Support for modified Greek system plus new options dominates student opinion

by Deborah Bernstein | 11/17/99 6:00am

The vast majority of Dartmouth students believe the single-sex Greek system should remain on campus -- but with substantial changes -- according to a poll and interviews conducted by The Dartmouth over the past two weeks.

In addition, optimism levels regarding whether the Initiative will have a positive impact on Dartmouth's future are decidedly split, according to the poll's results.

Eighty percent of the 2,836 students who responded to a BlitzMail poll sent out November 7 and concluded last night said they support the continuation of the single-sex Greek system, closely mirroring polls conducted last Winter term, soon after the announcement of the Board of Trustee's controversial Social and Residential Life Initiative.

The BlitzMail poll was sent to all 4,280 of the College's students in classes 2000-2003, with a response rate of 66 percent. Of the 4,280 students who received the poll, 628 were sent the survey but are not in residence this term. The on-campus response rate was approximately 75 percent.

In interviews with random students, most said although they think the Greek system should continue to be a part of Dartmouth's social system, issues of alcohol abuse should be addressed and other social options should be added. Sixteen percent responded to the poll by saying they think the system should be eliminated entirely.

Only six percent of survey respondents characterized themselves as "very satisfied with the Trustees' handling of the Initiative, in terms of gathering student input and accessibility," with 50 percent describing themselves as "somewhat satisfied" and 40 percent responding they were "not at all satisfied" with what the Trustees have done thus far.

Most students interviewed said they were disappointed in the way the Initiative was announced last February, but have been more pleased recently with the steering committee's efforts to solicit campus opinion.

However, students are still reluctant to say they think the Initiative will improve life at the College, with respondents split equally -- 43 percent to 44 percent -- between those who think the Initiative will improve social and residential life and those who do not. Twelve percent were undecided.

The number of students who have said the Initiative will improve Dartmouth's social and residential life has been increasing in each of The Dartmouth's three polls of student opinion on the Initiative.

While in the days immediately after the Initiative announcement only 22 percent thought its effect would be positive, numbers grew to 40 percent in the March poll and inched slightly upward to 43 percent in this week's count.

The March increase in student optimism towards the Initiative was attributed to increasing confusion about what the Initiative would bring. Many students said they no longer felt the Five Principles would mean the total elimination of the Greek system, as they had at the time of the first poll.

Now, many students said increasing hope for the Initiative is connected to the perception that the steering committee is attempting to gather student opinion about all aspects of Dartmouth life.

Of upperclassmen who responded to the poll, approximately 52 percent are part of the Greek system. Fifty-one percent of upperclassmen campus wide are part of the Greek system.

Although current freshmen were not on campus when the first poll was conducted following the Initiative's announcement, 82 percent of the 745 respondents from the class feel the single-sex Greek system should remain -- an almost identical figure to that of the original poll.

In polls including the Class of 1999 before Winter Carnival, 83 percent of respondents said the single-sex Greek system should continue and 15 percent said it should be abolished.

In March, 82 percent supported the continuation of the single-sex Greek system while 16 percent said it should be abolished.

Opinions on the Greek System

Even within the large majority of students who support the continued existence of the single-sex Greek system, most told The Dartmouth they think the system does need major changes to address specific issues -- most notably alcohol and gender relations, which represent two of the Trustee's original Five Principles.

Additionally, the need to add social options, and not take existing ones away, dominated the opinions of students on campus social life.

Unaffiliated junior Matt Anthony said the Greek system is generally a very positive outlet for students to gather together that doesn't exist in other ways at the College.

He said it should continue to exist with modifications, since he finds the system's dependence on alcohol "disconcerting."

While Anthony's opinion represents the apparent middle-ground of campus perspectives on the Greek system, a number of students expressed more extreme opinions in both directions.

Like some other students who spoke to The Dartmouth, Gamma Delta Chi fraternity member Aaron Pumerantz '02 said he does not think the system needs major changes.

He said he supports the Greek system the way it currently exists, saying it should be modified in ways that don't curtail the present Coed Fraternity Sorority system, but still enhance Dartmouth communities and other social areas.

Echoing popular student opinion, Student Assembly Communications Vice President Melissa Heaton '02 said the Greek system "could use a facelift."

A member of Alpha Xi Delta sorority, Heaton said the Greek system must work to improve gender relations among its members and in the community as a whole.

