Perez: Faulty Faculty Thinking

by Sarah Perez | 11/5/14 6:39pm

Earlier this week, faculty members joined in on the voting hoopla, granting students access to course evaluations. This was not the meeting’s only outcome. Soon thereafter, the faculty voted on abolishing the College’s Greek system. 116 faculty members voted to abolish the Greek system, and 13 members voted to preserve it. Three abstained. This outcome was not unexpected, and previous votes have yielded similar results. In 2001, the faculty voted 92-0 in support of abolishing the Greek system.

Needless to say, the landslide of votes calling for abolition of the Greek system is concerning. Let me be clear, we have more to be worried about than just the deterioration of our pong game should the Greek system be abolished. While far from perfect, the Greek system offers many positives that should not be dismissed out of hand. For example, the Greek system is a major source of philanthropic initiatives on campus. Furthermore, current students and alumni have both attested to Greek life’s positive effect on their Dartmouth experiences. For many alumni, Greek houses are a place to go back to on campus, a place where they have made memories and forged friendships. As such, the Greek affiliation also bridges the gap between current students and alumni. These positive contributions the Greek system makes to campus life, members’ personal development and student-alumni relations are valuable, and they are not given enough credit.

The vote portrays the Greek system as the root of the College’s problems. However, abolishing the existing social framework is not a panacea for Dartmouth’s shortcomings.

Abolishing the Greek system is to choose the path of least resistance. This solution presumes that our problems with sexual assault and binge drinking will vanish into thin air. In a letter to administrators, faculty cited the success of other schools that opted to end Greek life, mentioning Middlebury, Colby and Williams. The letter asserts that these schools now use “the lack of Greek life” as a “recruiting advantage.” However, there is no mention of the problems that persist even after the Greek alphabet has been purged from campus vocabulary.

On these campuses, neither sexual assault nor binge drinking ended with the Greek system. Middlebury’s reforms since abolishing the Greek system indicate that problems remain. The “It Happens Here” campaign at Middlebury, like the campaign at other schools, aims to prevent sexual assault and empower survivors. Administrators at Middlebury have also taken measures to curb binge drinking. In September, the school’s athletic director announced a new ban on alcoholic beverages at tailgates. Colby and Williams continue to battle these issues as well. In 2012, 15 students at Colby left the college following allegations of sexual misconduct. Earlier this year, Williams administrators were accused of inadequately responding to the rape of a female student. In essence, the abolition of the Greek system at these schools has not had the desired effect. Students have continued to act irresponsibly, regardless of whether or not they wear Greek letters, and sexual assault and binge drinking remain problems on campus.

The faculty’s vote to abolish the Greek system is troubling because it fails to recognize this. It lacks foresight and does not acknowledge that binge drinking and sexual assault are complex issues. Furthermore, there seems to be no strategy for what will happen following the end of the Greek system. While faculty noted the idea of a residential college system, “alternative social spaces” such as these present another set of challenges altogether. Such spaces would be extremely costly, and it is unclear whether students would make good use of them. But would “alternative social spaces” truly eliminate sexual assault and binge drinking? In my view, the answer is not quite so simple.

Ultimately, ending the Greek system to combat deep seated campus issues is tantamount to applying a Band-Aid to fight Ebola. It is a misguided, albeit well intentioned, solution.

Sarah Perez '17 is a contributing columnist.