Fraternity adviser with a difference
For student life staffer, there’s no contradiction between ‘gay’ and ‘Greek’

By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs


Tom Durein

Greek adviser Tom Durein is a nationalexpert on hazing education.
Peg Skorpinski photo

06 June 2001 | It has been nearly a decade since self-described “geek” and business major Tom Durein graduated from Oregon State University. But when Durein — now a Greek adviser in Berkeley’s Office of Student Life — went back to Corvalis last spring, his visit made front-page headlines in the OSU student newspaper.

What caught the attention of “The Daily Barometer” was the message Durein brought to several hundred fraternity brothers and sisters: their chapters include many gays and lesbians, even if intolerance forces some to hide — as Durein himself did for his entire college career.

The handsome 6’2” Alameda native realized he was gay the summer before he went to college, and told his traditional Catholic family soon afterwards. But he hid the fact from his 90 Delta Upsilon fraternity brothers, as well as many attractive coeds who sought his company.

“I was a walking, talking, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a week frat guy…” who “knew that if I kept quiet, then I’d have a better Greek experience,” Durein told his audience.

Greek for life
The perils of the closet notwithstanding, the campus adviser speaks highly of his fraternity years — when he practiced rules of etiquette, honed social skills, and made lasting male friendships — and has devoted his adult life to “providing the Greek experience to the next generation.”

In the Office of Student Life, Durein offers troubleshooting and leadership development to the Interfraternity and Panhellenic councils and the Greek Judiciary Board, and mentoring and one-on-one dialogue to members of more than 30 campus fraternities.

“Tom’s heart and soul are in his students,” says Panhellenic President Erika Boyd, who has worked with Durein “on a daily basis” for more than a year.

Berkeley’s 2,000-plus Greeks, like other students, come to college “with a lot more issues” and “a lot less social development” than in the past, says Durein. The gap, he believes, leaves a “huge role” for advising staff.

Colleagues say his frank discussions with students when they make poor choices — from a personal decision like blowing off a test to an organizational misstep like a fraternity party that gets out of hand — are a strong point of his advising.

“He doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations,” says Tina Barnett, assistant director of student life, who has advised campus sororities for several years.

A national expert on hazing education, it is often Durein who speaks with students in the aftermath of a hazing incident. He frames those conversations, says Dean of Students Karen Kenney, not only in terms of state law and campus regulations (hazing is prohibited by both), but in terms of Greek values like brotherhood and friendship.

Out on a limb
Because he is open, though not activist, about his sexual identity, Greeks struggling with such issues often seek Durein’s counsel.

“I personally know many gay Greeks in our community,” says Interfraternity Council President David Smith. “…Tom’s sexual orientation could be a great asset if a student is struggling with that issue.”

Kenney notes that it takes courage for a Greek adviser to reveal that he is gay, “knowing that some people are going to question your credentials as an adviser. On the other side of it,” she adds, “there’s a great advantage in teaching lessons of acceptance of differences.”

More apt to fundraise for the Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay Rebublican organization, than to show up at an ACT UP rally, Durein is nonetheless eager to “push the limit” when it comes to the two words “gay” and “Greek.” The once cautious and closeted undergrad is now one of a handful of people across the country who speak openly about such issues.

“Heightening awareness that we do have gay Greeks — I would go out on a limb for that,” he says.

“Greeks offer friendship on the basis of values, not sexuality,” comments Boyd. “And Tom Durein has helped many of us to see this.”


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