VERBUM ULTIMUM: Diagnosing the Divide

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 11/18/10 11:00pm

Other than the general desire to remain "a small college," there is nothing that unites Dartmouth students and alumni like the Greek system. Whether it's Hanover Police threatening to enact sting operations ("Stricter alcohol plans outrage Greek orgs.", Feb. 5) or the administration proposing broad changes, such as with the Student Life Initiative ("Trustees to End Greek System As We Know It'", Feb. 10, 1999), "those who love it" have rallied to protect our social system: an open, flexible, alumni-supported collection of fraternities and sororities. But when it comes to Dartmouth's greatest problems binge drinking, sexual assault and gender relations it is this unique set of circumstances that not only facilitates these issues, but perpetuates them.

At no other school is there the exact confluence of factors that leads to the particular form of Greek life as at Dartmouth. To be sure, some other schools' social scenes are dominated by prestigious organizations tied to well-connected alumni as is the case with Princeton's fabled eating clubs. And many schools have massive, inclusive social events that serve as a common experience for undergraduates. Only at Dartmouth, however, are these two separate social structures members-only clubs and party epicenters encompassed in single institutions.

Whereas Greek organizations around the nation are directed by a mission of exclusive brotherhood or sisterhood, often positioning themselves as elite social circles, Dartmouth's fraternities and sororities only superficially resemble traditional Greek Letter Organizations. Because of their characteristic openness to the student body making them effectively the only viable social option in the geographic isolation that is Hanover they offer a major public service greater than their private, member-centered mission. Even to many participants, life in a Greek organization begins with tails and ends with formals. That Greek houses advertise parties to campus and do not charge admission is a worthy highlight of our social scene. But as a result of this merging of spheres, the same people fill the roles of host, bouncer, bartender and party-goer, often simultaneously.

Gender dynamics at Dartmouth, are aptly described this week as "weird" ("The Light at the End of the Tunnel," Nov. 19). While the gendered segregation of the system is often blamed, in actuality, fault lies with the ownership of space. The men of Dartmouth primarily foot the bill for the campus' collective partying because they control the houses students frequent. There has been no student-led initiative to evenly distribute the costs, indicating that students accept the consequences of the system that the women of Dartmouth are, for the most part, disenfranchised.

But what if the very attributes that make our campus culture superior are also the ones that facilitate negative outcomes? If only we could isolate this "problematic" aspect of the system, then it could be fixed. Greek life has serious, sometimes debilitating, drawbacks, but because it is also a great asset, its shortcomings are often discounted. It has been possible to accept a system in which men control far more space, but as a result, gender relations cannot be altered. We recognize that as long as we intend to maintain a disproportionate number of party-hosting fraternities, our response can only be a treatment plan to manage the symptoms and will not cure forever our social ills.

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