On Feb. 9, Dartmouth College administrators announced a plan to end the school’s single-sex greek system. This attempt to create a more inclusive campus environment sets a dangerous precedent for colleges and universities across the nation. Inclusion is coming at the price of diversity. To maintain the academic mission, schools must respect and encourage wide-ranging views and beliefs, not stifle them through administrative decree.
For more than 150 years, Dartmouth’s greek system has been integral to the college experience there. Thirty-five percent of the college’s roughly 4,300 undergraduates belong to one of the 25 single-sex fraternities and sororities. The college’s greek system acts as a focal point for social activities.
Dartmouth College President James Wright and the Dartmouth Board of Directors hope to change all that. Seeking to make the college experience open to everyone, they have approved a plan to eliminate the single-sex greek system. Although the exact nature of implementation remains unclear — greek houses may be forced to go co-ed or may be eliminated altogether — it is unlikely that there will be a rush class in 2001. “By definition, a fraternity or sorority is not inclusive of all members of the community,” Wright said. “Dartmouth needs to become a place that’s more whole, where the entire community can share more fully in the life of the community.”
Greek systems across the nation have battled in recent years to dispel stereotypes of fraternities and sororities as havens for drunken debauchery. Surprisingly, their efforts have met with considerable success. Hazing, sexual misconduct and illegal alcohol consumption are all being reduced as greek systems clean up their acts. These positive changes should be applauded, but the Dartmouth plan ignores them in the name of an inclusionary agenda that misses some simple facts.
There is an inherent conflict boiling beneath the surface of all college campuses. Colleges and universities want to create inclusive communities that are open to everyone. Yet at the same time, campus groups proclaim the value of diversity. At present, a tentative balance exists between these two ideals, but this will be disputed by the precedent set by the Dartmouth plan.
Fraternities and sororities are no different from other campus organizations like the Catholic Student Center and the Queer Student Cultural Center. Such groups are composed of individuals with common interests or backgrounds who wish to spend time together. That some join together to form groups of one sex or the other merely points to an obvious fact many wish to deny: Men and women are different. Moreover, there are times and places when women prefer to be with other women and men with other men. The right of students to gather in such a manner is as valid for greeks as it is for other differentiated groups. A variety of viewpoints and social opportunities is valuable to everyone on campus and must be maintained.
The Dartmouth initiative sets a hazardous example for the rest of the nation. Should other colleges and universities pursue a similar course, some barriers may be torn down, but the loss of choice and opportunity we will all experience is too high a price to pay.