Harder: Inclusivity — A Greek Perspective

by Leif Harder | 10/16/14 10:16pm

I entered my first Greek house at Dartmouth as a junior in high school. I was up at Dartmouth visiting my older brother, a member of the Class of 2013, who was currently relishing in sophomore summer. That night, I ventured out into the great unknown. Greek life was perhaps one of the main factors on my mind in considering whether Dartmouth would be right for me. I held a range of both fears and questions about the system, ranging from the trivial (do they actually throw toga parties?) to the more serious. My most serious fear was about exclusivity of the Greek life. Would my social life at Dartmouth be dictated by the whims of these fraternities and their brothers, whoever they were?

This fear was allayed after entering the basement of one of these fraternities. My brother casually entered, despite not being affiliated with any fraternity on campus. He led me to the basement, where students played some type of primitive ping-pong game (what I have since learned to be “pong”), accompanied by the sounds of country music and general chatter.

Although I was rather startled by the sanitation standards (or lack thereof), I was also taken aback by the general attitudes held in this basement: no one confronted us asking who we were, why we were there and whether we were brothers. On the contrary, we received friendly hellos from those in the basement. I later met one of the brothers and proceeded to talk about who we were both were and where we were from, why he chose Dartmouth and why I should come. None of the conversation entailed “frat-talk” — we did not discuss togas, beer, pong, or how I should leave the house because neither my brother nor I were affiliated.

After multiple visits to see my brother, I maintained almost identical experiences with the Greek system at Dartmouth. What stood out to me most was that I was and could be, pending my acceptance to Dartmouth, accepted for who I was and who I wanted to be at the College. The nature of the Dartmouth Greek system was one of openness, inclusivity and acceptance. The Greek system would not need to define my social path or status on campus.

Most colleges lack this aspect of relative social inclusiveness and openness. My friends at other schools, Ivy League and other, have expressed to me how during their freshmen year, they felt ostracized from campus because of the established exclusive social scene. They could not go to bars, and social or Greek houses had exclusionary guest lists. As insignificant underclassmen, they never made this list. Even when they did want to explore campus social life, they were severely limited by their status as new students.

While my friends were experiencing freshmen inferiority and exclusivity at their respective colleges, I felt welcomed by my class and a majority of the student body, regardless of the presence of Greek letters. When these same friends would visit me over a weekend, they would always leave telling me about how impressed they were with the openness and interaction that Dartmouth students could have under a “traditional Greek school.”

To many, the Greek system is seen to embody the traditional aspects of Dartmouth that we have been unable to destroy. Excessive alcohol consumption has become an unfortunate defining hallmark of Dartmouth social life. Sexual assault cases and male-dominated social space issues have become the center of campus (and nationwide) investigation and discussion.

Unfortunately, such negative aspects have, due to their historically close affiliations with Greek life, become entirely but inappropriately attributed to Dartmouth’s Greek system.

I say this not because these issues are not the fault of Greek social spaces at Dartmouth. Issues such as excessive alcohol consumption and sexual assault have been undoubtedly created or exacerbated by a lack of awareness and control that some Greek houses have exercised both in the past and today. And this lack of awareness needs to be addressed. I deem this attribution of fault by the administration inappropriate because of how the College has decided to respond to these issues.

Our administration has been faced with unprecedented pressure from a combination of poor public relations, a sharp decline in Dartmouth applications and troubled alumni who remember the Greek system for what it was when they attended. With this pressure has come a necessity for administrators to turn the spotlight onto the system of social life that is historically and presently tied to some degree the real issues that exist at Dartmouth.

We all recognize that something must be done, and some change must occur within the Greek system that has over the years turned a blind eye to these fundamental issues. However, from the perspective of an executive member of one of the fraternities that makes up this system, I believe that the ideas and potential solutions that have been suggested or are implicated in the administration’s actions will end up being more destructive than effective in instilling positive change.

In the past few weeks Safety and Security, Hanover Police and the administration seem to have banded together to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward any misstep in Greek organizations. Some fraternities have already been placed on multi-term suspension and probation. Other fraternities (that is to say, nearly all) have in the past few weeks been written up for minor infractions. Many within the Greek system speculate that these relatively insignificant infractions (e.g., fire alarms being accidentally set off or leaving an extra empty beer case lying around in a basement gathering of fewer than 30 people) are being accumulated so that administrators can strike down any Greek house that they do not deem acceptable in the future. They have, in effect, succeeded in illustrating their capability to exert power over the entire Greek system.

