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Reforming Fraternities: Reduce Their Absolute, Corrupting Social Power

Isaiah Berg’s ideas for cleaning up the Greek scene focused on changes that one might make within an existing structure. His proposals could have some marginal effect, but in the current environment, reform has to be deeper and more thorough-going. The reason? The only way to oblige internal reforms at fraternities is to break their iron monopoly on social life at the College. Short of such a change, the Greek system will continue to exist in its present corrupt form, immune from challenges, and successful in maintaining its stomach-churning practices. What kind of beneficial competition can we imagine for Webster Avenue?

● More Sororities: While approximately the same number of Dartmouth men and women are members of Greek houses, some sororities have upwards of 150 members and do not have houses. Most sororities with houses are members of national organizations, and therefore they cannot serve alcohol. The result: there is only one place to socialize in an environment where beer is served: the frats. The men enjoy — and too often abuse — their power. Dartmouth should allow more sororities to be established; the College should help more houses be built (there are persistent rumors that the College is turning down donations destined for independent sororities, the better to control the sisters), and the houses themselves should be local if they want. Dartmouth’s women should have greater control over attractive Greek social spaces.

● Dormitory Continuity: When the College stopped giving students the option of living for all four years in a home dorm — a decision made in the late 1980’s — the Deans handed a housing monopoly to the fraternities. If you wanted to live during your undergraduate career with a congenial group of familiar people, henceforth you had only one option: the frats. Dorms should and could be lively social spaces once again. They won’t be opposed to fraternities — there might even be rowdy dorms — but they will be competitive, possibly superior alternatives to Frat Row. Let a thousand flowers bloom and all that.

● Directed Studies: Using Yale’s successful program as a model, the College should allow Government Professor Jim Murphy’s Daniel Webster Project to go forward. Murphy’s longstanding effort to offer freshmen the opportunity to pursue a Great Books curriculum has received no support from the slumbering/lumbering administration (feet stuck in the mud; head in the sand — choose your own analogy). If Dartmouth offered the opportunity for one or more groups of, say, 50-75 freshmen to study together for their first entire year in Hanover under a small, dedicated group of professors, it is possible that they might find enjoyable shared activities that don’t involve vomiting on each other.

● Thayer reform: DDS’ recent move away from à la carte dining to all-you-can-eat has prevented friends from dropping into Thayer for a quick bite. Now it’s a full meal or no entry. A real loss. Groups of students from clubs, teams, and other organizations should be able to dine together in private areas where they can work and enjoy themselves together over a full meal, or a light snack, or even nothing at all. Abolishing à la carte dining is a net social loss for the College. It should be undone for any number of reasons.

If there has been a consistent theme at Dartmouth over the past forty years, it is the need to offer students attractive alternative to the fraternities. Maybe the next President will get something done in this area, or perhaps the one after that.

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