Smith: Take Action Now

by Brooks Smith | 10/27/14 6:38pm

The Dartmouth editorial board’s Homecoming Verbum Ultimum about eliminating the Greek system caused a firestorm, but it provided neither a viable nor an intelligent solution. Logistically, eliminating the Greek system is not a simple press of the button — among other things, many Greek houses are privately owned and financed, and severing them from the College would also sever the College’s ability to regulate them. Beta Theta Pi was able to return from its “permanent ban” as Beta Alpha Omega because the College had no viable way of preventing members from re-occupying the building their organization owned.

Despite all this, let us say the College did abolish the Greek system — what happens then? The problems of hazing, sexual crimes and high-risk drinking will not magically disappear. The problems would move out of regulated social spaces and into dorm rooms. In Greek organizations, house leaders are both liable for and can control who enters the house and what they do inside. Plus, Safety and Security can walk through and monitor the houses. Safety and Security can “investigate probable violation(s) of College regulations,” in residence halls, too — but it is highly unlikely that they would have the same amount of oversight across dorms spread-out over campus than they do on Webster Avenue . Whatever happens behind that closed dorm room door is nearly invisible to the outside world – until a pre-game gets too loud, someone passes out or a crime is reported.

Problems in Greek houses must be addressed urgently. But nothing will happen if we try to finalize some inevitably controversial grand plan before taking action. Instead, let me suggest some steps that require minimal planning and will result in little controversy that the College should do right now to meaningfully reform the Greek system.

First, administrators should seriously encourage houses to drop single-gender membership. Increasing the proportion of gender-inclusive spaces would help remove the gender inequality that leads to sexual crimes. Forcing all Greek houses to go coed might be possible, but is again both controversial and logistically difficult — houses would likely have to become local, and then figure out how to make other genders actually want to join previously single-gender houses. The College should instead provide incentives for Greek houses to drop their single-gender status. For example, they could enact a policy where houses with at most 80 percent of members of one gender are allowed to have kegs or hard liquor. Alternatively, the College could disallow rushing single-gender houses until sophomore spring while allowing people to rush gender-inclusive houses their sophomore fall.

Second, administrators must literally clean up the houses. Take a lesson from New York City in the 1980s — crimes tend to be concentrated in run-down, dirty and dimly lit locations. The College should require basements — and really anywhere drinking occurs — to have bright lighting. Let any inappropriate behavior or excessively drunk individuals be clearly visible to everyone around. Administrators and Greek leaders must vigilantly address anything that is a health or safety risk and enforce stricter rules. Why should Greek houses be allowed to have messy, slippery floors at the end of the night? You have much more incentive to monitor and control your members and guests if you have to completely clean up after them at the end of the night.

Finally, the College must anonymously survey new members of every organization (including sports teams) either one or two terms after they join, for both Greek and non-Greek organizations. Hazing is not confined to the Greek system, and this should curb hazing and bring it to light. The survey would ask about anything new members felt uncomfortable with or felt was forced upon them. Organizations would be punished for problematic responses or lack of responses, and the organizations with the best responses would get a reward.

These steps will not eradicate hazing, sexual crimes or high-risk drinking — realistically, nothing will. However, these proposals would concretely address these issues and could be implemented nearly immediately. Both administrators and students must stop dragging their feet by trying to come up with extreme, controversial and probably ineffective solutions. Instead, start taking action now.

Brooks Smith '08 is a guest columnist.