Controversy over Student Life Initiative marks early years

by Allyson Bennett | 9/24/08 3:16am

Winter Carnival of 1999 was

marked by a march on College

President James Wright's house

and the coordinated cancellation of

21 Greek-system parties, as roughly

1,000 stunned students protested the

Board of Trustees' and Wright's proposed

Student Life Initiative, which

Wright had said would likely end the

Greek system "as we know it." The

SLI, announced Feb. 16, 1999, was

drafted to expand Dartmouth's social

options and make the College's social

scene more inclusive, according to

Wright, although many understood

the initiative to be an attack on the

much-loved fraternity and sorority

system.

Described in The Dartmouth at

the time as "the most significant

change at Dartmouth College since

coeducation," the SLI established five

guiding principles, aimed at creating a

new social system "that's not built on

single-sex houses." A poll conducted

by The Dartmouth via e-mail found

that 83 percent of students favored

continuing the current Greek system

and numerous opinion articles

expressing student outrage were

printed in The Dartmouth.

The SLI was not a bid to end the

Greek system, Wright said in a recent

interview with The Dartmouth, but

rather an attempt to create a greater

sense of community outside of the

classroom, make Dartmouth's social

scene more coeducational and inclusive,

and address issues of alcohol

abuse on campus. He attributed the

outcry to a failure of communication

on the administration's part.

"I think that it was defined coming

out, again because of our stumbling,

as kind of an anti-Greek initiative, and

certainly it was meant to challenge

the Greek system, no doubt about

that," Wright said.

He added that the quotation in the

headline of The Dartmouth following

the announcement-- that the SLI

meant the end of the Greek system

"as we know it," a phrase he said

became the symbol of the SLI -- was

taken out of context. Wright said he

had hoped to encourage members

of the Greek system to conduct

self-analysis to make the system

stronger.

Then Student Body President

Josh Green '00, who wrote an opinion

article in The Dartmouth titled "Hear

Us Your Highness" that compared

Wright to Louis XIV, said in a recent

interview with The Dartmouth that

he also believed the opaque nature

of the initial decision-making process

was responsible for much of the

student outcry.

"It was a decision made behind

closed doors without student input

and communicated in such a way

as to suggest that students were not

entitled to have a say in terms of how

the school was going," Green said,

referring to Wright's statement to The

Dartmouth at the time that the SLI

was not a "referendum." "Students felt

that they had no choice but to rally

and take their own position, which

was 'no, don't change a thing.'"

At the outset, the SLI attempted to

curb excessive drinking on campus,

through the removal of all permanent

bars from Greek organizations' physical

plants, stricter keg regulations, expanded

alcohol-education programs

and a May 1999 moratorium on the

formation of new single-sex houses

until the College had solidified a new

plan for Dartmouth's social spaces.

The moratorium was lifted in June

2005.

The Board had hoped these developments

would decrease a perceived

campus emphasis on alcohol, Dean

of Residential Life Martin Redman

said.

"For the most part, you walked

into a fraternity house and the only

thing the organization owned was

a three-tap kegger-ator and a bar,"

Redman said. "There was this whole

apparent culture that suggested that

drinking had really gotten out of hand.

'Boot and rally,' -- this is what you

do when you go out and party -- you

drink until you get sick ... Permanent

bars and kegger-ators had to go."

Still, Redman admitted that alcohol

policy continues to be a source

of tension between students and administrators

today, even as he traced

the formation of College's Good

Samaritan policy, widely recognized

by students and administrators as a

success, to the SLI.

The new Alcohol Management

Policy, comprised of guidelines

created by review-committee of students

and administrators, will likely

replace the SLI-created Social Events

Management Policies gradually over

the course of this school year, Dean

of the College Tom Crady said in

interview.

Students advocated changing

SEMP because they believed that it

discouraged the use of kegs, which

many students said were more sustainable

and cheaper than cans, since

cans are usually thrown away rather

than recycled. Students have also

argued that a more keg-friendly alcohol

policy will also help slow alcohol

consumption, as it takes longer to distribute

alcohol from kegs than from

cans. Redman told The Dartmouth

that the idea that SEMP does not

allow kegs is a misconception, as

the SEMP never placed a maximum

on the number of kegs that could be

registered for one weekend.

The main problem with the SEMP

policy, Student Body President

Molly Bode told The Dartmouth in

spring 2008, is that it is too confusing.

Streamlining and clarifying the

policy was one of the main goals of

the SEMP review committee that created

the AMP, Redman, who led the

committee, told The Dartmouth in an

interview prior to the announcement

of the AMP but after the creation of

the committee.

The AMP will allow student organizations

more discretion by allowing

them to develop their own alcohol

policies and management procedures

within a set of guidelines established

by the College, Jenny Fisher '08, a

member of the committee, said in

an August interview.

The College's alcohol policy, both

in 1999 when the SLI was announced

and now, is designed to protect

student safety, Redman and Crady

said.

"The reality is that's why we pay

attention to alcohol, because it really

is the drug of choice on every college

campus," Redman said. "At the end

of the day, what nobody at this institution

wants to do is call a student's

parent and tell them their son or

daughter died because they drank

too much at a fraternity party."

As the principles of the SLI became

clearer back in 1999, according to

director of Coed, Fraternity and Sorority

System Deb Carney, students

became less angry and more accepting.

"As students and alumni learned

more about what those five principles

meant, what the directive was and

what the outcome might be, the

confusion got cleared up," Carney

said. "No, we were not getting rid of

the Greek letter system. In fact, we

wanted to enhance the Greek letter

system."

The process did become more

open, Green said, with the February

1999 creation of the SLI task force

including students to make recommendations

to the Board about the

implementation of the initiative.

Green, a member of the task force,

said he came to agree with the principles

of the SLI, despite his initial

opposition.

Following the plan's initial phase,

the College instituted six "guiding

principles of Greek life" in response

to the SLI, and resolved to hold Greek

organizations to "standards of excellence"

as opposed to the "minimum

standards" that had been previously

required. The College also began to

require each organization to produce

an individual action plan to address

the six principles in 2002 and temporarily

delayed Greek recruitment

from sophomore fall until sophomore

winter from 2001 to 2004.

The SLI also sparked a safety audit

of all Greek organizations' physical

plants. The audit found that each

organization needed to renovations

that would cost an average of $800

thousand, with one house requiring

renovations that could cost as much

as $1.4 million, Redman said. The

College will make these renovations

Controversy over Student Life Initiative marks early years