Trustees to End Greek System 'As We Know It'

by Jacob T. Elberg | 2/10/99 6:00am

In what will mark the most significant change at Dartmouth College since coeducation, the Board of Trustees and College President James Wright announced yesterday a plan which will put an end to the single-sex fraternity and sorority system which has existed at the College for more than 150 years.

Although it is unclear at this point what the new system will look like, Wright told The Dartmouth yesterday the Trustees' decision will mean an end to the Greek system "as we know it."

The Board -- which yesterday released a revolutionary list of five principles aimed at overhauling residential and social life at the College -- will look for input from the community before deciding on a new social system "that's not built on single-sex houses."

Wright said both he and the Trustees are prepared to weather the student and alumni opposition they expect will result from the decision, which will change the face of social and residential life on a campus where more than 35 percent of undergraduates are members of the 25 single-sex fraternities and sororities.

"This is not a referendum on these things," Wright said. "We are committed to doing this."

Wright said he thinks the decision on the design of the new system will be made early in fall or winter of the upcoming year, and said although it is not yet clear whether Greek houses will be able to hold traditional rush next fall, "as you get out two years and three years there's less and less likelihood of that."

That means members of the Class of 2001, who joined Greek houses this year, are unlikely to be participating in a traditional rush process during their senior year.

In addition to a call for a social system which is "substantially coeducational and provide[s] opportunities for greater interaction among all Dartmouth students," the Trustees said they will seek significant changes to the College's residential system and improvement of campus social space when they released their statement of "five principles that will characterize the future residential and social life of students at the College."

The Trustees are prepared to spend "tens of millions of dollars" to finance the social and residential life changes, according to Wright, who said the College will hope to purchase and refurbish the houses of the Greek organizations who currently live in privately-owned buildings.

"The Trustees are giving students the opportunity to reimagine social life and residential life at the College," Wright said. "And the Trustees are prepared to invest money to meet [their] aspirations."

Wright, who is known for his interest in and knowledge of the College's history, said the Trustees' social and residential life initiative will be the biggest change the College has seen since the Trustees voted to admit women in November of 1971.

"[Coeducation] would be the only thing that's happened here that probably would exceed this in terms of effecting the quality of the student experience at Dartmouth," Wright said. "And there definitely is no doubt in my mind that eight or 10 years from now the quality of the student experience as a result of these things will be far stronger than it is today."

Wright remarked that the current fraternity and sorority system is not one of inclusion -- making a dramatic initiative such as this one necessary.

"By definition, a fraternity or a sorority is not inclusive of all members of the community," Wright said. "Finally Dartmouth needs to become a place that's more whole, where the entire community can share more fully in the life of the community."

Wright declined to comment on what he envisions for the future of the College's social system, but said that despite the Trustees' call to eliminate "the abuse and unsafe use of alcohol," neither he nor the members of the Board have any inclinations of making Dartmouth a "dry campus."

"I wouldn't even fantasize how to make a dry campus here," he said.

Wright said the Trustees will look at community discussion about possible options for a new social system before making a final decision on exactly what the new system will entail, although he said "it's a view of the Trustees and a view that I share that it's time to move on to another and a different system."

A revolution in residential life

The Trustees' decision regarding the fraternity and sorority system is only one part of the revolutionary social and residential life initiative which is sure to dramatically change life at the College.

Wright said both he and the Board are willing to devote financial resources and fundraising efforts to make sure the money is available to fund whatever plans the Trustees decide on after considering the input of the community.

"I'm certainly prepared to go to work to raise money for these things," Wright said.

The five principles deal with a need for "greater choice and continuity in residential living and improved residential space," as well as "additional and improved social spaces controlled by students."

Wright said the Trustees are willing to put up money to construct new residence structures which could drastically alter the College's residential housing system. Additional apartments and town houses -- smaller scale complexes with social spaces built in -- are options the Trustees would like the community to consider, although he said the Board does not have "a firm decision on any physical plan."

Wright said both he and the Board would like to see a reduction in the number of students living in off-campus housing, and said the College may chose to build as many as 400 new beds in the hopes of bringing back to campus "about 200 students who would like to be on-campus." Social space & dining

The need for additional social space has become a much talked about issue at the College since the decision was made in January of 1994 to convert Webster Hall -- a medium-sized programming space which often hosted concerts and other such events -- into the site of the new Rauner Special Collections Library.

But Wright said the Trustees may move on construction of a new space, or spaces, as early as fall of 1999, if by then they have decided on a plan of action.

The Trustees' statement that achievement of the five principles will require a change in "dining arrangements" means the College's dining system -- something that has gained little attention in recent years -- will become a topic of discussion in the upcoming months.

Wright said the Trustees are considering, among other things, the possibility of decentralizing dining on campus -- constructing two or three smaller dining halls on the campus in addition to current dining options -- although he said a system like that of Yale University, where each residence hall has an accompanying dining hall, is not likely.

"I'm not trying to model what we do on what Yale or Harvard or any other place does," Wright said. "I think what we're talking about is what a Dartmouth residential and social life system would look like. But I think decentralized dining could be a part of it."

Wright said decentralizing dining might make for more social space, as there would be more locations for "dinners with programming associated with them" that could also be "cleared out to provide social spaces on different parts of the campus in the evening."

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