At six year mark, SLI impacts less drastic than anticipated

by Kate Lyon | 2/14/05 6:00am

Many students spent yesterday recovering from the weekend's revelry or in the library completing work neglected in favor of Winter Carnival's basement banter. But what if the bevy of social options offered by the Greek houses over the past four days had been restricted?

This year's Winter Carnival marks the sixth anniversary of the announcement of the Student Life Initiative. Established to revamp the social and residential life of Dartmouth undergraduate and graduate students, the Initiative was comprised of five principles, including residential and social spaces improvement, elimination of the abuse and unsafe use of alcohol and the creation of a substantially coeducational residential system.

One year later, in January 2000, a recommendation to the Board of Trustees by the Committee on the SLI called for a comprehensive five-year review of the initiative and a consideration of "whether selective social organizations should continue to be recognized by the College."

According to Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman, the review occurred in 2004 with little controversy or student awareness, at the request of departing trustees and SLI committee chairs Susan Dentzer '77 and Peter Fahey '68.

Despite the initial uproar the SLI garnered, most students today said they do not know its goal or intentions.

"It has kind of a mythical status," Brian Hendrickson '06 said.

Many of the changes implemented by the SLI pertained to the Greek system exclusively, including the abolition of taps, keggerators and permanent bars in fraternity basements, the now-relapsed change of rush from Fall term to Winter term and the implementation of action plans for Greek houses to raise the standards to which Greek houses are held.

While much of the controversy surrounding the SLI focuses on the Greek system, many of its aspects pertain to other areas of residential and social life. The Bigger, Better and Later program, plans in the works to convert Collis and Thayer Dining Hall into social spaces and the creation of freshman-only housing in the Choate and River residential clusters are examples.

Still, students most often associate the acronym SLI with the Greek system when it is mentioned at all.

"When I was a prospective I heard they were trying to get rid of the Greek system," Laura Nelson '05 said. "But I didn't know it was a formalized initiative until I was a freshman."

Five Years Ago

Current student opinion is far from the outcry that resulted when the Initiative was announced in 1999. That year all Winter Carnival activities held at Greek houses were cancelled in response to what was widely perceived by students as a direct challenge to the existence of the Greek system.

Instead of dancing the night away, students rallied on the Psi Upsilon fraternity lawn and stormed College President James Wright's house. Many non-Greeks made t-shirts that read, "Unaffiliated but I support the Greeks."

"It was just kind of a shocking thing, it had people up in arms. I wasn't in a fraternity yet but I could tell it was really big news," Jared Gellar '02 said. "That sentiment lasted for awhile, like months."

"My senior year there were these constant debates on campus," Josh Green '00, then the Student Assembly president, said. "It was all anybody talked about. There was no discussion of national politics, no discussion of classes. Everyone was talking about whether the system should stay or go."

Greater Implications

The administration's announcement of changes to the Greek system led to student confusion, and many other aspects of the SLI were lost in the fray.

"I think in many ways the administration just blew it in terms of how they announced it," Green said.

As a result, students perceived the announcement as pitting the administration against the student body.

"We just didn't know what they were trying to do," Gellar said. "We thought they were scheming and plotting, that we weren't being told the whole truth, so we prepared for the worst. President Wright never made his position clear."

This feeling eventually evolved into a frustration at the lack of student input in administrative matters. Although Redman cited opportunities for students to comment on proposed changes before they were announced, the SLI surprised most students.

"It was a huge shock," Green said. "I wrote a column criticizing President Wright for totally disempowering students and not listening to what we have to say."

There were student efforts to remedy this situation, Green said, but despite a meeting between the Student Assembly's vice president and the chair of the Board of Trustees, all student empowerment proposals were rejected.

The Next Five Years

Many students are hopeful for more fruitful discussions with College policymakers as the SLI's most inflammatory controversies become a distant memory for most undergraduates. Nelson, a member of Sigma Delta sorority, said Greek organizations have since learned to communicate more effectively with the administration.

Students see the return of rush to Fall term this year as a departure from the SLI, which delayed rush until Winter term in 2001.

"Moving rush back to fall is definitely a step in the right direction," Hendrickson said. "It reflects a willingness to make changes, although I don't know how lasting it will be."

Others see the move as a constructive response to student wishes.

"I think it's a good sign if the administration is able to change if that's what students want," said Taylor Duvall '05.

Regardless of what the SLI holds for the future of social and residential life on campus, many feel it is important for current students to remember and understand the SLI to inform future dealings with administrators and gauge student life on campus.

"If it's true that social life is the same as it was -- that's sad. If it's true that the administration continues to leave students out of the decision-making of the College -- that's sad," Green said.

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