While such an approach may seem reasonable to the College, and perhaps many others, I see the consequences of such iron-fist ruling as imminently destructive to the often-neglected positive and relatively inclusive Dartmouth social infrastructure.

My fraternity, in light of this new administrative attitude, is doing all it can to not just comply with the College, but to survive as an institution. In the past two weeks, we have closed our house on multiple nights to the Dartmouth student body to mitigate risk. We have also been forced to self-enact exclusionary door policies — we turn away Dartmouth students who are not brought in specifically by a brother of the house.

Instead of being an inviting social space for all of campus, my fraternity has been forced to trade inclusivity for risk management. We will continue to enact this policy in order to stay afloat. In the next week alone, our house will be closed on the Saturday of Homecoming and the Monday after Homecoming, the first night that members of the Class of 2018 are allowed to enter Greek houses that serve alcohol.

Some of the Greek system’s frustration emerges from the absorption of responsibility with which we are being held accountable for. Despite the first-year six-week ban from fraternities that has been implemented in the past two years, Good Sam calls remain frequent for first years during this time span. Excessive drinking, by Good Sam standards at least, occurs just as frequently in a two-room triple of Russell Sage as it supposedly does in a fraternity basement.

Additionally, students that are Good Sammed in fraternities are often those students that have come from such pre-games. They have either not actually had a drink or have had no more than half a cup of beer in a fraternity basement. For some reason, however, the College overlooks such details. The student that drank too much in a dorm and walks into a Greek house becomes the sole responsibility of the fraternity or sorority that they have entered. Even if such students have been administered more significant levels of alcohol in a Greek house (which I will attest, after three years of affiliation, is almost never the case), houses have no real path to turn toward ensuring safety of such a student without jeopardizing their existence.

Neither iron-fist rule nor prohibition-esque measures (which have been discussed as a potential solution by the administration) will yield a safer campus drinking culture. Greek houses such as the one I am affiliated with want to ensure the safety of fellow Dartmouth students. Unfortunately, the relationship between Greek houses and administrators and Safety and Security has turned from friendly, interactive and cooperative to secretive and mistrusting. Instead of being able to openly and cooperatively address a sexual assault or a student in danger due to alcohol intoxication or physical injury with the College, we are forced to not even open our doors for fear of being further accused of such incidents which are often not of our doing.

If one of these issues does arise, we often fear for the safety of our house’s future to almost the same degree as the safety of a fellow student. Such disproportionate valuing has come to surface not as a result of lack of awareness by the Greek community — it has come because we no longer feel safe ourselves in working with our past allies for fear of institutional obliteration.

I am particularly frustrated and affected because I chose to come to Dartmouth because I embraced and was eager to join its relatively open and inclusive community. But such an environment has disintegrated under public pressures that have endorsed uncooperative measures in order to create superficial but destructive change. As a result of these administrative changes in approach toward the Greek system, Greek houses are being labeled as the source of the very issues that the Greek system, that is to say 70 percent of the student body, is eager and willing to address and change. With cooperation and openness, the social system that Dartmouth should be able to pride itself on, not be ashamed of, can effectively address change. Without it, however, we will see the downfall of an inclusive Dartmouth community and little to no change in the significant issues that we as a student body wish to fix.

As a relatively satisfied senior male member of the Greek system, I actively recognize that I am not the only voice that should be heard. I can only share my opinion and personal perspective and understand that not everyone feels the same about the Greek system’s inclusivity. To reiterate, I also recognize that a past of neglect and lack of awareness by the Greek system has allowed the pendulum of negative consequence to swing too far. I even recognize the necessity on the administration’s part to ensure change. But as I see it, the pendulum of negative consequence is beginning to swing in the opposite direction, with full force being exerted by an administration fearful of public scrutiny and declining application numbers. If we swing too far in the other direction, we will see a chaotic disruption between administration and student body.

The Greek community is now being forced to serve at the administration’s will to enact ineffective and meaningless measures. This approach will lead Dartmouth nowhere. My advice? Let us truly open up channels of cooperation between administrators and the Greek system to ensure the demise of the old “traditions” of alcohol abuse and sexual assault. But let the other traditions of Dartmouth, those of a strong Greek system and a body of passionate and caring students, help guide the change and not be the source of blame. Let us be open and communicative in order to be both safe and inclusive. I came to Dartmouth for these reasons, and I would like to leave knowing that these traditions remain.

Leif Harder '15 is a guest columnist.