After Years of Bad Press, the Great Fraternity Crackdown Is Here

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Two years ago, Rolling Stone published a blistering indictment of Dartmouth's fraternity scene. On Wednesday, University President Phil Hanlon announced he's creating a special committee to "end harmful behavior, including sexual violence, high-risk drinking and exclusion in campus social spaces," according to The Dartmouth

It's about time. Janet Reitman's Rolling Stone feature exposed "pervasive hazing, substance abuse and sexual assault" within the Greek system, "as well as an 'intoxicating nihilism' that dominates campus social life." One fraternity member reported that in order to pledge, he had to "swim in a kiddie pool of vomit, urine, fecal matter, semen and rotten food products; eat omelets made of vomit; chug cups of vinegar," and so on. Hanlon says the school has made some changes in recent years, but that they aren't enough:

We have taken important steps forward over the last several years, but progress does not equal success. We need to move faster. Risky and harmful behaviors stand between us and realizing Dartmouth’s amazing promise and potential. We cannot let that happen.

But it's not clear what, exactly, Hanlon plans to do, other than form this committee. At an invite-only summit with Hanlon last night, students brainstormed ways change Dartmouth's social culture while keeping it fun. Attendee Rachel Funk (class of 2015) told The Dartmouth that her breakout group discussed "the potential of trying to make student life more spontaneous, resembling the often-random social interactions of freshman year." Other suggestions were similarly vague. 

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Dartmouth is not the only school trying to crack down on frats in the wake of bad press. After Caitlin Flanagan published her Greek scene exposé in The Atlantic, which focused on the way Wesleyan mishandled a sexual assault at a frat house, professors and students alike are coming together to force frats to "co-educate" or be kicked off campus. In a letter to the campus community and alumni published Wednesday, hundreds of students and staff explained,

Fraternities are male-exclusive and the possessors of some of our campus’s largest party spaces, [and] they explicitly and implicitly cultivate a gender-based power dynamic that privileges men, the hosts, over women, who are among the guests. This power dynamic engenders sexual assault because women are institutionally encouraged to “repay” men for their hospitality, often with sex, and men are institutionally provided with a control over their guests, especially women.

Wesleyan's frats haven't responded, but it's highly unlikely that they'd choose to admit women — in doing so, they'd have to give up their national charters. In March, President Michael Roth explained in a community-wide email that the board of trustees was considering the role of "residential fraternities" at Wesleyan after a particularly horrifying sexual assault happened at Psi U.  

Outright banning fraternities, however, is a tough move for a university president to make. Greek alums tend to be big donors. Hanlon has shied away from making his reform all Greek life, no doubt to avoid the ire of deep-pocketed former Sig Chis. At the summit, he explained, 

I am calling on us to create fundamental change in every place on campus where social activities take place — residence halls, Greek Houses, Affinity Houses, Senior Societies, and other campus organizations.

Dartmouth's fencing club will surely think twice before it performs its next butt-chugging ritual.  

Update, Friday, 8:43 am: Fencing club member Ronak S. Kanwar ('17) emails in to say that "there is no butt-chugging" in Dartmouth's fencing club. 

Photo by Deborah Kolb via Shutterstock. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.