Students rally against CFS system

by Julia Levy | 11/1/99 6:00am

In the months that followed the announcement of the Board of Trustees' residential and social life initiative, rallies and protests sang the praises of the Greek system, while the voices of any anti-Greek students were quiet.

But now, as the Trustee steering committee finalizes its recommendations, a group of five seniors has stepped forward to make the case of why the Greek system should go.

The small faction of students have criticized the campus status quo -- even as they have received flak from some sectors of the community for doing so.

Seniors Ben Berk, Josh Green, Teresa Knoedler, Noah Phillips and Janelle Ruley -- have been especially vocal. On Oct. 18, the students shared their views about the Greek system in a private meeting with the Committee on Student Life Initiative, two weeks before the committee stopped hearing community's feedback this weekend.

Swimming against the current

A resounding 83 percent of the campus said they were in favor of continuing single-sex fraternities and sororities at the College in a poll conducted by The Dartmouth the week after the Initiative was announced.

The five students said since the poll, the voice of the minority groups on campus who agree with the goals of the Initiative and favor the elimination of the single-sex Greek system have not been heard by most of the Dartmouth community.

On Oct. 13, Green urged students in a mass BlitzMail message to alert the committee with their feedback and ideas on the Initiative.

"The Trustees have witnessed the rallies, they've read The D, and still I think there are voices they have not yet heard," he wrote.

Green said he received "some nasty blitzes" after his message circulated around campus.

"One guy called me a disgrace," he said. "He said I was worth about as much as a piece of junk mail he receives in his HB."

Knoedler said speaking out publicly jeopardized some of her friendships.

"We have been called hypocritical," she said. "That accusation makes me think there is a whole segment of social life at which I am no longer welcome."

President of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity Thad Glowacki '00 said he believes Knoedler's perception that people see her and the other students as hypocrites is not entirely unfounded.

"I view their anti-Greek sentiment as hypocritical in the sense that a number of them frequently attend Greek houses," he said. "I'm a little confused as to why they readily take advantage of the benefits that the Greek system provides while at the same time they argue for the elimination of the system in the future."

After Phillips voiced his opinion of the Greek system publicly for the first time on Oct. 11, addressing about 300 freshmen in Cook Auditorium, he said he received positive feedback from many '03s and negative feedback from some upperclassmen.

"A lot of freshmen have come up to me since then, especially that night, to thank me for something they claim they're afraid to say and for something they rarely hear," he said.

According to Phillips, since the forum, several Greek-affiliated students have made it clear that he is not welcome in their houses.

President of Gamma Delta Chi fraternity Matt Schroeder '00 said he thinks students who speak out against the system should not be banned from attending Greek functions.

But added, "Obviously they shouldn't be coming to our parties if they're speaking out against the Greek system."

Glowacki said he did not know of any specific fraternity or sorority that had banned any of the five students from coming to its parties. But he said he could understand why individuals would feel uncomfortable having them at their houses.

"A number of individuals within the Greek system are bothered by the hypocrisy that the five who spoke out against the Greek system tend to embrace," he said. "It doesn't surprise me that individuals have made them feel uncomfortable."

First Year Office Intern Jorge Miranda '01 planned the forum where Phillips first spoke publicly against the Greek system. The forum was created to educate freshmen about the controversy surrounding the Initiative and featured seniors talking about the history of and their opinions about the Initiative.

Miranda said several students who claimed to hold anti-Greek sentiments declined requests to speak at the forum.

"They didn't want to deal with the backlash of it and having people blitzing them or thinking things about them," Miranda said. "They'd rather just be silent in their views."

According to Green, the anti-Greek voice on campus has been suppressed in many ways since last winter.

"People feel intimidated because the people who are defending the Greek system have been defending it in a very loud and aggressive way," he said. "Is it really worth it to speak out when you're going to get bombarded with hate mail and get ostracized?"

Andy Louis '00, president of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, said he thinks anyone should be able to voice their opinion on this campus -- whether it is for or against the Greek system.

"But obviously, my views and opinions differ from theirs," he added.

Emergence of the anti-Greek stance

One Wednesday night this term, Green parked his car behind a Greek house on Webster Avenue and described what he heard as he passed by the fraternity to be shocking.

"I heard the brothers of the fraternity chanting at the top of their lungs, 'fck that ho, fck f*ck that ho,'" he said. "There was a woman near by. I saw her shudder."

