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A Faculty Member Speaks Out on Frats

A faculty member has written in regarding Isaiah Berg’s and my comments on steps that could be taken to reform the fraternity system:


In the wake of this year’s hazing revelations, there’s no question that the fraternity system has become not just an impediment to a Dartmouth education but is also a threat to students’ health. Your June 7 Dartblog post has several good has ideas for reform, as well a few that should be refined or rethought. Among the good ones: dormitory continuity and Thayer reform. The need for places where students can form enduring ties and can socialize outside the Greek system is desperate. Both ideas directly address this need.

I am less sure about expanding sororities. Unfortunately, the sororities and fraternities exist in a destructive symbiosis. Neither can exist without the other, and, in the end, fraternities and alcohol define the meeting ground for both.

What then is the solution? One is getting rid of the Greek system entirely, although it is hard to come up with an alternative that will meet students’ social needs. A better idea may be to end the gender exclusion that marks the current Greek system. Decades ago, Dartmouth concluded that it would not tolerate social organizations that discriminate on the basis of race or religion. Why should we treat sex any differently?

Insisting that all Greek organizations be open to students without regard to their sex would go a long way to breaking up the sexist thinking and immature behaviors that characterize many fraternities. To my knowledge, no co-ed houses have been implicated in the worst behaviors that have been reported. Women appear to serve as a moderating influence on male behavior. So here we might have a solution that is effective, at hand, and consistent with the most vital Dartmouth traditions (including the continued existence of a Greek system).

Finally, there is your support for Directed Studies. Basically, the idea is a good one: allowing a group of first-year students to work together in an extended way with faculty on a theme or topics of mutual interest. But why must this be “great books”? One problem is that the academy today no longer agrees on what the “great books” are. Another problem is that it is not clear that a curriculum that takes those books out of their social-cultural context and marches them one after the other does justice to the rich cultural legacy these works contain. A focused, contextualized approach to significant works is more responsible. So, yes, let’s come up with new initiatives for academic depth and continuity, but let’s not weaken them from the start by riveting this idea to a contested educational approach.

Thanks for fostering this discussion. And let a thousand flowers bloom.

Addendum: A fair bit of blowback to today’s post:

An alumnus writes in:

To set the record straight for the well-meaning but ill-informed faculty member (and others), the two athletic teams that the College disciplined for hazing were both co-ed teams. Woman and minorities can be the most vicious hazers. “Captain of My Soul” by Whitney Garcia Williams provides one gut wrenching example after another. Isaiah Berg’s “little h/big H” distinction is specious, but what Williams describes goes beyond what almost anyone at Dartmouth could imagine.

Forcing fraternities, bathrooms, bedrooms, and so forth to become co-ed is a Trojan Horse for an entirely different agenda. Some people will argue anything to get what they want.

As does a Hanover-based observer of the College:

Re: the profs statement: “To my knowledge, no co-ed houses have been implicated in the worst behaviors that have been reported. Women appear to serve as a moderating influence on male behavior.”

This professor clearly has no idea what goes on in Tabard or in Panarchy. The raves, the rampant hard drug use, the hedonistic sex. They may not haze in the same way [as fraternities do] but they present plenty of moral challenges. The grass is always greener on the other side.

It seems that Dartmouth women go to real lengths to ensure that they are not outdone by their male classmates, as Dartblog reported a while back:

When the College became coeducational, there was talk that the arriving women would help to tame the savage Dartmouth man (if there ever was such a thing). Well, it seems that the converse has occurred. A good friend, an ‘11, described the above, and then recounted to me how, at certain sororities, house meetings with scores of sisters are routinely taken up with vivid, boastful accounts of who slept with whom, and quite exactly how, over the previous weekend. I could only shake my head in disbelief.


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