Dartmouth Wants Students’ Help in Reforming Greek Life

Saturday, September 20, 2014
Hanover — Reform is brewing at Dartmouth College, where senior administrators met with Greek leaders earlier this week to weigh possible measures to curb high-risk behavior at the college, such as a campus-wide ban on hard alcohol and the elimination of pledge terms.

Among those representing the college at the closed-door meeting Tuesday were Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon, Board of Trustees Chairman Bill Helman and Barbara Will, chairwoman of “Moving Dartmouth Forward,” a committee tasked by Hanlon to address issues of high-risk drinking and sexual assault that have plagued the institution in past years.

At the meeting, Hanlon called on fraternity and sorority leaders to address the same challenges, said senior Rachel Funk, who is president of the college’s sorority council.

“We take what they’ve charged us to do very seriously,” Funk said on Thursday.

Pledge term, the probationary period that many new Greek members face before attaining full membership, has been the subject of much scrutiny in the past, including revelations in 2012 by Sigma Alpha Epsilon brother Andrew Lohse, a member of the Class of 2012 who alleged that, as pledges, he and his classmates in SAE had been forced by older fraternity members to vomit on each other and to swim in a kiddie pool filled with rotten food and human waste, among other abuses.

Heavy drinking in the middle of the school week also featured heavily last spring in the trial of a former Dartmouth freshman who was accused of raping a classmate in her dorm room. He was acquitted.

Speaking over the phone on Thursday, Will said that while the intent on Tuesday had been to gauge student support, not to take immediate action, the progress made in the meeting had been heartening, especially considering that Greek leaders had brought up the idea of eliminating pledge term on their own.

“We think that’s an excellent idea ... and if they didn’t do that on their own, that’d be one of our main recommendations in January,” Will said. “The risks of pledging, which often involve hazing, are not worth the rewards that come out of that period.”

Over the summer, Will’s committee had been gathering suggestions from alumni, students, faculty, staff and other members of the college community to eliminate high-risk behavior on campus . The group will make its final recommendations to Hanlon in January .

Hanlon pushed the Dartmouth community to consider substantial changes in a speech in April in which he said, “Routinized excessive drinking, sexual misconduct and blatant disregard of social norms have no place at Dartmouth. Enough is enough.”

The Interfraternity Council, the student-led governing body for fraternities, will likely address new member policy before recruitment begins in October, said Mike Haughey, president of Alpha Delta.

“We’re making these changes because it’s the right thing to do,” Haughey, a senior, said over the phone on Friday. “We’re not trying to appease any council or board or anything like that.”

Sororities, some of which will “rush” new members on Monday, are expected to act over the weekend, Funk said.

Many sororities on campus retain ties to national organizations that have rules preventing them from throwing parties open to all students , leaving it to the fraternities to dominate the social scene at the college. If national sororities went local to avoid these rules, some of them would have to forgo financial support from their parent organizations.

As a member of Sigma Delta, a local sorority, Funk said it was empowering to have her own, female-dominated space.

“If someone’s doing something that I don’t agree with, I can say, ‘You can get out,’ ” she said.

When she and others brought up these concerns on Tuesday, Hanlon and Helman, a 1980 Dartmouth graduate and partner in a venture capital firm, told them that the college could provide financial support to those who wished to break away from their national organizations , Funk said.

Yet some of the most significant changes discussed Tuesday night came from administrators, not students.

Will said on Thursday that college officials are also considering a ban on hard liquor, which she said would be effective in protecting freshmen, who are barred from fraternity parties serving alcohol during their first six weeks on campus. There are strong data suggesting that banning hard alcohol can cut down on the worst forms of binge drinking, she said.

Whether students would support such a policy is unclear. Will said the student response at the meeting had been “ intrigued, (but) somewhat concerned that it would push high-risk drinking underground.”

Funk said that sororities hadn’t yet come to a consensus on the potential ban. Though she acknowledged that it could slow down the intake of alcohol on campus, she said she had also heard arguments that the rule would impinge on the rights of students over 21 to drink what they please. Plus, some people simply prefer liquor over wine or beer, she added.

Haughey had his own doubts.

“I’m a bit cynical about it, because as a freshman I saw how it’s very easily concealed in freshman dorms,” he said.

Leaving aside the difficulty of enforcing a ban in the dorms, the college has little control over off-campus housing, where a significant amount of student drinking occurs, Haughey said.

Were the college to prohibit hard alcohol on campus, Will floated the idea that the ban accompany an “open-door” drinking policy where, if students threw a party in their dorm, they would be required to keep it open to specially trained monitors who would assess the risks and make sure they weren’t drinking hard liquor. The monitors would interfere if underage students were found drinking any alcohol.

As to whether local police approve of the idea, Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis said over the phone Friday that he wasn’t familiar enough with the measure to comment on it.

Oscar Cornejo Casares, a sophomore from Illinois, said that he largely kept away from fraternity culture his freshman year and had conflicting feelings over how college administrators should handle the Greek system. On one hand, he said, the “ultimate measure” would be to do away with it completely, though on the other, that would mean he wouldn’t be able to join La Unidad Latina, the fraternity he had been thinking of rushing this fall.

Either way, Casares, who doesn’t drink, said he supported a hard alcohol ban.

Both Haughey and Funk said that other changes are in the works for Greek leadership, though they likely won’t announce anything until later in the year.

“There’s something going on on the ground that’s kind of exciting,” Will said of the initiative that students had taken of late. “I think there is a groundswell of feeling that the fraternities could take leadership on these issues.”

For his part, Haughey suggested a number of other reforms, such as bringing back permanent taps for kegs in fraternity basements, which he said would encourage students to socialize instead of playing endless games of beer pong — “a glorified drinking game that becomes a pseudo-athletic event,” he said.

And student-initiated reform isn’t just a possibility — it’s their preference, Haughey said.

“I think that change coming from students is definitely the change that everyone would like to see,” he said.

All the same, Will said, “We want students to feel that they are part of the change, but they do need help. They can’t do it on their own.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.


Dartmouth College’s new sexual assault policy, which became effective on June 19, establishes “affirmative consent” as the standard for sexual consent, which it defines as “clear and unambiguous agreement, expressed in mutually understandable words or actions.” An earlier version of this story included a paraphrased quote from a student implying that such a policy was not yet in effect.