Green said events like this have prompted him to speak for the elimination of the Greek system -- even at a college where the vast majority of students are proponents of the current system.

However, Green and the other students told The Dartmouth that they have not been opposed to the Greek system for their whole Dartmouth careers.

In fact, two of the five nearly rushed houses as sophomores, and all of them said some of their closest friends on campus are members of fraternities or sororities.

Phillips said he seriously considered rushing a fraternity at the end of his freshman year, but he decided not to pursue it. According to Phillips, the "brotherhood" that the fraternities offered their members was no more than an institutionalized system of conformity. He said he saw the system's effect first hand when one of his best friends joined a house as a sophomore.

"For two terms, he talked almost entirely about house gossip, who was good at pong, who such and such guy hooked up with," he said.

The anti-Greek argument

Ruley, who is studying Dartmouth from Coeducation until the Trustee Initiative as a case study for her senior fellowship this year, said she does not think the College is fully coeducational even though nearly three decades have passed since Dartmouth started admitting women.

"I think that the Greek system and the power dynamics that it sets up precludes coeducation," she said, adding that the system creates unhealthy gender relations.

President of the Coed Sorority Fraternity Council Jaimie Paul '00 said she thinks the entire campus has to work together to diminish this problem on campus.

"I think that there's been trouble with gender relations on this campus for a long time," Paul said. "As people on this campus have a particular mentality about alcohol, they also have a particular mentality about how people relate. A lot of times, the Greek system does perpetuate particular types of behavior."

Although Ruley favors the elimination of single-sex fraternities and sororities, the majority of her friends are affiliated and she said she has enjoyed sharing that aspect of campus life with them.

In her fellowship studies, Ruley found that sororities were created as a counterpart to fraternities in 1978 to help women access the power positions and the networking they saw their male counterparts gaining through their houses.

She said the model for fraternities, as well as sororities, is very male dominated.

Paul agreed that the sorority system was founded in response to the fraternity system, but said the sorority system has improved upon the predominantly male model since then.

Berk also said the system instills an anti-intellectual, apathetic attitude on campus.

"In several ways, the Greek system institutionalizes a mindset that there is nothing to do except play pong, boot and rally," Berk said.

He said this "boot and rally" mindset "is an overwhelming aspect that detracts from intellectualism, our sense of place and truly challenging and enlightening social interaction."

Phillips also said anti-intellectualism is the most upsetting consequence of the Greek system.

"What really annoys me though is the grunting that passes for conversation on this campus," Phillips said. "Last I checked, the word 'sup' referred to eating dinner, not 'how are things going?' What are we, Simian?"

Paul said alcohol and people's attitudes towards it are a major problem at Dartmouth.

"We've gotten really good at writing policies with loopholes," she said. She added that students have to work together to create a better alcohol policy that promotes more healthy habits.

Blueprints for the future

Although these students favor eliminating the Greek system, they only have vague ideas about what the future of the College's social and residential life system should look like.

Berk did not write a formal proposal to the Steering Committee about the future of the Greek system, but he said he does have some ideas about structures that could lay the foundations for whatever may evolve.

When asked what students at the College have in terms of social life without the Greek system, he said, "There's not nothing. There's us -- the students that are here -- and you have this place. New students will create new structures."

Phillips also said Dartmouth's social scene would not be ruined if the Greek system did not exist.

"I think that Dartmouth students socializing -- even with alcohol -- is not going to go away," he said.

Knoedler said if given the chance, Dartmouth students could create a better system than the one that currently exists.

"I would say that Greek life and this argument that we're discussing so permeates life on campus that there can be no substantive dialogue about other issues pertaining to student life," she said.

Green said each cluster should be associated with a non-residential house, which would be simple to reserve for student gatherings.

"It should be just as hard to plan a party as it is to plan a cultural event, but right now the easiest social option is inviting your friends to have some beers with you in the basement," Green said.

Ruley similarly said she does not have an exact plan in mind for the College, but she said Dartmouth "should be a place that strives every day to challenge its students in new and profound ways."

She suggested that a group of recent graduates with perspective on the Greek system assemble and come up with an alternative social system.

Paul said despite the problems she sees in the Greek system, it should not be eliminated, but built upon.

"All of the structures and the support systems are there, within the Greek system," she said.

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