Verbum Ultimum: Abolish the Greek System

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 10/16/14 10:18pm

As the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” steering committee prepares its recommendations for College President Phil Hanlon and the Board of Trustees, we urge its members to think boldly and keep in mind the College’s history. For too long, we have wavered in fear of declining donation rates or an angry student body. But the time for cowardice is over. Let’s do what needs to be done, the only action in line with our principles of community, and abolish the Greek system.

Students and administrators perpetually worry about our institutional reputation, one marred by the national media’s penchant for an Ivy-League-gone-wild cover story. Many dismiss these depictions as false. But even if Dartmouth’s Greek system were the most inclusive Ivy League social system — which many students believe to be true — young adults still make mistakes. And when we do, Dartmouth’s incredible academic experience and community are reduced to our Greek letters. It’s Dartmouth’s Greek system, they say. What else can we expect?

But our “Animal House” reputation is well-earned. For many, Greek life takes precedence over academics. It is an investment (perhaps a risky one), a path to acceptance, friends, sex, drugs, love and jobs.

Since so many students’ lives seemingly depend on the system, it’s no wonder that administrators have failed to abolish it, despite the numerous accounts of hazing and abuse that have been documented over the years.

In the 1980s, some Alpha Delta fraternity pledges simulated oral sex on an inanimate object. Students watched and listened to this ritual, as well as Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity's "Hell Night" vomiting sessions, in a 1994 viewing led by faculty.In 1998, Chi Gamma Epsilon fraternity and Alpha Xi Delta sorority hosted a “ghetto” party. In 2000, a member of Alpha Delta fraternity flung an epithet at a gay student from the house’s porch. In 2001, the Zeta Psi fraternity sex papers were released, which encouraged the rape of a female student. In 2012, Andrew Lohse ’12 of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity revealed that he had to swim in a pool of vomit and semen to become a brother. Just last year, AD and Delta Delta Delta sorority co-hosted a “Blood and Crips”-themed party.
The Greek system undeniably enables and institutionalizes harmful behaviors.

No, Greek life is not the root of all the College’s problems or of broader societal ills. But as a system, it amplifies students’ worst behavior. It facilitates binge drinking and sexual assault. It perpetuates unequal, gendered power dynamics and institutionalizes arbitrary exclusivity. It divides students — the system as a whole separates freshmen from upperclassmen, men from women. Membership draws lines among friends.

 

NOT A BE-ALL, END-ALL SOLUTION

Around 50 percent of the student body, 70 percent of those eligible, are affiliated with the Greek system. For many affiliated students, Greek houses are homes, especially in the context of the turbulent D-Plan. Many attribute increased confidence levels and better leadership and management skills to their Greek houses. We do not seek to discredit the positive experiences that many have within Greek spaces. But we cannot let emotional arguments cloud what is objectively best for our school and its students. We have to look past our short years here and think about the College’s future, which means eliminating an antiquated system.

Abolishing Greek life, though not a be-all, end-all solution, would offer Dartmouth a chance to rebuild its social life from the ground up. Hundreds of leaders have tried to reform and change Greek life to be more inclusive, safe and fun for more people. But consider the implications of this — each year, hundreds of student leaders pour their energy and time into what boils down to social life. Imagine what we could accomplish as a student body if these student leaders cared so deeply about something else. This ownership, love and pride can and should extend beyond Webster Avenue and Wheelock Street.

It’s hard to say what Dartmouth will look like without a Greek system. It’s hard to imagine our campus without these networks of people we have come to love — let alone Wednesday nights without meetings. We’re motivated students. We’re conditioned not to give up. Which is why we have seen Greek leaders work so hard to fix the system from the inside: changing dues structures, altering constitutions to include people of varying gender identities and codifying cultural sensitivity. For some, suggestions go even further: Let’s go coed. Let’s localize the sororities.

But our antiquated system cannot be reformed. And we’d rather have no social structure than one so deeply flawed.

We want Dartmouth students to have full access to the predominant social scene the moment they step on campus, and we want social life to be accessible, without financial barriers, over a student’s four years at the College.

Alongside the Greek system’s elimination, we propose that the College reallocate resources to the expansion of social spaces all around campus. Reestablish a campus bar. Allow registered events in residence hall common spaces. One of the main criticisms of Greek abolition is that it will push high-risk drinking underground, especially in first-year dorms. An open-door policy that allows students to drink wine and beer if they have their doors open, coupled with random walkthroughs, would increase transparency and disincentivize high-risk drinking.

The physical plants of Greek houses must be converted into non-exclusive residential spaces as soon as possible. These apartment-style suites, which students could apply to in standard room draw, could host registered events through the College.

 

AN ETHICAL CHOICE

In 1999, The Dartmouth ran the front-page headline: “TRUSTEES TO END GREEK SYSTEM ‘AS WE KNOW IT.’” In the following weeks, students took to the streets, marching for the continuation of their beloved social life. Following the outcry, the College backed away from the student life initiative.

This year, attempts to crack down on the Greek system have chipped at the very positive elements that members and unaffiliated students value, like the system’s inclusivity. Piling on regulations and rules will swap open doors for invite lists and trust for paranoia. These actions will only create more problems for students and administrators in the long run.

Perhaps administrators suspect that this incremental approach will result in fewer students joining Greek organizations each year. Abolishing the Greek system flat out may well lead to another pro-Greek rally, pages and pages of editorials and harsh comments. But a clean break is the ethical choice and better than the alternative, an exclusive system run by students who are becoming increasingly suspicious of administrators’ actions. Instead of making a cowardly series of moves to shrink the system, our College must take the most sensible action, one that will not threaten students’ health.

Abolish it.

Change will not be easy. It will not be smooth, and it will likely hurt many people who call Hanover home. However, we must look forward and consider what we as a community want Dartmouth to look like in the decades to come — the safety and security of our future students depends on it.

This editorial has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction appended (Oct. 24, 2014):

A front-page editorial published Oct. 17 calling for the abolition of the Greek system at Dartmouth stated that in the late 1980s, Alpha Delta fraternity pledges were forced to perform oral sex on an ejaculating dildo. The editorial should have stated that some pledges were required to simulate oral sex on an inanimate object, which the house's advisor now says may have been a banana.

The editorial should not have included a reference to "Beta-vision," a rumored system in which members of then-Beta Theta Pi fraternity purportedly watched sexual acts within the house. When Beta was derecognized, rumors of this system circulated, but its existence has never been confirmed. The Dartmouth regrets the errors.