Updated: University announces ban on freshman-year rush
The University will ban students from participating in freshman rush, it announced on Tuesday. The ban will take effect beginning in fall 2012, with members of the Class of 2016 prohibited from affiliating with fraternities or sororities for the duration of their freshman year, and with members of other classes prohibited from conducting any sort of rush activities for freshmen.
Despite attempting to govern Greek organization by banning freshman rush, the University also plans to continue its policy of not recognizing Greek organizations, according to the announcement.
“The decision to prohibit freshman-year affiliation and recruitment is driven primarily by a conviction that social and residential life at Princeton should continue to revolve around the residential colleges, the eating clubs, and the shared experience of essentially all undergraduates living and dining on campus,” President Tilghman wrote in a letter to members of the Class of 2015 this week, in which she notified the incoming freshmen of the policy change.
The announcement follows the recommendations of the yearlong Working Group on Campus Social and Residential Life, released in May, which advised the University to prohibit incoming freshmen from immediately joining fraternities or sororities.
The announcement of the recommendations drew strong backlash from the Greek community, with representatives of all 14 sororities and fraternities forming the Princeton Greek Council to communicate with the University about opposition to a freshman-year ban.
Members of the Greek community spoke out actively against the recommendations at the meeting announcing the working group’s findings and at two subsequent open forums. The backlash is continuing after the announcement of the ban, with students questioning the administration’s claim that membership in a Greek organization during the freshman year limits social options.
“These organizations do not take away from the ‘shared experience’ of all undergraduates, nor do they ‘prematurely narrow’ the social and extracurricular options of their members,” Kappa Alpha Theta president Kara Dreher ’12 said in an email, quoting the press release.
Dreher explained that a ban would be counterproductive for incoming freshmen, noting that many of the benefits of Greek life, such as “mentoring, networking, community, and all-around good things,” are more needed during freshman year than at any other time. “In fact, for many freshmen, they provide the support needed to get involved in such a cut-throat school as Princeton,” she said.
Josh Miller ’12, a brother and former social chair of the Zeta Psi fraternity who wrote a guest op-ed in the ‘Prince’ last May advocating against a ban, said in an email that the ban represented a “paternalistic” attempt by the administration to influence how students conduct their social lives.
“If I wanted to go to a university where the administrators had their own convictions about how I should socialize, I would go to West Point,” he said.
Miller also called the announcement “borderline dishonest” for its timing and the University’s decision to announce it as a post on its website rather than in a message from President Tilghman.
The announcement was also not sent out as a press release, as many University announcements usually are. According to University spokeswoman Cass Cliatt ’96, members of the working group were only notified of the decision on Tuesday.
Current students who did not notice the posting on the University website were not notified of the ban until Wednesday morning, when President Tilghman sent out a letter to members of the Classes of 2012, 2013 and 2014. It is unclear whether this was the same letter that was sent to members of the Class of 2015, as portions of the letter are the same as those quoted in the University’s announcement.
Though the ban will be delayed for one year to allow a committee of student, faculty and staff, which will be appointed in the fall, to consult with interested community members and propose a series of penalties and prohibition details in the spring, it is unclear how much input members of Greek groups would have in the decision process.
Dreher said she cautiously welcomed the delay, noting that it would give Greek organizations time to plan for how they will adapt, as well as hopefully influence how the ban is implemented.
“I am happy to hear that there will be student representation on the committee tasked with discussing the prohibition,” Dreher said. “I hope that Greek students will be well represented on this group, so that they are provided with a more substantive voice in the discussion than they had with the working group.”
Of the five student members of the working group, only one was affiliated with a Greek organization.
After the working group recommended a ban, the Greek community organized in opposition and appeared willing to strike a compromise with the administration.
Fraternity member Jake Nebel ’13 wrote an open letter to Tilghman — signed by over 600 students, many of whom were unaffiliated — criticizing the working group’s lack of statistics to support its claim that membership in a Greek organization limits social and extracurricular opportunities.
