Seniors recall first Carnival of petition and protest

by Sabrina Peric | 2/8/02 6:00am

For many seniors graduating this year, their freshman-year Winter Carnival was one they will never forget.

Three days before the beginning of the 1999 Carnival, the Board of Trustees released the Student Life Initiative.

The Initiative changed the mood on campus to one of surprise, uproar and discontent as students protested and caught the attention of the national media.

"The release was a total surprise. Everyone kept walking around with a paper that morning, showing people the headlines," Regan Murphy '02 said.

The Carnival was also unlike any other as the Coed Fraternity Sorority Council decided to cancel all Carnival parties, which have traditionally been one of the main draws of the weekend.

"I remember feeling like the entire student body was fighting the system. Even though parties were cancelled, there was a lot of energy from the students," Sylvie Liberman '02 said.

"It was very exciting to see the student body rally around a single cause the way they did," Liberman continued.

Murphy explained that "even though all formal parties were cancelled, everyone carried on and tried to make the best out of the weekend."

Most students agreed that the energy of the student body was their most fond and most prominent memory.

Even the then-traditional keg jump at Psi Upsilon fraternity was cancelled in favor of a student rally on the fraternity's lawn that demonstrated support for the Greeks.

"I remember going to the rally at Psi U and feeling like the Greeks were really going to fight the administration tooth and nail all the way," Michael Tokson '02 said.

Many students that The Dartmouth contacted felt that the Initiative threatened the very existence of the Greek system at Dartmouth, with its call for a substantially co-educational social life.

"I feel that the actions of the administration and James Wright robbed us of a Winter Carnival and a true bonding moment," Blake Ratcliff '02 said. "I remember going with friends and getting transfer forms -- it was a horrible thing to be a freshman doubting Dartmouth and tradition."

"I thought the administration should at least wait until the '02 class graduated until they implemented the Initiative since a lot of us came to Dartmouth for its vibrant party scene," Tokson said.

But mostly, students felt robbed of an essential Carnival experience that they were supposed to receive.

"There was the notion in the back of all our heads that they had spoiled our first Winter Carnival and that things were never going to be the same," Murphy said.

"By releasing it so late, so close to Winter Carnival, [the administration] wrecked our experience," Ratcliff agreed.

The opposition to the Initiative was very visible during the Carnival's opening ceremonies when students heckled and booed during President Wright's speech on the Green. Students wore Greek letter T-shirts or "Unaffiliated but I support the Greeks" shirts.

"I don't even think I really understood what the Greek System stood for, yet I still wore that T-shirt 'Unaffiliated but support the Greek System,'" Liberman said.

Many of the Class of 2002 were struck by how many people the Initiative affected. "It was striking to see hordes of angry alumni come up, who really felt threatened that their Dartmouth was coming apart," Ratcliff said.

"Sentiments towards the Greek system have changed a great deal since then, as in it is much more acceptable among students to take an anti-Greek stance," Liberman said.

But no matter what their stance on Greek life, students found a way to make their Winter Carnival a memorable experience with their own organized activities in the absence of an organized social schedule.

"I remember my friends in Richardson stealing the lounge furniture to build a pong table in their room," Lauren Wilson '02 said.

"Room clusters of guys in Richardson formed Rho Chi Epsilon ("Richie"), complete with pong tables, and their sister sorority downstairs threw a room dance party," Murphy said.

"I was disappointed at first, that Winter Carnival wasn't going to be the way it was supposed to be," Wilson said.

"But later I found out it didn't really matter, and that Winter Carnival would still be a memorable experience."

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