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The Dartmouth
March 4, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Vandermause: Reform, Not Replace

On Friday, campus woke up to big, bold font plastered across the front page of this publication calling for the end of Dartmouth Greek life. Judging by the subsequent flurry of outraged comments and Facebook posts, a vocal fraction of the Dartmouth community did not take kindly to the suggestion.

The proper response to any argument — even one that threatens what we hold dear — is not to plug our ears or shout down the arguer. On an issue this important, we cannot afford sloppy thinking. If we disagree, we should say why and say it clearly.

We should reject the editorial board’s argument because at its core lies a rotten and defeatist logic.

In their view, the beast is too big to be tamed. The tireless efforts of campus leaders to build a better Greek system are doomed to fail because the task is just too great. We should consign our model for social life to the dustbin, because anything — even boozing in the dorms — is a preferable alternative.

The social maladies the board identifies are real and pressing. Rush slices campus in superficial ways, binge drinking is ritually worshipped in the frats and new members are powerless pledges in all but name.

But this bad behavior is the result of bad choices, not the inevitable byproduct of the system’s structure. The board is mixing up cause and effect. The system does not poison minds — poisoned minds create and sustain bad systems. The thought that binge drinking, sexual assault and racial insensitivity will vanish with the Greek houses is a lazy pipe dream. If we want to improve, we will have to work harder than that.

And that is precisely what Greek leaders are beginning to do. Even the board acknowledges that viable solutions are on the table. But instead of praising students’ efforts, the board belittles their attempts. They sneer that students should be solving loftier problems than those associated with filth-soaked frats. We should be changing the world, not obsessing over social life. Let’s rid ourselves of this scourge and do something useful for a change.

Setting aside its condescension, this suggestion is deeply flawed. There are few things more important and more relevant to the lived experience of Dartmouth students than improving our social system. Making Greek life safer and more inclusive is not wasted effort — it is one of the most important projects we can pursue, and we should not have to apologize for pursuing it.

The board sees a fractured limb and concludes that it must be severed, not healed. Little thought is given to what might replace it. Will students cease to binge drink without frat basements? Will racial insensitivity no longer plague this campus if Greek houses aren’t around to throw crude parties? Of course not. Abolishing Greek life is not the easy fix we’re looking for. It would merely create a vacuum to be filled with the same old problems. If we want misbehavior to stop, we must shift our thoughts and attitudes, engage in clear-eyed dialogue about the sources of harm on campus and take practical steps toward reducing it.

Greek life is not the center of all things wretched, and we should be mindful of its virtues before condemning it. Our system is rare. After Homecoming, students can socialize at whatever house they like. Everyone is invited to the big parties. Freshmen and unaffiliated students don’t have to pay a dime to access a vibrant social scene. Few other colleges offer a social scene this open and welcoming. Abolishing Greek life amounts to throwing away a uniquely inclusive system because of flaws that would persist in its absence. We can do so much better.

The editorial board’s publicity stunt did not just stir the pot. It threw the pot’s boiling contents in the faces of hundreds of visiting alumni, transforming a news publication into a campus-wide platform for disseminating controversial views. Like prophets, the board’s members claim to see beyond the here and now to Dartmouth’s future, guided by ethics that transcend common opinion. Unfortunately, their decrees miss the mark on every count. We should not give up, as the editorial board urges. The path forward lies in focused reform.