RIGs, The Greek Replacement
Last week a number of students delivered a signed petition to Parkhurst decrying the "lack of alternatives to a traditionally and historically male-dominated social scene." They cited the absence of prominent student-controlled social spaces where men and women can interact on equal footing in physical plants, although spaces like this do already exist in Collis and in the various residential communities.
When students talk about social spaces, however, they really mean somewhere to play pong. In light of this definition, the male-dominated Greek scene has a decided monopoly.
The most commonly suggested solution to this problem is to create new sororities. The problem is that the administration will only recognize Greek houses affiliated with national organizations. National fraternities and sororities help resolve financial and liability issues, but most national sororities prohibit open parties and the serving of alcohol, which makes them feel quite left out when they come to Dartmouth.
Coed houses are gender-neutral, but few national Greek organizations are coed and the ones already on campus are underutilized. If we are serious about solving this problem, we will need to use new ideas and recognize that the eventual solution will come from outside of the Greek system.
The College should encourage pre-existing Council on Student Organization groups to form undergraduate societies similar to Amarna and Panarchy. These new "residential interest groups" (RIGs) would enjoy the same privileges as Coed, Fraternity and Sorority organizations, including the right to serve alcohol and rent College land. The College could include the RIGs in its current plan to purchase existing houses in the surrounding areas for CFS use.
Unfortunately, the houses around campus go for prices in the millions, are not centrally located and rarely come up for sale. In order to accommodate a number of unrelated people, these houses would have to be re-zoned, probably over the objections of neighbors, requiring even more time and money. A better solution would be to construct a series of townhouses whenever land becomes available, like after eventual demolition of the Choates. Each vertical unit would consist of a social venue on the ground floor, living and work spaces on the upper floors and a spacious subterranean basement.
While pre-existing houses would need to be refitted to meet fire codes and incorporate the card entry system, these townhouses could have all these features built in. Unlike most fraternity basements, these would be constructed with the knowledge that they would be used as social spaces in order to make them more durable. They could have high ceilings, concrete walls, and drains in the floors that would enable residents to clean them with a hose. A large event space could be similarly constructed near the townhouses and rented out by RIGs and CFS organizations for dance parties and social events.
While the administration frowns upon binge drinking, Parkhurst is pragmatic -- it would recognize the benefit of gender-neutral space, just as it recognizes the safety of students with good Samaritan policies. It also has a vested interest in the integrity of its investment and the safety of students who would otherwise drink in less ideal settings.
Because the RIGs would be based around a set of shared interests and activities, they would not only be gender neutral, but they could offer more focused programming. The benefit of having a physical plant would help centralize their extracurricular operations and would encourage group cohesion. Each townhouse could even be constructed differently so as to give each an individual character.
While such a transformation would be both slow and expensive, it is less so than the current plan, which is already backlogged with Greek and affinity organizations waiting to get spaces of their own. Now is just as good as any other time to lay the foundations. If you'd like to join me, I'll be the guy with the sledgehammer doing my part for gender relations by tearing down Bissell.