Social life group recommends freshman Greek affiliation ban
In a report released on Monday, the Working Group on Campus Social and Residential Life, established by University President Shirley Tilghman in September, proposed prohibiting students from rushing fraternities or sororities until their sophomore year. The group recommended a minimum penalty of suspension for participating in or conducting rush for freshmen.
To be implemented, the policy would need to be approved by the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee ’69 said in an email to The Daily Princetonian. Durkee, who co-chaired the group along with Vice President for Campus Life Cynthia Cherrey, added that there is currently no specific timetable for the implementation of the new policy.
Though Tilghman told the ‘Prince’ in September that the group might choose to recognize or ban Greek organizations, the report recommends that the University continue its policy of nonrecognition, despite the ban on Greek affiliation for freshmen. Currently, fraternities and sororities cannot use University resources or facilities.
Every affiliated student interviewed for this article said they disapproved of the working group’s recommendation.
“In one respect, I’m relieved that [a ban] wasn’t the judgment,” said one sorority president, who asked to remain anonymous in accordance with the sorority’s national bylaws. Nevertheless, she said, the recommendation is almost as detrimental to her organization’s purpose as an outright ban would be.
“I’m in a little bit of physical and emotional pain right now because I can’t imagine what it would have been like for me to not have that community right from the start,” she said of her time as a member.
Another sorority member, who asked to remain anonymous for the same reason, also said that the ban would make the transition to college much more difficult for some female students.
“Princeton is a very intimidating place for freshman girls,” she said. “The sororities provide a support system that will be conspicuously absent if the ban is implemented.”
The working group also recommended that the University be more vigilant in prohibiting serious hazing and punishing those found to have engaged in dangerous hazing activities. Because many of the members who haze pledges are sophomores — rather than juniors and seniors, as is the case at many college campuses — the working group said it believes that a sophomore year rush should help discourage hazing.
In addition, the group expressed concern that freshmen were particularly likely to be pressured into rushing, especially considering the “pipeline relationship” that the group claimed existed between Greek organizations and certain eating clubs. The group also claimed that a freshman-year rush limits students’ social options early in their Princeton careers.
“Our sense has been that, for a number of students, their reason for joining is because they know there has been an established pipeline relationship with one of the clubs,” Durkee said.
Durkee and Cherrey presented the working group’s report at a meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community in East Pyne 010 on Monday afternoon. The lecture hall could not seat all the students who attended to voice their concerns. Some of the students in attendance wore T-shirts with their organizations’ letters and nearly all who spoke openly proclaimed membership in fraternities or sororities.
In his opening remarks, Durkee claimed that the University had developed what he referred to as a “faux-Greek” system, in which unrecognized fraternities and sororities struggled to solidify their place in the University social scene among residential colleges and eating clubs.
“We do have an unusual situation here at Princeton,” Durkee said. “It is not and has never been a fully developed Greek system. You have this other set of engagements that is trying to integrate into that more fully established set of arrangements at Princeton.”
When the meeting opened up for questions, many students expressed doubt about the accuracy of the findings that the group used to make its recommendation. Students primarily expressed their belief that fraternities and sororities were being unfairly singled out for their alleged involvement with hazing, pipeline relationships with eating clubs and limited social options.
Many audience members argued that these problems are just as prevalent — if not more so — in other student groups like teams or performance groups.
One student explained that, since she could not “sing, act or dance,” she joined a sorority to interact with upperclassmen and gain access to eating clubs.
Another student joked that, if the University truly wanted students to be able to explore as many options as possible before limiting their social circle, they should simply prohibit participation in any type of group during students’ freshman year.
Nevertheless, Durkee said fraternities and sororities stood out because, unlike other campus groups, they are primarily social organizations.
“Students who join a sports team join because they want to play,” Durkee explained. “They’re not joining for the social experience, the social experience comes along with it ... Those who join a singing group, an acting group join it because they want to be engaged in that activity.”
Cesar Devers ’11, one of five student members of the working group, also said in an interview that the fact that Greek organizations use social criteria to select members distinguishes them from other student groups with “pipeline” relationships with eating clubs.
“There’s a very strong pipeline process that happens with a lot of groups, so a lot of what they’re saying I personally agree with,” Devers said. “I personally think there is a distinction to be made between Greek organizations and sports teams or dance troupes because of how they choose who gets in.”
Fellow working group members Sam Dorison ’11 and John Monagle ’12 declined to comment, while Cameron Hough ’13 and Angela Groves ’12 did not respond to requests for comment.
