Panhell mulls 7th sorority

by Nathaniel Ward | 5/24/02 5:00am

If the Panhellenic Council has its way, Dartmouth could soon become home to a seventh sorority, although organizers have yet to draft any specific timeline or plan of action.

At its May 14 meeting, the council began preliminary discussions to bring back one of three now-defunct Dartmouth sororities.

Yet the College's moratorium on new Greek houses and numerous logistical challenges have already provided organizers with substantial hurdles.

Although sorority leaders hope to avoid the current ban on new Greek houses by bringing back a previously established but now-defunct house, Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman said he interpreted the ban on new Greek houses as applying even to previously-existing sororities.

Unless there was a stipulation in the withdrawal from the Greek system declaring that the sorority should continue to exist, Redman said he "would interpret that group as being a new group."

Were such a stipulation to exist -- a possibility he does not rule out -- "minimally, they'd have to go through the existing recognition process," Redman added.

If a new sorority wanted recognition, "they wouldn't be allowed to if, in fact, they were single-sexed, were residentially-based, and had some selection criteria," Redman said.

With a seventh sorority, the Panhellenic Council hopes that Dartmouth's sorority system could become more inclusive, according to Lois Schonberger '03, president of Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority.

The Panhellenic Council has been criticized in recent years for its inability to guarantee bids, Panhell President Ann Chang '03 said.

"The problem is we have only six houses," many with well over 100 members, she explained.

In order to guarantee bids, recent year's sorority pledge classes have grown in size.

With pledge classes nearing 50 in some houses, however, much of the benefit of being in a sorority is undermined, Chang said.

Currently, however, plans for a new sorority are "on hold until we can figure out what the next steps are," Chang said.

"Nothing will happen until next fall" at the earliest, Schonberger said.

The council has yet to contact administrators or national sorority organizations, she said, though there are ongoing attempts to gauge interest.

"We would look for support from women on campus that have been involved in Greek life, like Susan Wright," Schonberger said.

Chang said she was concerned that the Student Life Initiative might cause national organizations to balk at restarting a house at Dartmouth, though she said the possibility "is still up in the air."

Even if national affiliation were given, Redman said, "the process itself is more lengthy than on the surface it might seem."

Groups may have to wait several years before a coordinator from the national office can assist with setting up a house, he said. Waiting might be a good idea, Redman said, since "you want a group to be successful and not a failure."

One hurdle Chang identified for those interested in a new organization would be the effort required to build a successful house. Any new sorority would likely be part of a national organization, she said, since they could help facilitate the work of creating a house.

"For an organization to jump directly into local status is not encouraged, just because of the guidance and advising that national organizations contribute to their chapters," Chang said.

To create interest in the house, a new sorority may follow the lead of KDE and be "opened up to the first 50 people who registered for it," Schonberger said.

Were the plans to come to fruition, the new organization might not have a physical house for several years, Chang said.

One possibility raised during informal discussions among Panhell officers has been the use of the Zeta Psi plant to house the new sorority. The derecognized fraternity is owned by the national Zeta Psi corporation, Chang said.

"It would be awesome if that could become a women's space, a social space in which women were empowered, supported, groomed into leaders," she added.

Such a move is not unprecedented. The house owned by Beta Theta Pi fraternity -- derecognized in 1996 -- is currently leased to Alpha Xi Delta sorority.

Other properties, including Phi Delta Alpha fraterntiy, had been mentioned as possible homes for the new sorority, though recent signs that Phi Delt will become a College-recognized house again have stymied those plans.

History professor Jere Daniell said the takeover of former fraternity houses by sororities has been steady after Sigma Kappa -- since renamed Sigma Delta -- was founded as the first sorority.

Regardless of speculation, the plan is in its infancy. Though considerable time has been spent discussing possibilities, Schonberger said, "the proposed seventh sorority is just a conversation."