Marton: Co-ed Without Coercion

by Janos Marton | 1/4/15 9:36pm

Current discussions over the Greek system are fixating on the wrong campus problem. Rather than quibbling over alcohol policy, Dartmouth fraternities should enter the 21st century by admitting women. This will preserve the best parts of Dartmouth’s culture, such as its remarkable ability to generate lasting friendships among large groups of people, while ending the anachronistic male domination of campus social spaces.

I served as Dartmouth’s student body president from 2002 to 2004, when tensions were high between the administration and the Greek system due to the Student Life Initiative’s changes and proposed changes to the Greek system. I was also involved in Chi Gamma Epsilon Fraternity, the liberal Free Press, the Dartmouth Greens and Panarchy, a non-Greek, co-ed house, exposing me to both the traditional defense of the Greek system and its critiques. It was obvious that fraternities could be uncomfortable places for women, particularly first-year women. Every passing year it becomes clearer that one can praise the merits of the Greek System while admitting the inherent sexism of the most popular social spaces on campus being controlled entirely by men.

Despite recent distorted, negative media attention on Dartmouth, the loyalty of its alumni to the College and to each other is a source of jealous derision in professional circles — and that loyalty extends across gender lines. I am now engaged to a Dartmouth woman who I first met in Chi Gam’s basement. Wedding invitees from Dartmouth easily outstrip those from other walks of life. My story is not unique, and any major city in the United States has a vibrant community of young Dartmouth alumni. Dartmouth is clearly doing something right. The Greek system is an important part of the unparalleled closeness the College creates, and student ownership of Greek buildings, budgets, social events and internal adjudication policies as 20 year-olds is remarkable.

Of course, not all is well. Controversy erupts every few years over alcohol abuse, sexual assault and hazing. The current proposals regarding alcohol policy are fine, but alcohol abuse is a ongoing national problem that does not get to the root of Dartmouth’s specific issues. As student body president, I painstakingly crafted that generation’s alcohol reforms with administrators. Changing from taps to kegs to cans to bartenders did not and will not change the imbalanced power dynamic when young men continue to control social spaces. Women are simply safer in spaces where they share in the power.

The move to a truly co-ed Greek System cannot be mandated, and any such attempt will likely be met with a counterproductive backlash, especially among alumni. Instead, fraternities should take the lead and admit women as new members beginning in the Fall of 2015. It will be challenging for the first wave of women who participate, but in time fraternity members will recognize the value of sharing their experience with the impressive women of Dartmouth, just as the men of Dartmouth gradually embraced women as their classmates following co-education.

There is a place at Dartmouth for single-sex social organizations beyond just athletic teams and a cappella groups. Certain Greek houses may choose to continue as all-male. Such houses, however, should exist as one of many campus social options, not the primary ones. I envision a future in which all first-year students will be seen as potential recruits.

Developing meaningful social and intellectual relationships across gender lines is an essential part of college. Even now, more than ten years after graduation, I observe many male friends who struggle to develop meaningful platonic friendships with women. Though their struggle may not be entirely due to fraternity membership, isolating residential and social life by gender is outdated and at odds with the lifestyles that Dartmouth graduates will experience socially and professionally after college.

President Hanlon should encourage and incentivize, not mandate, fraternities to admit women to their new member classes beginning next fall. Likewise, fraternity leaders should act on their own initiative. This will be a reminder of how uniquely Dartmouth fosters relationships between incredible people.

Janos Marton ’04 served as Student Body President from 2002 to 2004.

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