The History of the Gamma Chapter
by Ian Baxley
Delta Kappa Alpha is one of the most recognized and long established professional fraternities in the country, dating all the way back to 1936. Though the founding of the original fraternity is well documented, the history of the New York University chapter is a bit more clouded. I contacted Raul Carvajal, one of the founding members of the modern Gamma chapter and the current President of Delta Kappa Alpha, to find out more about the resurgence of DKA, as well as information on the founding of the original Gamma chapter in 1953.
Starting in the mid 1980’s, Delta Kappa Alpha began a decline. Many of the larger chapters were being disbanded due to losing official sponsorship from their respective universities. This was all part of a larger movement at the time to get rid of greek life in schools across the country. Notably, the Alpha Chapter at USC was made an off-campus organization around 1982, though the Alpha Chapter still held unofficial film events until the official re-establishment of the Fraternity. The loss of chapters was made worse by the deactivation of the national fraternity, leading to Delta Kappa Alpha’s disappearance until very recently.
In the year 2009, the Alpha Chapter of DKA was restarted by a group of passionate students. With the help of Herb Farmer, who had persevered the history of DKA in an archive, the National Fraternity of Delta Kappa Alpha was re-established. According to Raul, he began to see postings on Facebook about bringing Delta Kappa Alpha back to NYU around his sophomore year. Raul became passionate about bringing back the Gamma Chapter along with Jack Durkin and Cheyenne Cohen. The three began to meet with administration to begin the long process of becoming an officially recognized organisation through NYU. Raul recounts the film school being incredibly supportive of the Gamma Chapter’s revival, though the school had a hard time determining how to sponsor DKA due to Tisch’s inexperience with organization that took dues. Still, around 2013 the Chapter became officially recognized under TUSC, becoming the first professional fraternity TUSC had ever encountered.
After recognition from TUSC, the Gamma Chapter began recruiting members to form it’s founding pledge class. Around sixteen people joined the founding class, and with the help of Andy Dulman, the DKA National President at the time, Raul and the rest of his class began their pledge process. After one year of being a colony, the new Gamma Chapter was offered an official charter in 2014.
Raul became interested in the original Gamma Chapter, and told me he spent a lot of time in Bobst trying to locate archived information relating to the chapter’s founding and disbandment. Unfortunately, little information could be found on the original Gamma Chapter, as unlike at USC, no one had gone out of their way to preserve any documents from the time. In addition, NYU’s film school had gone through major restructuring around the same time, causing a lot of documents to be lost in the chaos. Raul’s search was no fruitless however. He was able to find the official charter of the original Gamma Chapter from 1951, listing seven members and one faculty advisor. Raul was also able to find some notes from meetings that dated back to the 1950’s. While the original Gamma Chapter’s founding date was known, there was much less concrete evidence about when the chapter disbanded. Raul was able to find evidence of the chapter existence from 1956, after finding a program from for the 1956 NYU banquet that listed Delta Kappa Alpha as an official student organization. Raul speculates the Gamma Chapter lasted around ten to fifteen years, adding that all the changes going on to the film department at the time would have made it hard for the Chapter to smoothly operate from a logistical standpoint.
Though its unproven, Raul shared his personal theory of how NYU became the location of the fourth Delta Kappa Alpha chapter. In his search for information, Raul ran into documents mentioning Professor Robert Gessner frequently. Gessner was most notable in NYU history for founding the film program. Sometime before the Gamma Chapter’s founding, Gessner took a sabbatical to work at MGM studios doing screenwriting. While working in LA, Gessner taught classes part-time at USC, and would have no doubt ran into members of the Alpha Chapter while there. Gesser then did a series of guest lectures at schools around the country, but notably at UCLA and BU, both of which also had DKA chapters at the time. Gessner returned to NYU sometime later to start the film program the same year the Gamma Chapter was formed. Raul suspects Gessner advocated for NYU to have a DKA chapter to cement the status of the new film school and create more of community within the new department. To add even more credence to this theory, Raul uncovered a cinejournal article from the original Gamma Chapter written by Gessner.