and Jews. As Greek dominance grew over time, social opportunities for independent, unaffiliated students diminished. Although there was a loosely organized independent group as early as 1934, women students created the more formal Beloit Independent Association, later the Independent Women’s Association, around 1940. In 1946, men formed the Squires, in part to accommodate the influx of G.I.s returning from World War II, many of whom preferred an independent organization over fraternities.These groups sponsored intramural teams, booths at campus carnivals, held parties, and competed in the college’s non-official Grade Point Average contests, usually coming out on top or nearly. The college provided space for meetings, but nothing that lived up to the grand houses along fraternity row. However, by 1953, the attempt at parity with the Greeks in an active campus life proved inadequate. It wasn’t simply a matter of parties and campus fun. The independent students had no representation in campus government, such as the Student Senate. That February, the Round Table announced that all independent students would receive a questionnaire, sponsored by the Independent Women’s Association and the Squires: “This questionnaire is an attempt to find out just how you Independents do feel about groups and if some organizational setup might be worked out which would attract a greater number of you.”
“Pan Hel to Hold Dances Tomorrow Night; Sororities Announce Formal Themes” proclaimed a front page headline in the Round Table on March 20, 1953. Buried on page two was a much more diminutive article entitled “Independents Form Group.” Calling itself the “Independent Student Association,” the new group united the IWA and the Squires for the first time. To kick things off, they held a party on March 21 and along with refreshments, the students played cards, Ping-Pong and checkers. The Round Table was silent about further activities that spring, but a write-up in the college’s yearbook as well as a battered leather scrapbook in the ollege Archives yield further nuggets. The 1954 Gold, the first to feature the ISA, put forth the group’s credo:
“The ISA is not a selective organization, and there is no system of pledging. Anyone who is interested in the group is invited to join, regardless of race, color or religious beliefs…As a group the ISA offers the benefits of a fraternity or sorority group without as great an expenditure on the part of the member in time and money, and the members participate in all activities voluntarily. It has no fines or hell week to offer the student; but it does have plenty of friendship, fellowship and help to give its members during their college years.”
The ISA’s headquarters moved around over the years and included the basement of South College and eventually the former Theta Pi Gamma House on Clary Street. The group became very active on campus and sponsored such activities as bowling parties, square dances, and Christmas caroling as well as providing hospitality and meals to unaffiliated students during vacations.
The ISA survived about a decade. By the early 1960s, cracks in the traditional Greek system began to show as some of Beloit’s Greek organizations tested Civil Rights activism by pledging African-American students, resulting in a few losing national affiliation and going local. The college’s Beloit Plan of 1964, which featured a complicated calendar, played havoc with the cohesiveness of campus organizations and further weakened Greek life. As the 60s progressed and the student body changed, there was no longer any need for the Independent Student Association.