Refendum is beginning of student input on Greeks

by Matthew Berry | 11/8/93 6:00am

For the past three years, the Student Assembly told the student body what to think. On issue after issue ranging from supporting the censorship of the Hovey murals to condemning an Oregon state ballot referendum, the Assembly ignored the wishes of its constituents in order to further the members' personal political agendas.

On Thursday, the Assembly will ask the student body what it thinks. In a campus-wide referendum, students will answer the following question: "Do you support the continued existence of single-sex fraternities and sororities at Dartmouth?"

The change in emphasis is important. With the election of President Nicole Artzer '94, Vice President Steve Costalas '94 and Reform SA! representatives, we finally have a student government that is seeking to put the students first as opposed to a fixed ideological agenda.

Throughout my four years at Dartmouth, the Greek system has been the most hotly debated issue on campus. From editorial after editorial in these pages, posters on dorm bulletin boards and public pronouncements of campus leaders, students have been inundated with both pro- and anti-Greek sentiment.

No one, however, has conclusively answered the most important question surrounding the issue: How do the students feel about the Greek system? The Assembly, by holding Thursday's referendum, is performing this valuable service.

By voting on one simple and straightforward question, students will collectively render one of two verdicts and send a powerful message either way to the administration and the Trustees. A "yes" victory would mean that students want to preserve a Greek system with fraternities, sororities and co-ed houses. A "no" victory would mean students either want to force all houses to become co-ed or abolish the Greek system entirely.

However you plan to vote in the referendum, it is imperative that you make your voice heard. As students, we must show that we are interested in making decisions that affect our daily lives or else the administration will just go on deciding our future for us and ignoring our input. Regardless of the referendum's outcome, a strong voter turnout would send the administration an important message and make it more willing to listen to us in the future on a whole host of other issues.

As for the specific question asked in the referendum, in reality, it has little to do with the Greek system and far more to do with basic principles of autonomy. The question really is, should students be given the choice of joining a single-sex organization?

As I have written in these pages before, I have not affiliated with a fraternity, but strongly support the right of others to do so. Just as I would vociferously oppose any attempt to force students to join a fraternity or sorority, I am also opposed to any effort to take away from students the option of affiliating with a single-sex Greek organization.

We should have available to us the widest variety of social options possible: membership in a fraternity, sorority, or co-ed house or independence. Any effort to restrict and not expand our choice is a step in the wrong direction.

The critics of this referendum have claimed that the question is too narrowly focused and does not give students the opportunity to adequately express their views on the Greek system. Such criticisms fail to recognize, however, that Thursday's referendum marks the beginning, rather than the end, of student input into the subject.

If the student body answers "yes" to the referendum, we can begin to explore such questions as how social alternatives can be expanded on this campus or how the Greek system can be improved, secure in the knowledge that such efforts are not a disguised plot to abolish fraternities and sororities.

Thursday's vote is far more crucial to Dartmouth's future than any Student Assembly election ever has been. The student body must take control of Dartmouth's destiny by voting in the referendum or surely College President James Freedman and Dean of Students Lee Pelton will do so for us.

In the final analysis, I trust Dartmouth students to make decisions about their own social lives. For this reason, the Student Assembly should be congratulated for holding Thursday's referendum, and the student body should respond by returning an overwhelming "yes" vote.