Princeton’s ban on freshman affiliation with fraternities is counterproductive| Dec 6, 2016
Since the fall of 2012, Princeton has upheld a policy in which first-year students are prohibited from affiliating with or rushing fraternities or sororities. Shirley Tilghman, the University’s president at the time of the ban’s implementation, maintained that social life on campus should be centered around the residential colleges and the eating clubs. However, from my experience as a first-year student, the residential colleges aren’t particularly social — with the exception of a few tight-knit zee groups — and eating clubs only exist to host weekly parties, since underclassmen do not become members until sophomore spring. Princeton freshmen are lacking the essential connection to social life on campus.
At the University of Pennsylvania, for instance, freshmen engage in social events with fraternities and sororities starting in their first semester. This enables new students to meet upperclassmen brothers and sisters of the organizations, as well as other first-year students who have similar interests in fraternities and sororities. Through these formal and informal events, freshmen are included in the social scene, can receive both social and academic support from the students they’ve met, and gather a concrete idea of which Greek organizations appeal to them most. Come spring semester, these freshmen engage in the rush process informed and prepared about which groups they want to join and the people with whom they want to do so.
Princeton’s social scene is drastically different, and I do not believe it’s for the better. Whereas fraternities at the University of Pennsylvania invite freshmen to fraternity events (with hopes of attracting these students to rush in the spring), freshmen at Princeton must actively seek passes for eating club parties from the very few upperclassmen they likely knew before matriculating. This is particularly disconcerting, since there are many instances where groups of first-year friends do not acquire passes to the same clubs, forcing them to choose between leaving their passes unused or leaving their friends behind.
Exceptions to this circumstance exist for those who play sports and for those in small, close extracurricular groups like a cappella or dance, since these first-years have the opportunity to form close connections with upperclassmen. However, this is an opportunity that few underclassmen have. Sophomores then go on to rush in the fall of their sophomore years, with very little prior exposure to Princeton’s fraternity and sorority culture.
Personally, my friends at Princeton consist almost entirely of those from my CA group and those in my zee group. Unfortunately, they all happen to be freshmen, so social and academic advice can be hard to come by. Further, the aforementioned ban makes it difficult to find others with similar social interests, since students are so confined socially their first year. Fraternity and sorority exposure would reduce this problem.
One can argue that most students’ social lives at Princeton aren’t fully established until the spring of sophomore year. At this point, students join eating clubs — each club having its own distinct social characteristics — and bonds begin to form between sophomores and their fellow upperclassmen eating club members. Eating club events and parties become more welcoming to the newly inducted sophomore members, and finally these students feel a sense of community at Princeton. For first-year students, however, inclusion into the eating club social arena is much more difficult to come by.
Tilghman’s concerns over alcohol consumption and hazing shouldn’t justify a full-out ban on a significant part of the collegiate social scene. At Stanford, for instance, hard alcohol was banned at undergraduate parties. This policy greatly reduces concerns of irresponsible alcohol consumption and allows the freshman class to take part in fraternities and sororities. While I believe both Princeton’s and Stanford’s policies are harsh, a happy medium can be achieved otherwise. It’s critical to understand that enabling Princeton freshmen to join the Greek social scene will not automatically lead to an increase in alcohol-related incidents.
I firmly believe that for the social health of the freshman class, the University should permit affiliation with fraternities and sororities during a student’s first year. This would allow for bonds between first-year students to be strengthened socially and for both academic and social support from likeminded upperclassmen.
Jared Shulkin is a freshman from Weston, FL. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org