Trustees, Roth Discussing the Future of Wesleyan Fraternities

The Board of Trustees has asked President Michael Roth to propose a plan for the future of fraternities at Wesleyan, following a discussion at their spring meeting May 22-23.

On his blog, Roth said he would deliver a plan to the board soon, ideally before the start of the next semester but at the latest before the next board meeting in November. His thinking has changed since his first year at Wesleyan, when he wrote about his support for Greek life, Roth said.

“Six years of hearing about high-risk drinking at fraternities and dealing with fallout from highly publicized incidents of sexual violence have had an effect,” he wrote in a blog post this week. “ Of course, the larger world has changed too. Today there’s more emphasis upon Title IX and a much greater awareness of sexual assault. The U.S. Department of Education says that under Title IX, schools must “take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the sexual violence, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.”

Roth cited a WSA survey showing that 47 percent of Wesleyan students feel less safe in fraternity houses than in other party spaces; the great majority of those think that making the fraternities co-educational would be helpful in making those spaces safer.

“Are fraternities at Wesleyan hostile environments? It was sobering to everyone here when so many students said yes,” Roth wrote.

Some of the board discussions revolved around Greek life – or the lack thereof – at peer institutions.

Roth noted that Connecticut College and Vassar have no Greek life and Bates has never had it. Amherst, Williams, Bowdoin, Middlebury and Colby all eliminated Greek. Amherst abolished fraternities on campus in 1984 (after a brief failed experiment with co-education) and recently eliminated even unsanctioned Greek life. Williams did it in 1962 and students still sign a pledge not to participate in Greek life. By 2000, the Greek system was officially dismantled at Bowdoin, in part because it was losing high-quality students who didn’t want to go to a school with fraternities. At Colby fraternities and sororities were abolished in 1984 because they were inconsistent with the fundamental values of the community, and in 1992 Middlebury did likewise because it found fraternities to be “antithetical to the mission of the college.”

Swarthmore still has two fraternities, and now a new sorority to provide access to Greek life for women. Trinity is still dealing with student and alumni anger after it mandated co-education of fraternities, raised GPA requirements for frat membership, and did away with the pledging process.

Some in the Wesleyan community don’t believe such examples offer any lesson for the university, Roth wrote.  Some emphasize that the rates of sexual assault at schools that have eliminated fraternities don’t give any indication that those institutions are safer environments. And still others have asked whether all-male private organizations should exist at a coeducational institution.

Roth is considering the following options:

(1) Requiring fraternities to become safer places through training and education.

(2) Eliminating single-sex residential organizations or requiring co-education (with full membership).

(3) Eliminating Greek residential life entirely.

(4) Eliminating all Greek life (on campus or off).

(5) Dramatically expanding Greek life so that there are social spaces controlled by women.

Roth is continuing to gather information and ideas from the Wesleyan community, and a special mailbox has been set up at comments@wesleyan.edu.

“None of these options will eliminate the problems of binge drinking and sexual assault,” wrote Roth. “ That’s not the point. Which changes in our residential and co-curricular program will make us a more inclusive, educational and equitable place? For now, our question is simple, but it may not be easy to arrive at a consensus on the answer to it: Will Wesleyan be a stronger university (“dedicated to providing an education in the liberal arts that is characterized by boldness, rigor and practical idealism”) with or without Greek life?”