Verbum Ultimum: Leading Through Localization

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 2/26/15 7:51pm

College President Phil Hanlon’s “Moving Dartmouth Forward” plan tackles many problems with student life that merit discussion — this editorial board has already commented on the hard alcohol ban and academics. Yet there is one proposal that was noteworthy for its absence from Hanlon’s Jan. 29 speech — sorority localization.

The idea that more local sororities could change the Greek system, and thus student life and well-being, for the better is not new but has recently gained more traction. The Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault recommended that the College support localization, and local sororities attracted national media attention in a Jan. 19 New York Times article as an innovative way to decrease sexual assault on college campuses, specifically at parties in male-dominated spaces. Even the presidential steering committee’s final report — though it declined to recommend mandated localization of Greek houses — acknowledges that national affiliation of sororities creates a gender imbalance in social life at the College.

There is a growing consensus among students that the College should actively support sorority localization by offering financial and administrative assistance to houses that disaffiliate with their national organization. Responses from The Dartmouth opinion staff in the Feb. 26 “Opinion Asks” column overwhelmingly supported localization in some form, as did the Jan. 15 column “The Fault in Our Sororities” by Isaac Green ’17. The College now has the chance to send a clear signal that administrators will work with, rather than against, sororities to improve Greek life and its impact on the campus social dynamic.

At present, of 11 College-recognized sororities, only three are local — Epsilon Kappa Theta sorority, Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority and Sigma Delta sorority. Of the 15 Interfraternity Council member fraternities, nine are local fraternities. The mostrecent fraternity to localize was Beta Alpha Omega fraternity in 2008, whereas there have been no new local sororities since KDE was founded over 21 years ago in fall term 1993. This disparity is all the more troubling in light of the greater burdens that national affiliation imposes on sororities relative to fraternities. Chief among these are limitations on the ability to offer financial aid to members and other limits on spending, as well as the bans on alcohol in the physical plants of national sororities that render them inadequate alternatives to fraternities as social spaces. National affiliation diminishes the full potential of Dartmouth sororities to empower their members with a social space where a group of women, rather than men, are in charge and in control.

That being said, national affiliation is a choice, and when students choose to join national sororities, they are in fact exercising their right to use their own space as they see fit. The College cannot and should not take that right away. We should not discount that many sorority members still see distinct advantages in national sororities that they feel would be lost by disaffiliation, including freedom from the costs and risks of maintaining a Greek house as an open social venue and access to a nationwide professional and social network. Moreover, national affiliation does not categorically bar a sorority from hosting social events in its house.

Though these arguments in defense of national sororities may be valid, they are ultimately irrelevant to our discussion of whether the College should provide financial incentives to houses that go local. If enough members in a sorority are convinced of the benefits of declaring complete autonomy over their houses — including the power to invite others into their space, for whatever reason, be it a large party or smaller gathering — then it should be a no-brainer that the College would lend them its full and enthusiastic support in that endeavor.

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