Beta hosts nonalcoholic programs, social events

by Rebecca Cress | 11/24/08 4:27am

Before most fraternities began pong tournaments, cocktail events and dance parties one Saturday night this term, guests at Beta Alpha Omega fraternity practiced more coordinated footwork at the fraternity-hosted tango workshop that afternoon. Beta, which must remain dry through Winter term, has hosted a number of nonalcoholic programming events this term, as the new chapter attempts to redefine itself after its 1996 derecognition by the College, according to fraternity member Kadian Campbell '11.

In conjunction with the Dartmouth Argentine Tango Society, Beta invited Alicia Cruzado, a professional Argentine tango dancer, to lead two tango workshops earlier this month. The workshops, geared towards dancers with different levels of experience, were open to both students and community members.

Beta has also instituted a Tuesday night lecture series at its Webster Avenue house this term, which has thus far featured two faculty speakers -- history professor George Trumbull, who serves as Beta's faculty adviser, previewed his Winter-term "Islam in Africa" course, and Native American studies professor Bruce Duthu discussed Native American law, focusing on issues of federal recognition of the Houma's tribal sovereignty, according to Beta President Andrew von Kuhn '09. Beta also hosted a speech by graduate student and author Matt Hull, who is currently working on his first novel, "The Gentleman Farmer."

"The lecture series has been a great success, and demonstrates the collective commitment of the brothers to providing a Greek experience that transcends the stereotype of the frat-house basement," Trumbull said in an e-mail to the Dartmouth.

Beta also hosted a lecture by Libertarian presidential-hopeful former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., sponsored by the Dartmouth Review. In addition, the fraternity hosted "Branded," a panel on stereotyping within Dartmouth's social environment, last Tuesday. Von Kuhn was one of the eight panelists.

The turnout for each event has been strong, according to Tony Pastoors '10, who added that, for the most part, the entire membership has attended each event. At Tuesday's panel, the audience packed the main living room of Beta's physical plant, with students sitting on the floor and standing against the walls.

Beta does not sponsor all of the events hosted in its house, Campbell explained. The distinction became particularly relevant after Barr's speech, when one student sent a "crazy" e-mail to a member of Beta expressing anger based on a misconception that Beta and The Review had co-sponsored the event, Campbell said.

"If Women in Business or Native Americans at Dartmouth or whoever wants [to hold events at Beta], they can," Campbell said. "This is an outlet."

The house is working hard to shake its old image, Campbell said. Beta was derecognized in 1996 following multiple incidents of misconduct throughout the 1990s. Upon its return, the new Beta chapter displaced Alpha Xi Delta sorority, which had leased the fraternity's physical plant for 10 year, igniting debate over the balance of female- and male-dominated social spaces on campus last Winter term.

"We've had a hell of a tough time coming back," von Kuhn said at Tuesday's panel. "I can think of a number of things said with no validity."

The programming and outreach events Beta hosted this term were in no way mandated by the College, according to Fouad Saleet, associate director of Greek Letter Organizations and Societies.

"This organization has taken the initiative to conduct this programming because it is in line with the values and beliefs of the organization," Saleet said in an e-mail to The Dartmouth.

Alcohol is not permitted at Beta, and the house will remain dry for two terms according to the conditions of its re-recognition. Earlier this month, Beta hosted a dry dance party that had significant student turnout, Pastoors said. Students want to spend time at the house even though it is not open for traditional parties and pong, according to Pastoors.

"So every weekend, you get a knock on the door with someone asking, 'Mind if I come in and hang out?'" he said.

It appears students feel comfortable at Beta despite initial apprehensions, Pastoors said. Both Campbell and Pastoors said they have received significant positive feedback on the chapter's conduct this term.

Not everyone is convinced, though. The only trait that distinguishes Beta from other fraternities is the fact that it is temporarily dry, according to Brian DeAngelis '11, a member of Chi Heorot fraternity.

"They're probably going to turn into a pretty standard frat once they're allowed to drink," DeAngelis '11 said.

Campbell said the fraternity will need to "watch out" for the behavior of its members and house guests in the spring when the house is allowed to serve alcohol.

"It's a new privilege, and we'll still be being watched," he said.

Members of the organization are discussing how they will handle the house once alcohol is permitted, and have decided to follow the motto "lead by example" when conducting themselves, according to Campbell.

At Tuesday's panel, which addressed students' comfort in Greek spaces among other topics, Gabrielle Santa-Donato '09, a member of Sigma Delta sorority who introduced the event, congratulated the house.

"Beta rocks for showing the capacity for change exists," she said.

Lee Cooper '09, vice president of Alpha Delta fraternity, acknowledged that panels and similar types of programming events are a positive way to bring a diverse crowd into a fraternity.

"With events ranging from sober dance parties to panels on masculinity, Beta's leadership is doing the right things to show the values of its individual members rather than dwell on problems of the past," Cooper said in an e-mail to The Dartmouth. Cooper is a former staff columnist for The Dartmouth.

Campbell said he chose to join Beta because he could help create a new identity for the fraternity.

"It was kind of risky, but it's what I wanted and what I did," Campbell said. "It was Beta or nowhere."

Pastoors listed similar motivations for pledging Beta.

"For me it was the opportunity -- I think a lot of guys would say the same -- to start from the bottom up and create this house the way we want to make it," he said. "We can write our own history."

With no clearly established hierarchy between brothers and pledges, Beta members have found themselves on "equal footing," Campbell said.

"Some of my friends are pledges at other places, and it's like, 'Pledge, go get me some food,'" Campbell said. "Here, your membership in the house won't be contingent on doing certain deeds."

While that dynamic has largely been positive, Campbell said it has also presented challenges. The members spent the early weeks of the term sorting out how they would organize and run the house on a day-to-day basis, he said. To fill out the fraternity's current executive board, Campbell explained, Beta alumni deliberated among themselves and selected an upperclassman for each position. Currently, 14 students live in the fraternity's physical plant.

The Dartmouth Beta alumni group's Board of Trustees is currently working with the Beta Theta Pi national organization to establish recognition of the house as an official Beta Theta Pi chapter, Pastoors said. Beta national would prefer to instate Beta Alpha Omega as a new chapter, he said, but the alumni contend that since the chapter previously existed on campus, it should not be held to the same stipulations as a new chapter. Pastoors expects the two sides to come to some sort of compromise, he said, adding that he thinks the ultimate decision will not greatly affect the character of the house, regardless of the terms.

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