Student response to the announcement has been vocal. Fraternity member Jake Nebel ’13 has drafted an open letter to President Tilghman arguing that a delayed rush would exacerbate the alleged pipeline because more students would rush to gain greater access to the club of their choice.
“Eating club selection is more likely to motivate sophomores and, in some cases, juniors, to join a Greek organization for the wrong reasons than it is to motivate freshmen, who rarely know which club they want to join,” the letter states.
Nebel asked to defer comment until he meets with Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83 on Wednesday.
During the meeting, students also expressed disappointment with the lack of data Durkee provided to back up the report’s assertion that joining a Greek organization could limit the social and extracurricular opportunities for freshmen.
“The argument that we intend to take is that it is actually the polar opposite,” the sorority president said. “Personally, everything that I’m involved in I became involved in [because of] my sorority ... We actually provide everything that the University thinks our students are missing.”
She added that her sorority is currently surveying its members on their demographic background and extracurricular involvement to compare them with the University’s findings, which argue that Greek organizations are disproportionately white and wealthy.
An anonymous member of another sorority indicated that at least one other sorority might take similar action.
Pete Smithhisler, the president and chief executive of the North American Interfraternity Conference — an umbrella group that supervises at least 10 of the fraternities at Princeton — said that the advantages of fraternity membership can benefit the campus community as a whole.
He added that research has shown that fraternity members are more likely to pursue leadership roles on their campuses.
“Students who join fraternities in their first term have greater personal development than students who don’t,” Smithhisler said.
Beth Black, the national vice president of Kappa Kappa Gamma, also said that the freshman fall is the best time for sorority recruitment.
“Fall recruitment also represents an opportunity to assist new students with their adjustment to campus life and to adjust to serious academic work through participation in the chapter’s scholarship program,” she wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’
Sororities are particularly important at the University, where the residential college system limits “opportunities for freshmen to get to know upper-class students,” Black added.
Aside from concerns about the negative impact of the working group’s decision on campus life, several affiliated students also said they were unsure about the possible legal implications for current members. They said they were concerned with the ambiguity about what exactly constitutes a punishable “rush activity.”
One fraternity member asked Durkee if freshmen would be allowed to attend room parties thrown by his organization.
The sorority president who asked to remain anonymous said that, for members of her group — which traditionally takes prospective members out for coffee — the change could mean a “complete cutoff from talking to freshmen.”
Durkee said that such details had not yet been solidified. “We certainly don’t mean to inhibit conversation,” Durkee said in the email after the meeting. “Our recommendation is focused on rush. We leave to others the responsibility of deciding how to define rush activity and where to draw the line.”
Yet one sorority member suggested at the meeting that these restrictions on what she called students’ “freedom to associate” might infringe upon their civil liberties.
“[The working group is] making a biased opinion and prohibiting students from making their own free choices,” Smithhisler said and added that the threat of suspension amounted to “individual students being disciplined for their constitutional right of assembly.”
However, Durkee said that he had spoken extensively with the University’s Office of Counsel and that there were no foreseeable legal issues regarding the recommendation.
Cherrey said in an email that there has been no discussion yet about how the University will change the letter it sends out to incoming freshmen dissuading them from joining Greek organizations.
According to the report, some members of the working group are or have been members of fraternities or sororities, and one played a major leadership role in a Greek organization.
Still, many fraternity and sorority members said they perceived a lack of effort to include the perspectives of students in the Greek life community while the committee was gathering information.
“None of the people present [at the CPUC meeting] seem to have heard about [the focus groups or working group website] or been invited to participate,” the anonymous sorority member said. “The committee was missing an important part of the campus, especially when considering that there was little to no data to back up the committee’s claims and they were going solely off the word of mouth anecdotes provided by the focus groups.”
Durkee said in the email that a focus group was held in December with the leaders of all three pan-Hellenic sororities and all but four or five of Princeton’s fraternities, but he acknowledged that the organizations’ leadership could have changed since then.
Affiliated students have promised to continue to fight this recommendation in the coming weeks. Nebel’s open letter is currently gathering signatures online, and Durkee said that Cherrey will organize a forum next week where students could make suggestions about moving forward.
“The first step was to widely distribute the report in order to inform the University community of the findings of the working group,” Cherrey said. “We encourage individuals to share reactions, suggestions and ideas for implementing the recommendations set forth in the report. Students can go to the website to submit their suggestions and there will be a student forum scheduled this upcoming week.”
In the meantime, some of the Greek organizations have also reached out to their national representatives for advice on how to fight the proposal and how to react if it is implemented.
“We have advised our chapter to partner with the University as they continue to gather facts and explore options and to help them understand the benefits of women’s organizations,” Black explained. “We would be happy to work with Princeton’s administration.”