September 16, 2013
Dean of Students Nancy Thompson met with both the Hamilton Inter-Society Council (ISC) and Student Assembly seperately in order to discuss the implementation of the College’s new policy on Greek recruitment. Announced last May, the new policies prohibit pledging in the spring semester, limit rushing to after winter break and restrict bids until after Spring Break. Students will now need to wait two weeks into the fall of their sophomore year to pledge, a time period that is shortened from seven weeks to five. Because time spent at another school counts, transfer students will also be permitted to pledge in the fall. The Final Report of the Committee on Greek Recruitment explains the reasoning behind the changes:
“We believe that these proposed changes will provide all new students time to settle in to the Hamilton community, focus on academic and athletic achievement, develop friendships, and explore extracurricular opportunities before making the significant commitment to membership in a Greek organization. A shorter period still provides ample time for new members to familiarize themselves with the organization and its members, while reducing the inherent disruption to academic and athletic endeavors.”
The process began last winter when Dean Thompson announced that students entering Hamilton in January would not be permitted to pledge a fraternity or sorority in the spring. This change in policy, intended to give students a full semester on the Hill before making that decision, upset many students who claimed it was unfair to the January admits who enrolled at the college with the intention of pledging. A week later, Dean Thompson acknowledged student concerns and rescinded her decision, instead putting together a small committee to re-evaluate the pledging process at Hamilton.
The Committee on Greek Recruitment consisted of six students (four of whom are Greek), a coach, faculty member and a trustee/alumnus. The committee studied the Greek life at Hamilton in comparison to similar schools and surveyed the student body, discussing possible changes until they decided upon unanimous recommendations. These recommendations were emailed to the Hamilton community in May and are now being implemented.
The committee looked at the Greek systems at nine comparable colleges. They systems spanned a wide range, with Trinity College not allowing pledging to Wesleyan University, which has no restrictions. However, out of these schools, five do not allow pledging until the spring of sophomore year with the pledge period ranging from four to eight weeks.
TJ Davis, head swim coach, associate professor of physical education and one member of the committee, commented on the process. “There was a great deal of research done on peer institutions; I always feel like we can learn from that type of information without losing the unique, positive elements of life here at Hamilton.”
Similarly, the survey of Hamilton students yielded over 700 responses with a great diversity of opinions. The survey asked students when they thought pledging should take place, the appropriate length of pledging and how it affects his or her semester. While students widely differed on when they though pledging should occur, the majority thought pledging should last four to five weeks instead of seven.
Tara Huggins ’14, a member of the Committee, is optimistic about the policy. “My biggest hope for the changes is that it will even the playing field for the January admits, which is why we started discussing changing it in the beginning. They can go through the process with the rest of their class and have more time to decide what they want. I also am happy that the length of pledging has been shortened so that pledges can participate in their society rather than pledging it.”
While some students accepted these changes, others expressed concern. At Tuesday’s meetings, a number of issues were raised, primarily that pledging will negatively affect fall sports, that smaller Greek organizations would not survive a year without pledges and that this is an attempt to eliminate Greek life from the Hill.
With 30 percent of Greeks also on a sports team, a few are upset that fall athletes will now need to balance athletics with pledging. “The burden has been shifted from spring athletes to fall athletes,” said Jon Hind ’80, the Athletic Director and Professor of Physical Education. “But I’m hopeful that by the time someone makes that decision, he or she has a good sense of their involvement here at the College and they can balance their priorities.”
Smaller Greek societies fear that without a year of new pledges, the new policies threaten their survival. Alpha Theta Chi President Bianca Buonaguro ’14 is not concerned for her sorority, the largest Greek organization on campus, but still does not agree with it. “I think that a lot of smaller organizations will suffer by not being able to pledge in the spring; at the very least they won’t have the funds to be able to host the type of events or do the kinds of activities that they want to do and at worst they may cease to exist on this campus. I think it’s unfortunate and unfair that the specific needs of those societies aren’t being considered in the way that this policy is being implemented generically across the board.”
Dean Thompson understands these concerns and while she says that she cannot allow any groups to pledge new classes, she is willing to work with these groups in any way she can to encourage their survival on campus. She emphasized that the change in policy is not an attempt to rid campus of Greek societies but is instead a chance to improve them.
“I know these changes will cause some problems during the adjustment phase,” said Huggins. “What we have to remember is that we have different viewpoints on the school. The lens of a student is only four years whereas the administrators need to worry about the College’s lifetime. This causes differences in opinion on a wide variety of topics that come up on campus.”