Nebel, Dreher and others also suggested postponing rush to the spring of freshman year as a potential compromise.
Nevertheless, except for the one-year delay, the ban almost exactly reflects the reasoning and recommendations made in the working group’s report. Tilghman acknowledged that, while many students made reasonable arguments, she did not think fraternities and sororities should be a part of freshman social life at the University.
“This decision will be disappointing to some who have advocated an expanded role for Greek life at Princeton,” Tilghman said in her letter to incoming freshmen. “I respect their views, and while some students have had difficult and disappointing experiences with fraternities and sororities, I know that others have valued their experiences.”
In a similar letter to freshmen, Vice President for Campus Life Cynthia Cherrey and Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan announced the decision as well to students.
“They can contribute to a sense of social exclusivity and privilege and socioeconomic stratification among students,” Cherrey and Deignan said in their letter. “In some cases they place an excessive emphasis on alcohol and engage in activities that encourage excessive and high-risk drinking.”
“A major concern is that they select their members early in freshman year, when students are most vulnerable to pressures from peers to drink, and before they have had a full opportunity to explore a variety of interests and develop a diverse set of friendships,” they added. “We hope students coming to Princeton will want to expand their circle of acquaintances and experiences, not prematurely narrow them.”
Cherrey and University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee ’69 announced at the first open forum last May that Tilghman would make the final decision on whether and how to implement the recommendation after meeting with the University’s Trustees in late August. The press release did not mention the meeting, and some students voiced concern about the timing of the announcement.
“It’s like they’re trying to sweep it under the table,” Miller said of the announcement’s timing at the end of summer. “There was no reason to announce it now, as opposed to when we’re on campus.”
Tilghman and Cliatt, however, defended the timing of the announcement.
“The decision was made over the summer so that students would be informed of it in the early fall,” Tilghman said in an email.
Cliatt echoed Tilghman’s explanation, saying that the summertime announcement would allow students to “arrive on campus ready to consider what role they’ll play” and would “ensure no time would be lost at the beginning of the year” in moving ahead with penalty and prohibition details.
“Our students had opportunities to comment on the report at a CPUC [Council on the Princeton University Committee] meeting and two open forums in the spring and through the group’s website” over the past few months, Cliatt added in an email.
“We were very, very sensitive to the fact that students would want input before the decision
was made,” she said in an interview. “Students were on campus at the time when the recommendation was presented.”
Yet the timing of the announcement during reading period last spring also drew criticism, with Nebel and others pointing out that the administration may have been taking advantage of a time when students were too engaged with coursework to fully rally against the recommendation.
The recommendations also came at the end of the academic year, when many students were preparing to leave campus for the summer.
Both Miller and Dreher said that, instead of limiting Greek life, the University should directly focus on stopping the dangerous activities it’s seeking to eliminate.
“I am certainly sympathetic to University concerns about hazing and alcohol abuse, as are all members of this community,” Dreher explained. “I most certainly do not believe that a ban on freshman-year affiliation will solve the problems.”
Miller expressed similar sentiments, saying that he wouldn’t mind seeing the University crack down on dangerous activities themselves, rather than blaming the Greek organizations for their existence.
But while the announcement hints that the University may indeed be looking into ways to change drinking culture — Tilghman said in her letter to current students that she “decided to accept the recommendation that we select a location and begin the process of seeking approvals to reinstitute a campus pub” — University officials said there were other factors at play in the decision to target Greek organizations.
Both Tilghman and Cliatt mentioned that they hoped the decision would limit what is known as “pipeline relationships,” where certain fraternities’ and sororities’ members make up a large percentage of bicker clubs, despite the claims of Greek-affiliated students that the strongest pipeline relationships exist between certain clubs and athletic or performing groups.
“We hope [to encourage] … a return to students considering their membership in clubs to how individual students think they can benefit from relationships with other members in the club,” Cliatt said.
Staff writer Patience Haggin contributed reporting.