One decade after Carnival protests, SLI lives on

by Ana Bowens | 2/13/09 5:10am

With the fervor of Winter Carnival once again descending upon campus, students might forget that this weekend also marks the 10th anniversary of the Student Life Initiative -- a policy whose release dampened the 1999 Winter Carnival festivities with student protests, confusion and disappointment.

The Board of Trustees issued a release on Feb. 8, 1999 -- just four days before that year's Carnival began -- that revealed their intent to form the Student Life Initiative a program which sought to "necessitate changes in the current residential and social system, including the fraternity and sorority system..."

College President James Wright was quoted in a Feb. 10, 1999, article published in The Dartmouth as saying that the trustees' changes would essentially end the Greek system "as we know it."

"That was all students wanted to talk about: the end of the Greek system." Susan Dentzer '77, co-chair of the SLI in 1999 said in a recent interview with The Dartmouth. "Students assumed that the process was farther along than it really was -- it was just the beginning of discussion. Nothing had been decided yet."

The SLI was organized into five different areas that the Board sought to address. Their goals ranged from developing more diverse residential options to limiting alcohol abuse on campus.

"It was a listing of existing principles at Dartmouth that we wanted to look into and to possibly change." Denzter said. "We thought that there was a gap between the life of an average student inside and outside of the classroom. On one hand we have bright students and diverse courses being offered. On the other hand, there were just not enough social outlets that met the diverse needs of Dartmouth students."

Some students, however, felt that the announcement was too abrupt. Many found out about the trustees' decisions through Wright's interview with the newspaper, and thought that the trustees and administration planned to disassemble all fraternities and sororities.

"Calling for something as large as the Greek system to be shut down completely seemed totally unrealistic," Jaimie Meyer '00, President of the Coed Fraternity Sorority Council in 1999, said in a recent interview with The Dartmouth. "There was an uproar on campus; there was protesting. It was wild."

President James Wright, who is retiring this year, wrote in his recently release ten year report "Forever New" that controversy over the SLI stemmed from a "misperception" of its intentions, which were to increase the diversity of student experiences and social opportunities.

After Wright's Feb. 1999 interview with The Dartmouth, the CFSC resolved to cancel all Greek-affiliated Winter Carnival events that weekend.

"We thought that if the administration was so sure that the College could get by without us, let's see if they really can," Meyer said. "Instead of the keg jump at [Psi Upsilon fraternity], presidents of Greek houses and different alums that had come to visit spoke about the importance of the Greek system."

The administration went into negotiations with several groups on campus following the furor over the SLI to make it more compatible with students' desires.

"There was a great period of collaboration and brainstorming with many student groups on campus," said Linda Kennedy, assistant dean of Student Life and advisor to the 1999 Winter Carnival Council.

Cooperation with students in the creation of the SLI made the process more of a compromise than an ultimatum, some thought.

"I think that the fact that we approached the weekend the way we did, in a peaceful way, is why the administration came to the table with us," Meyer said. "Wright wanted to make Dartmouth into a community of creative loners, I believe he said. We had to come to some middle ground."

Since the completion of the SLI, much of Dartmouth has expanded and changed, though the Greek system has remained intact, Dentzer said.

"We have built nine new residence halls," she said. "Many greek facilities have been renovated, and the number of student organizations at Dartmouth has blossomed."

Kennedy said she sees the SLI in its current form as integral to Dartmouth's operations.

"The SLI is just a way of doing business," Kennedy said. "It is a way of running the College. The SLI opened a window and a chance to rethink student life at Dartmouth."

Kennedy added that change can be good, even at a school that values its traditions as much as Dartmouth does.

"We love our traditions, but they can be updated," Kennedy said. "We can refresh our traditions, and that is a good thing."