September 16, 2013
As is true for most American colleges, Greek life has been a cornerstone of Hamilton’s life for generations. While various reforms have weakened the presence of fraternities and sororities on campus—most notably the removal of Greek housing in 1995—these societies still represent a sizeable percentage of students: Twenty-six percent of men are in fraternities and 17 percent of women are in sororities. Moreover, non-Greek students often benefit from the all-campus parties held by the Greeks throughout the school year.
Even so, for all the benefits that Greek societies deliver to the campus community, there are also obvious drawbacks to their existence. Besides the exclusive nature of such societies—an exclusivity that serves to divide the campus rather than unite it—there have been growing concerns that pledging and rushing are harming the first-year experience. Do freshmen truly have enough time to settle in, form friendships and explore athletic and extracurricular opportunities when the rush process begins in the fall semester? January-admits, in particular, are faced with an immediate choice about pledging, giving them no chance to fulfill the aforementioned aspects of the freshman Hamilton experience.
Hence, last spring, the Committee on Greek Recruitment—a committee consisting of administrators, faculty, alumni, Greek students and non-Greek students—issued their recommendations that rush season should be delayed until the spring and that pledging should commence in the fall of a pledge’s sophomore year. At this week’s Student Assembly meeting, Dean of Students Nancy Thompson and Senior Associate Dean of Students Meredith Harper Bonham outlined these changes to the class representatives and re-iterated that they are effective immediately (see front page).
The Spectator welcomes any and all attempts to promote a “healthier environment around Greek life and student life in general,” as the Committee’s report puts it. For the most part, these reforms are fair and, ultimately, they may become more effective than Greeks anticipate. After all, pledging takes place sophomore year at Colgate and they have a higher level of Greek participation than Hamilton does. Most would also agree that, in retrospect, the housing reforms of ’95 struck a reasonable balance between maintaining the tradition of the Greeks and respecting the voices of those who felt the houses promoted excessive exclusivity.
The present administration, however, must be careful to maintain that balance. The recent reforms should aim to improve Greek life, not abolish it. Some of the bureaucratic requirements in the Committee’s recommendations—having societies submit “detailed schedules of pledging activities,” for example—have the potential to go overboard. But just as the housing reforms eventually became the status quo for Hamilton culture, we are confident that this decision will follow the same pattern, and most likely, not for the worse.