May 9, 2013
In a sudden, end-of-semester decision, the Dean of Students Office announced on Monday, May 6 some significant changes to Greek Life at Hamilton. An email from Dean Nancy Thompson provided a report compiled by a Committee on Greek Recruitment, outlining recommendations the group had come to regarding Greek Life at Hamilton.
The suggested changes included: moving all rushing events to first-year spring, shifting all pledging to sophomore fall, limiting pledging to a five-week process instead of a seven-week process and a required meeting with the Dean of Students Office for all prospective pledges.
The report was compiled over a few months, and the committee was chaired by Senior Associate Dean of Students for Strategic Initiatives Meredith Harper Bonham, with professors, coaches and students in and out of Greek Life comprising it. The group was chartered with the mission of only examine the pledging process at Hamilton, and sought to make recommendations in order to “quote about strengthening Greek Life at Hamilton.”
The committee was formed after an incident earlier this semester with January admits being banned from pledging. Dean of Students Nancy Thompson explained that she was so surprised by the passion behind that movement and cites that as the reason behind this new committee. As a philosophy, she and the Dean of Students Office do not believe in allowing new students to undertake such a serious commitment, so they chartered the committee to reevaluate the pledging process at Hamilton.
To many Hamilton students in Greek societies, the changes may seem like an attack on Greek Life as a whole, but Dean Thompson emphasized this was not an attempt to completely phase out Greek Life at Hamilton. The committee was created only to discuss how pledging works at Hamilton, nothing more.
Other students expressed concern over how the report was compiled, referring specifically to the lack of proper Greek representation on the committee. President of Alpha Delta Phi Lucas Hulleberg ’14 said, “I feel as though this recommendation made by this small committee does not accurately reflect the opinions of a majority of the members of the Greek community.” While the committee was only made up of ten people, six of the members were students, and four of those students were in Greek Life. Dean Thompson explained that “every voice was equal” on the committee and that “students on this committee spoke their minds and felt free to do it.”
Still, President of Kappa Sigma Alpha Jess Gutfleish ’14 was concerned that “two of the [Greek] representatives were seniors, so this decision had no bearing on how their experience will change with Greek Life.” Committee member and non-Greek Tara Huggins ’14 described the committee as “super fair” to all voices, and commended the group for “being able to put aside their personal experiences for the future of the College.”
Besides hearing from the committee, the Dean of Students Office also consulted Director of Athletics Jon Hind ’80 and considered input from alumni, including former Greeks. Associate Dean of Students for Student Engagement and Leadership Lisa Magnarelli, who also oversees the Inter-Society Council (which consists of all the Greek presidents), was also consulted about the decisions. Magnarelli ’96 and the Dean of Students Office discussed the changes with the ISC at a few meetings this year.
Besides the procedural issues, students also voiced concern about the recommendations of the panel. Gutfleish, whose sorority only has 21 members, fears “losing a pledge class will really hurt us” because her sorority is so small. But, Dean Bonham expressed compassion for small groups saying that she would be “would be willing to sit down and strategize with those organizations” on how to best maintain their standing. Gutfleish also worried that by splitting rushing from pledging, prospective Greeks “may lose interest over the summer,” a concern that was expressed by other Greeks at SA.
Theta Delta Chi member Andrew Nachomsen ’15 took issue with the gap year that will have to take place because of the transition strategy. Next academic year will see no pledging because of the plan. Nachomsen said, “My primary issue is that there seems to be no genuine justification for the gap year period.” Others shared similar concern that instead of skipping pledging during the next academic year, there should be two semesters of pledging, in the spring and fall of 2014.
While a common concern, Dean Bonham said she “felt that rush can be an intense process and pledging is an intense process” and that splitting it was “beneficial for a students academic pursuits.” Dean Thompson believes that by splitting pledging, “the people who join will have made an informed decisions to commit themselves to this organization,” thusly strengthening, not weakening Greek societies. The hope is that students who pledge will now be more aware of what life at Hamilton is like, and hoW pledging will affect their lives.
The decision to require annual reports from Greek organizations was included because the committee “thought it would be useful for the organizations to think carefully about the pledge schedule” ahead of time. Dean Thompson expressed little interest in controlling the actions of each organization, but wished rather to ensure that they’re considerate when planning their events.
As the report spread quickly on Monday, students gathered their opinions and brought them to the semester’s final Student Assembly meeting. Deans Thompson and Bonham came to discuss the report, but Dean Thompson made it clear at the meeting that the Administration was “not looking for an alternative,” stating, “as the Dean of Students, I am committed to student safety, well-being, certainly education and good experience at Hamilton. And all of my decisions are about those things.”
Dean Thompson emphasized that the committee met “to do what was best for Hamilton” and sought not to hurt Greek Life, but rather to strengthen their societies and improve the quality of life at Hamilton—two objectives with which we can all see eye to eye.