Campus reacts to NY Times article

by Andrew Marnell | 11/8/99 6:00am

Reactions within the Dartmouth Community were mixed yesterday following a New York Times article presenting a comparative look at Greek social options at the College as well as a brief description of the Trustee Initiative on Social and Residential Life.

The New York Times feature story by Randy Kennedy highlighted the differences between a "traditional" fraternity party at Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity and "Milque and Cookies" at Phi Tau coed fraternity, though it also discussed reactions to the Initiative.

While many complained of misquotations and misinterpretations in the article, most agreed the article was balanced in its portrayal of Greek life at Dartmouth.

"It was what I expected," said Coed, Fraternity and Sorority Council President Jaimie Paul '00, "extremely honest ... it addressed a lot of the things that are wrong with Dartmouth and a lot of the things we're trying to address."

"I was struck by the idea that this is about as complex an issue as you can deal with," said Board of Trustee Chair William King, Jr. '63, "I think the article salutes that."

"It was very well balanced in terms of various viewpoints," said Ben Berk '00, who has said publicly he believes the Greek system should be eliminated. "It was heavily based on fact, and facts that are not usually talked about."

But not all students agreed with the balance of viewpoints and the tone of the article.

"It was definitely more negative than positive," said Janelle Ruley '00, who also favors elimination of the Greek system. "The article portrayed social life at Dartmouth as only about partying -- that's inaccurate."

Although Alpha Chi President Sebastian Barreveld '00 said he believes it was balanced, he claims he was misquoted in the Times article. "I think he took a lot of liberties with quotations; it was factually incorrect and those were not my words."

The article discussed issues of alcohol use and current college policy, first through an explanation of beer pong and later through a night spent at an Alpha Chi party the first weekend of Fall term.

Kennedy began the article with a description of pong at Alpha Chi. "Many cups of beer had been consumed," he wrote, "and 25 more remained, spread out across the table."

"The beautiful thing about this game is that you can't really lose," said Alpha Chi alumnus Nathaniel Taylor '98 after chugging a beer.

Kennedy wrote that the "Alpha Chi Alpha brothers proudly think of themselves as a kind of counterculture: resisting a pull toward political correctness, inclusion, cautiousness. They see the freedom to be all male and exclusive, to drink what they want and say what they want as a fundamental American right."

At the party Kennedy stood at the door with Barreveld as he checked students' identification cards, turning away several members of the Class of 2003. "'They have the average attention span of puppies,' said Mr. Barreveld wearily, turning away one group of visibly drunk freshmen women," Kennedy wrote.

Following a description of the college policy on kegs, the article quoted Barreveld as saying "this is all show. [Safety and Security] knows that and we know that. It's easy to change the tags on the kegs. I mean, we've got 12 more kegs downstairs."

Paul also said she believed there may have been several misquotes in the story and suggested Barreveld may have been speaking of empty kegs in their basement that had piled up throughout the week.

According to CFS regulations, fraternities are not permitted to have unregistered kegs during the week.

In addition to his visit to Alpha Chi, Kennedy went to a party at Phi Tau on another night.

"As college officials and trustees continue their search for a new social paradigm, there are many who would probably be happy if it looked like Phi Tau, one of three coeducational fraternities on campus," he wrote.

Kennedy added that the members of the fraternity "are proud -- almost piously so -- of their house. And they do not hesitate to hide their disdain for traditional fraternities."

Phi Tau President Virginia DeJesus-Rueff '00 said that she believed Kennedy's attitude toward her house was misguided.

She said Kennedy took the attitude that "I'm going to a coed house -- therefore it must be a very geeky house. The things he placed an emphasis on ... were what the 'cool' people were doing and what the not so 'cool' people were doing."

She also claims the article misquoted her.

Kennedy wrote that DeJesus-Rueff said that "sex in the house is frowned upon."

"I never said anything about sex except in the context of gender," she said.

The article said "the debate about Greek houses is ultimately about much more than beer drinking. It is about basic questions about the culture of college campuses at the end of the century."

Teddy Rice '00 said he believes at this point the debate discussed in the article is waning. "I think [the article] will have little effect on the [Trustee steering committee's] decision," he said, "it's past that time."

"I think it was a fair presentation, though," he added.

Other members of the Dartmouth Community also said they thought the article presented a fair assessment of the issues facing Dartmouth.

Trustee Susan Dentzer '77 said she believes that "in all articles like this you get a very compressed ... version of the conflicts," though she said the article "echoed the issues on the mind of the board for many years."

"The overall impression could have been left ... that Dartmouth is an institution where people don't care about academics," she said, "we know that's not the case."

The Times quoted Dentzer as saying "we do strongly believe in free choice, but we want those to be very structured kinds of choices."

"My stance is exactly as he portrayed it," she said, "we stand by our positions for the need to change."

Kennedy also wrote that "because of its size, Dartmouth has become a magnifying glass for the problems that have long plagued the Greek system..."

Dean of the College James Larimore disagreed. He said that this perception "may have been a matter of the schools [Kennedy] has been familiar with."

Larimore said such schools as Duke University and the University of Southern California are considering the same issues as Dartmouth.

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