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Dartmouth to Abolish Fraternities and Sororities

Stephen Wellman

Students at Dartmouth College are shocked and outraged at the college’s new plan to end fraternities and sororities. The plan is a part of an initiative put forward by Dartmouth President James Wright and the Board of Trustees.

The initiative has five principles: 1.) "There should be greater choice and continuity in residential living and improved residential space." 2.) "There should be additional and improved social spaces controlled by students." 3.) "The system should be substantially coeducational and provide opportunities for greater interaction among all Dartmouth students." 4.) The number of students living off campus should be reduced." 5.) "The abuse and unsafe use of alcohol should be eliminated."

This initiative will radically alter the social life at Dartmouth. "The achievement of these principles will necessitate changes in the current residential and social system, including the fraternity and sorority system, dining arrangements, and other aspects of student life," said the Board of Trustees in its statement. In the words of President Wright, "What the Board seeks is a system that represents more fully the range of the Dartmouth student body and not a system that does this through separate but equivalent types of organizations. Again, I think that the options and opportunities are open."

Many, however, wonder just how open the administration will be. The administration denies that this proposal could effectively destroy the Greek system at Dartmouth. It prefers to term this process as a "dialogue" and encourages all students to participate in it. However, President Wright’s comments in a recent interview with The Boston Globe contradict this: "The fraternities and sororities as we have known them will be ended." He added, "There has been a sense…that we needed to take significant steps, and this is a piece of that."

Fraternities have played a great role in the history of this famous New Hampshire college. There have been fraternities on campus for over 158 years. Dartmouth became a coeducational institution in the early 1970s, and since that time sororities have become just as prominent. Furthermore, over one-third of the undergraduate students attending Dartmouth are members of the school’s 25 single sex fraternities or sororities. The writer of the movie Animal House even was a member of a fraternity while at Dartmouth.

Alumni response to the plan has been overwhelmingly negative. Despite this, Wright and the trustees seem committed to destroying this tradition. Wright is prepared to spend "tens of millions of dollars" in his effort to revolutionize the campus.

The leaders of Dartmouth’s fraternities and sororities have been quite vocal in their criticism of the administration’s decision. On the weekend of February 13, the fraternities and sororities canceled their events for the annual Winter Carnival. Instead, they hosted a public forum to discuss the changes. Leaders of the fraternities and sororities gave speeches that discussed the implications of ending the Greek system, warning that it would not only destroy campus social life but possibly set a negative precedent which could have far-reaching implications for Greek systems on the rest of America’s college campuses.

In an interview with Campus Report, John Finley, president of the Dartmouth chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, criticized the proposed reforms. "There were two principles [from the announced initiative] that blew up in all the publicity. One was the elimination of the abuse and misuse of alcohol and the other was a move to a substantially more coeducational residential system." When asked about the timing of the President’s announcement, Finley said, "In the ensuing days after the announcement the president and the head of the trustees put their spin on the principles. Basically, it means the end of the Greek system as we know it." He added that as of yet "nothing has happened."

Finley is concerned that the administration’s plans could destroy the social network many Dartmouth students enjoy. Given the school’s isolated geographic location, the end of the fraternities and sororities could be the end of most students’ social lives. "A lot of people worry that if you take away the Greeks, there will be no organized social scene. Students will simply go back to their dorm rooms with hard alcohol and there will be a lot of unsupervised drinking. There might be an increase in alcohol abuse as a result of these actions."

He also commented on the rally that replaced the traditional Winter Carnival, "The main theme of the rally was about promoting social options and being able to chose what you as a student want to do with your time."

The administration is vague in discussing the initiative. Laurel Stavis, director of public affairs for Dartmouth, denied in an interview with Campus Report that the initiative was designed to destroy the Greek system at the school. "This is not an initiative about fraternities and sororities. This is a broad based, comprehensive initiative addressing residential and social life at Dartmouth College. [These principles] are the parameters that must characterize student residential and social life at Dartmouth and they [the trustees] have sent them out to the community and asked for a discussion and a dialogue among all concerned about how we can get from here to there."

When asked about the motivation behind the initiatives, Stavis added, "Residential life at Dartmouth should be substantially coeducational because Dartmouth is a coeducational institution."

Stavis continued to deny that the actions of the administration were forcing the fraternities or sororities to do anything. "Now, what [the initiative] means is that it is up to the fraternities and sororities to reconstitute themselves. It [the matter of conforming to the new standards] is in their hands." Davis did not deny or confirm that the fraternities and sororities would be required to become coeducational, but she did observe that "it [going coeducational] may happen in some cases."

When asked about the administration’s alternatives to the Greek system, Finley was unable to disclose anything. "It’s all very ambiguous. They say that they really do not have a plan [to providing an alternative to the current fraternity system]. They are going to have a huge void to fill."

Dartmouth is not the first college to attempt to destroy its Greek system. Several colleges including Colby, Williams and Bowdoin have eliminated fraternities and sororities on their campuses.