Trustees Combating Trin Stereotypes Miss Big Picture
This past Wednesday, the Trustees of Trinity College published a proverbial smack down in a unanimous vote on recommendations for changing the social layout at Trinity. Formed under the heading of “building social community,” the charter committee recommended actions with the intent to “create a student-centered community of scholars who are fully engaged, both socially and intellectually, inside and outside the classroom.”
Okay…so far so good.
The suggestions for restructuring Trinity’s housing and residential system range from re-vamping the social center (which sounds awesome and I’m jealous I won’t be here to see it) to developing new upper-class residence halls (again, potentially swagtastic) and instituting a House system a la HBS, Middlebury, and Hogwarts. Although I personally have reservations as to how the house system will work without the housing infrastructure available at other institutions, I feel like it could potentially be effective once it gets going. Other suggestions and improvements include a revamped orientation program for incoming first-years and increasing funding to school-sponsored social options—funding that’s dwindled in the past decade.
Now it gets fun.
Along with revamped housing and funding, there’s another part that’s inspiring a near revolt on the part of the members of Greek Life and exists as a source of palpable tension between students, faculty, trustees, and administrators. Two words: gender parity. Essentially, through some careful wording, the Trustees are mandating all Greek organizations (both on and off campus) to go co-ed and are threatening expulsion of students if their organizations are not compliant with the timeline/guidelines. Here’s their reasoning and a brief rundown of how Greek Life is handled around the ‘Cac:
Members of the Committee consulted the Presidents of Tufts, Wesleyan, and Middlebury as well as the Dean of Student Affairs at Bowdoin and trustees at Hamilton. Each of these peer institutions tackled the fraternity and sorority issue slightly differently. Tufts opted for the status quo but worked closely with fraternities to improve their behavior, imposing severe penalties for rule infringements. It also created new major social events open to the entire undergraduate population as a way of reducing the influence of fraternities on the school’s social life. Middlebury and Bowdoin have adopted the “social house” concept, whereby designated facilities are set aside at those campuses under open membership policies. We also note that Middlebury instituted a “commons system” which would loosely approximate the house system that we have endorsed earlier in this report. Middlebury’s and Bowdoin’s “Social Houses” are required to abide by college standards for behavior and to receive funding. Wesleyan allows fraternities and sororities to exist but will not allow any new residential fraternities on campus and, further, holds the current houses to a strict code of conduct. Hamilton purchased their fraternity houses but allows fraternities to remain on campus in lounges or as “virtual” entities that exist in name and use college facilities. After considerable debate and with an eleven-to-one vote in favor of the matter, our Committee elected to follow through on the 1992 co-education mandate as a necessary first step toward equal access for men and women to all social organizations on campus and in keeping with the charge of our College mission to prepare students for the world in which they will work and live.
There are parts of their argument that ring true. Yes, there should be equal opportunities for men and women on campus. Yes, we should aim for our campus to operate as a meritocracy with superior behavior and performance lauded above that of apathy and inaction. But for me, and for many of my peers, this looks suspiciously like a thinly veiled movement to simply abolish Greek life on campus—a move the administration has been edging towards for some time now and one they refuse to explicitly acknowledge. For some Greek societies on campus, this means complete death to their organization—choked off from national because their charter explicitly prohibits a co-ed existence. For example, Alpha Chi Rho’s motto is, quite literally, “Be Men,” and Kappa Kappa Gamma, the only nationally recognized sorority on campus, would lose their national standing completely.
Yes, I understand some of the negative perceptions of Greek Life, I understand that Greek Life no longer exists in the traditional capacity it once did when Trinity was an all-male institution, and yes, I agree that Greek Life enters some murky territory at times. That said, though I am not in a fraternity or a sorority and have no particular allegiance with Greek Life on campus, when my fellow students speak of “betrayal,” I think they have a valid point. These organizations provide more than just a superficial social outlet—they provide an outlet for leadership, scholarship, and community service along with a network of brothers and sisters.
Trinity Senior Jesse Hunt, voting student member of the charter committee and current president of the Trinity chapter of Psi Upsilon, asks the fitting question of “whatever happened to leading by example?” He goes on explain that, “the co-education mandate of the trustees’ new policies state that all Greek organizations must be within 5% of a perfect 50-50 split between genders in less than half a decade. That’s a little unnerving seeing as [the trustees and the administration] haven’t even come within 20% of accomplishing such gender-parity within their own ranks.”
The breakdown of the committees is as follows:
[EDIT: the following information was compiled by concerned parent and lawyer Davidson Williams (P '13)]
25 Charter Trustees, 18 male/7 female
1 Funston Trustee, female
6 Alumni Trustees, 3 male/3 female
1 Parent Trustee, male
5 Emeriti Trustees, all male
38 trustees total, 27 male, 11 female (71% male, 29% female)
Trinity Charter Committee
3 student members, 2 male/ 1 non-voting female
3 faculty members, 2 male/ 1 female
2 administrators, 1 male/ 1 female
5 trustees, 3 male/ 2 female
1 staff, 1 non-voting male
14 members total, 9 male, 5 female (64% male, 36% female)
12 voting members total, 8 male, 4 female (67% male, 33% female)”
Trinity’s mission is to “foster critical thinking, free the mind of parochialism and prejudice, and prepare students to lead examined lives that are personally satisfying, civically responsible, and socially useful,” and the biggest fault I find with this whole issue is that it seems the college is confusing Trinity-specific issues for issues present in the world as we know it today while simultaneously hiding the true intent behind their actions. Binge drinking? Economic disparity? Lack of gender diversity? These issues pervade every part of our society. Now, just because something exists it doesn’t make it okay, but to think that these issues will dissolve by angering alumni, destroying a traditional aspect of the college, and by pointing a finger at only one group of individuals on campus as the perpetrators is wrong and narrow-minded. These issues are bigger than each of us individually, and while we can all strive to foster an environment that avoids these missteps and biases, remember that this “bias” can come from all angles. Instead of attacking a group, why not attack the ideas and issues themselves. Pot, meet kettle.
I was at an event last Friday meant to foster connections between faculty members and students, and I introduced myself to a professor I’d never taken a class with before. When they asked me what I was studying, I replied with my majors—one of them being Economics. The professor I was speaking with looked at me with a pitying face and said, “Ah- parents?” with a tone of feigned understanding. I was outright insulted. Half of my academic career was swept aside by his assumption that the only reason I would want to study Econ is because of parents pressuring me into an academic path. Although I understand that this may be the case for some, I’m studying Economics because I think it’s fascinating, and I was disheartened that I felt the need to defend one of the best departments at my college. Sweeping assumptions, labels, and generalizations affect everyone—I’m much more than a preppy white girl who went to boarding school and who lives twenty minutes outside Boston.
If we as a college want to attack issues of academic rigor, extracurricular offerings, and “critical thinking,” then do that. Attack the academics. Reconsider the tenure structure of the college. Take attendance in every class. Schedule tests for Friday morning. Grade harder, make us want to work, and don’t automatically make assumptions about your students. Although some departments and professors take on this challenge splendidly, it needs to happen across the board. A more intellectually vigorous climate won’t materialize just by phasing out Greek Life and instituting a new policy masquerading as a move towards equality.
Link to the full report: