Verbum Ultimum: An Honorable Abstention

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 1/16/14 10:01pm

Last week, five executive members of the Panhellenic Council announced their decision to abstain from winter recruitment, citing a desire to amend socioeconomic and racial inequities in the sorority rush process. The abstaining Panhell executives’ criticisms of the Greek system are not new, but the method by which they have chosen to express themselves, and the reaction their announcement has engendered, indicate a meaningful shift in campus culture. We are hopeful that this act of protest will push students to demand comprehensive and effective reform.

Let’s compare campus reaction to the Panhell executives’ abstention with the uproar that followed last spring’s Dimensions protest. Both protests urged the student body to challenge the status quo by shaking up performances meant to sway people toward joining a larger group — the “old traditions” that Dartmouth students hold so dear. And both events encouraged their audiences to demand progress on key social issues that affect them. Yet while students met the Dimensions show protest with anger and hate, the Panhell decision resulted in a few constructive, albeit contentious, meetings with sorority leaders, and just days after their campus-wide email, sorority presidents had made concrete, though largely cosmetic, changes to recruitment.

As women’s rush winds down this weekend, we are watching to see how, if at all, the process has changed for the women who run and participate in it. We hope that the women currently rushing can find a community that is accepting and welcoming. However, we also encourage them to question the system they are joining and not to hesitate to point out its flaws.

The College has significant structural inequities, both inside and outside the Greek system, and acknowledging them publicly is the first step to enacting meaningful change. Trading a song-and-dance routine with a financial aid discussion and an anonymous question-and-answer session is a superficial swap that does not go far enough to address issues of inequality.

We are encouraged that the leaders who stepped forward last week are affiliated women from a range of sororities. It is powerful that women who have experienced recruitment from both sides are taking action to change the process. Their status as insiders lends credibility to their claims and grievances. However, the fact that Panhell leaders had to resort to boycotting the very system they were elected to coordinate suggests there are no easy fixes.

When the Real Talk protestors burst into the Class of 1953 Commons last spring, much of the student body was reluctant to seriously consider their concerns, dismissing them as radicals and outsiders. But this time the protest is coming from within, from the highest ranks of an organization that oversees the College’s predominant social system. The Panhell executives’ abstention illustrates Real Talk’s point: Dartmouth has a problem.

Moving forward, we hope to see the issues that the abstaining Panhell executives raised in their campus-wide email — including classism, racism and sexual assault — addressed more comprehensively. We urge affiliated and unaffiliated students alike to continue to think critically about the Greek system. Once the pressure of rush itself has passed, we hope that Panhell and sorority leaders will work together to usher in more meaningful changes.

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