Investigation critical of campus Greek life

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February 5, 2010

3:19 AM

An investigation into Greek life at the College of William and Mary has released a fairly critical report that includes acceptance of hazing, alcohol abuse, a lack of leadership in Greek organizations and poor living conditions.

After visiting campus in October, the Fraternity and Sorority Coalition Assessment Project released an exhaustive 25-page report outlining both strengths and weaknesses within the College’s Greek community.

Click here to download a PDF copy of the full report.

The report first examines the community’s assets. One prevailing strength is the significant role fraternities and sororities play within the larger College community. The report lauds their unique inclusive nature, reporting that the community is perceived as open.

“Non-members are invited and attend social events, philanthropy events and many other chapter events,” the report said.

Additionally, fraternity and sorority members claim leadership roles in other organizations, and explain that they are not defined by their fraternity or sorority membership.

“I think an important strength that the sorority community has is that we contribute to our community as much as we gain from it,” Intersorority Council President Laurel Berkheimer ’11 said. “The CAP report lists several successful endeavors of ISC and the sorority community as a whole, such as leadership roles and addressing pertinent issues in the community.”

Associate Director of Student Activities Anne Arseneau ’89, whose focus is Greek life and leadership, explained a heartening and challenging aspect of the report.

“They clearly articulated that the average experience at William and Mary provides students with advanced interest levels, a strong community, opportunities for leadership and engagement in service,” she said. “At another campus, that might be the niche that Greek life would fill. So, here are we celebrating all that Greek life can do for you. If it’s just a social outlet, then it’s not living up to its potential.”

However, despite these positives, the report details a variety of criticisms ranging from philanthropic shortcomings to offensive vernacular terms such as “pledge.”

One particularly urgent area for improvement calls on fraternities and the College alike to address the current fraternity housing situation. Already a priority, the CAP report bolsters the issue’s importance, characterizing the housing as conducive to high-risk behavior and not attractive to men seeking a “safe and healthy place to live on campus.” It also chides fraternity leaders for putting more energy into discussing the problem than finding solutions.

Moreover, in a section concerning the use of appropriate terminology, the report suggested the immediate expulsion of the term “frat unit.”

“Simply changing the name of them does not address the overarching issues,” Council for Fraternity Affairs President Ian Fenwick ’11 said.

The CAP report also calls for increased collaboration between CFA and ISC beyond social affiliation, as well as a closer relationship between CFA, ISC and National Pan-Hellenic Council chapters on campus.

“Things have functioned in a way where everyone was okay with benign neglect at the leadership level amongst the three councils,” Arseneau said. “This is a new call to focus on coming together for the benefit of the whole community.”

As for the College administration, the report suggested a more honest discussion about the unique relationship the administration has with sororities and fraternities in comparison to the other 400 groups on campus. As the administration alternately assigns fraternities and sororities unique privileges, expectations and restrictions, a new “relationship statement” would be both more accurate and more beneficial to each organization.

Fenwick agreed that a clarified relationship is needed.

“I think the greatest weakness is a disconnect, or believed disconnect depending on who you ask, between the William and Mary administration and Greeks,” he said.

Other points in the report cite the conflict between current practices within Greek life and College and/or national organization policies. Beer pong tables, openly present in some College-owned-and-operated dormitories, violate the College’s policy against drinking games. Alcohol’s presence at philanthropic events violates national policies. Moreover, the report reproaches sororities for the practice of spending up to $500 on each “little” during Clue Week.

Finally, the report suggests the College more openly celebrate its role as the birthplace of fraternities and sororities via a monument of some kind, with a proposed establishment date of 2026 to coordinate with the 250th anniversary of the founding of Phi Beta Kappa at the College.

Berkheimer said she thought this was a unique strength of the College’s Greek community.

“No other school in the country can claim the founding of Greek organizations,” she said.

A Blue Ribbon Committee, consisting of 13 faculty, students, advisers and other stakeholders, is in place to coordinate short-term and long-term implementation of suggestions made in the CAP report.

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