On the other hand, some students said they think the system should be abolished completely, saying the Greek system promotes anti-intellectualism and requires a level of reform which is just not possible.

One senior who wished to remain anonymous said that while the premise on which the system is based is good, the system has gained too large a focus at the College.

The system is destructive to the community as a whole, and individuals, the student said.

No students who said the Greek system should be eliminated in interviews with The Dartmouth would allow their names to be used, seemingly affirming comments made by many within the Dartmouth community that anti-Greek supporters do not feel comfortable expressing their views publicly, despite the emergence of a group of five seniors who have vocally pushed for the system's elimination.

Several unaffiliated students told The Dartmouth they felt since they themselves did not choose to join a fraternity or sorority, they are not in the position to judge the system of those who did join. Those students also wished to remain anonymous.

Opinions on the Initiative itself

Some students expressed apathy or unawareness about the Initiative, citing off-terms during the initial announcement as one factor that has kept them disinterested.

Others said the Initiative's importance pales in comparison to real-world issues.

"Honestly, I really just feel this entire issue is about as unimportant a thing as I can imagine being asked about," Lisa Carpenter '01 said. "It insults me and disappoints me in a lot of profound ways that the people on this campus are not willing to put positive energies into anything productive or necessary."

Carpenter said the protests over Winter Carnival that followed the Initiative announcement struck her as unimportant when compared with her Winter term experience protesting the bombings of Kosovo in Washington D.C..

Carpenter said she doesn't think the Initiative will mean consequential positive change.

"I don't think people really care what changes replace what we already have, they're just against change in first place," Carpenter said. "They don't realize this is all so insignificant. We have real lives to lead."

Evaluating the Process

Few students categorized themselves as very satisfied with the way the Initiative has been conducted by the Board of Trustees and the steering committee, with most students describing themselves as either not at all satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the level of student input in the process.

Students interviewed by The Dartmouth resoundingly disapproved of the initial announcement of the Five Principles and the feeling the national news media was alerted to the changes before the students.

However, some feel the steering committee has done a slightly better job at making students feel their opinions about Dartmouth are important to the process.

This increase in soliciting student opinion involvement has led more students to be hopeful that the possible changes could be positive for the campus.

"As the process has gone on, we've learned the wrong way to do things," Heaton said, adding that the steering committee has benefited most from this knowledge.

Jeffrey Ott '00, too, felt the introduction of the Initiative was poorly handled but said the time and effort the steering committee is putting into the Initiative now has been adequate. "They've tried to keep us well-informed so we don't riot," he said.

Many students said their judgements of the Initiative's success will be based on whether student opinion -- specifically on the Greek system issue -- is listened to by the Trustees.

The theme of adding -- rather than eliminating -- social and residential options was prevalent in student comments on how to implement the Initiative successfully.

Freshman Kaylie Dienelt said right now, she does not think she would join a sorority should there be regular rush next Fall term. She has gone to fraternity parties, but said she has no trouble finding fun things to do beyond the Greek system.

The College should be increasing all types of social options, and not decreasing them by removing an option some people love, she said.

Dienelt, a resident of the East Wheelock cluster said implementing more residence halls like hers would be a good way to improve Dartmouth life.

Dienelt said she feels residents of her cluster are strongly bonded and the existence of Brace Commons and the snack bar means she doesn't have to actually leave her cluster to find social activities and food.

While more opportunities like this for students would improve life, she said should the Initiative take away the Greek life option many students prize, they would feel the Initiative is actually hurting their Dartmouth experiences.

Katie Martin '03 is one of the many students who said a less extreme version of the Five Principles changes originally proposed by the Trustees would improve social life.

Martin was uncertain the proposal of exclusively first-year residence halls -- one possibility which has received a great deal of attention in recent months -- was an improvement over current living facilities.

She said freshmen benefit from living side-by-side with upperclassmen, who share their experiences with incoming students.

Despite the hope expressed by many students that the steering committee and Board decisions will mean an improved Dartmouth, there are some who doubt changes will mean anything to the school.

In contrast, Meeta Agrawal '01, who is unaffiliated, thinks that while current students might suffer while Initiative changes are first being implemented, in the long run the program will have a positive effect on the College.

The steering committee is formally known as the Committee on the Student Life Initiative.