Hanlon, Helman urge Greek change in closed meeting

by Sera Kwon and Madison Pauly | 9/16/14 8:20pm

College President Phil Hanlon urged Greek leaders to take the lead in addressing binge drinking, sexual assault and hazing in a closed meeting Tuesday night. For an hour and a half, Hanlon, Board of Trustees Chair Bill Helman and “Moving Dartmouth Forward” presidential steering committee chair Barbara Will spoke with fraternity and sorority presidents and other Greek leaders about potential reforms, including eliminating fall pledge term.

Student attendees interviewed after the meeting said their organizations are already taking steps to initiate change, reevaluating new member policies, oversight of social events and engagement with peers outside the Greek system.

During the meeting, Hanlon raised the issues of freshman safety, hard alcohol, adult oversight of social spaces and new member probationary periods for any student organization. Discussion also touched on sexual assault, racial inclusivity and financial accessibility, as well as ways to promote community building through residential life.

Interfraternity Council president Wil Chockley ’15 said that the council discussed abolishing pledge term during its presidents’ meeting earlier this week and will reach a final decision about the fall on Sunday.

Chockley said he thinks Hanlon is asking students to initiate change because they best understand the College’s social scene.

“It would be fabulous if many of the steps were already made by students themselves in Greek houses, but I think that the important thing is that we are going to roll out changes,” Hanlon said in an interview after the meeting.

Hanlon announced an annual external review of the campus’ progress in eliminating extreme behaviors, Tabard coed fraternity president Connie Gong ’15 said.

Tuesday’s meeting follows an April summit at which Hanlon said “Dartmouth’s promise is being hijacked by extreme and harmful behaviors masked by its perpetrators as acceptable fun,” and the convening of a presidential steering committee tasked with reducing binge drinking, sexual assault and exclusivity.

The committee worked this summer to solicit feedback and is expected to present Hanlon with its recommendations by the end of the year. Hanlon is expected to present to the Board in January 2015.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Hanlon and Helman repeatedly told Greek leaders that it is their responsibility to make change, “not to appease the faculty or the Board, but because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s in the best interest of the student body,” Alpha Delta fraternity president Mike Haughey ’15 said.

Helman said in an interview after the meeting that he appreciated the opportunity to communicate the trustees’ support for presidential initiatives to change high-risk behavior, “how serious it is, how negatively it affects Dartmouth, our reputation, our brand.”

The Board is looking for serious, not incremental, change, Helman said.

A significant portion of Tuesday’s discussion focused on alcohol.

Haughey said he believes that administrators are considering a blanket ban on hard alcohol, adding that attendees discussed “tiered levels” of drinking and drug use, such as the difference between a beer and a bottle of vodka, or marijuana versus heroin.

During the meeting, Will suggested an “open door policy” mandating that whenever a certain number of people were in a room, the door had to remain open, and undergraduate advisors would only report underage consumption of hard alcohol, Haughey said.

“It’s tough for the administration to say, ‘We’re going to condone underage drinking,’” Haughey said, yet he said he believes it is possible to maintain a tacit agreement that “having a few beers in a dorm room isn’t the worst thing.”

Other proposals, such as hiring bartenders or independent, adult supervisors, might require Greek organizations to find additional financial support, Haughey said.

During the meeting, Hanlon made an “offhand comment” that increased funding may be made available to offset the financial burden of dues and renovations, Haughey said.

Both Gong and Chockley said that the administration’s position on hazing is unclear.

“Wearing ribbons or lunchboxes is considered hazing, but some student organizations don’t agree,” Gong said. “I think that some student organizations feel that the administration is out of touch on what is fun and harmless and what is dangerous.”

When one student raised the issue of gender equality in a system where fraternities host most social events, the discussion shifted to ways sororities could host more parties, Haughey said. Suggestions ranged from sororities co-hosting events at fraternities and participating in regulating them to increasing funding for local sororities, which are not limited by national regulations, to host events.

Fraternities could also take steps to engage younger male students who may not understand how to respect women when they first observe social interactions on campus, Haughey said, adding that he plans to propose a Greek-wide push to promote affirmative consent, or “yes means yes.”

“Changes should come from the student body because the social scene is maintained by students,” Gong said. “It is a privilege for the student body to be responsible for shaping how we act on a regular basis, and the administration cannot and should not control how students socialize.”

During the meeting, participants pointed out that suggestions to eliminate the Greek system may not accurately represent the majority of student opinion.

Abolishing the College’s Greek system was the most popular of 1,673 online submissions that the presidential steering committee received this summer, with more than 250 online suggestions.

In late August, student group Improve Dartmouth: On the Ground prepared a report for the presidential steering committee that listed 250 ideas aimed at reducing high-risk drinking, sexual assault and exclusivity, summarized from submissions by more than 500 students. Ideas included offering more gender-neutral spaces for students to casually drink, requiring a sexual assault course for freshmen and strengthening mentorship programs. In the Improve Dartmouth: On the Ground report, eight submissions advocated for eliminating the Greek system.

At Tuesday’s meeting, students asked about the best ways to communicate with administrators.

“Maybe there’s too many steps in the ladder between Greek leaders and high-level administrators,” Haughey said.

Hanlon did not provide clear expectations on what kinds of policies the administration is seeking and how much leeway Greek leaders would be given to shape change, Gong said.

“The fate of the social system is still up in the air,” Haughey said. “Nothing is off the table.”

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