Answering the Fraternity Question All Over Again

Last semester, shortly before the spring finals period, the Amherst College board of trustees made national headlines with an announcement that would drastically affect student life. Reaffirming the “spirit and intention” of their original 1984 decision, the board officially banned students’ membership, either on or off campus, of “any fraternity, sorority or other social club, society or organization” (emphasis added).

The timing of the proposed social clubs as a solution to campus loneliness — which only became a pressing issue right after the trustees’ reaffirmed ban — should not and cannot be lost on the student body. The solution the committee approached the administration with this summer is nothing more than a veiled, institutionalized version of the exclusive organizations that were banned last semester. This is not an entirely unfounded claim based in conspiratorial hyperbole. After all, it’s hard to deny that the current social club model is quite similar to a fraternity system. Not the atypical underground fraternity system that existed on campus until this summer, but the average, supposedly sustainable state or private school fraternity system.

Social clubs will have administrative oversight with a zero tolerance policy for hazing. The same is true, at least in theory, of the Greek system at Dartmouth College, which has made national headlines in recent years for its rampant hazing problem. Additionally, social clubs will require their members to undergo bystander training, a policy that the late Amherst fraternities touted as a sign of their progressiveness.

The social clubs will be publicized to all students with a formalized admission process that will guarantee each student acceptance to at least one club. Such an assurance of admission is a common practice among university Greek systems (see the California state school system).

Social clubs must have a mission statement, as does nearly every existing Greek organization. Delta Kappa Epsilon (better known as DKE) seeks to bring men together who “combined in the most equal proportions the gentleman, the scholar and the jolly good-fellow” (“Three Qualities of a Deke” as found on the national organization website).

Finally, social clubs are required to hold at least one all-campus event and perform community service. Tom Jones would fit the first requirement beautifully, and at this point, community service is about as synonymous with Greek letters as the Iliad or Odyssey.

There’s no denying that these social clubs are a rebrand of our previous underground societies, the ones that the trustees permanently banned last semester. Fraternities formalize existing social divisions — divisions based explicitly on gender. Social clubs are inherently based in the same exclusion. Although they make the few feel more included, fraternities have a history of making the many feel even more isolated from other members of the community. Though some may disagree as to the merits of fraternities on this campus, we should all see that social clubs are simply the new and improved DKE, Chi Psi and TD.

As a campus, we must be honest when discussing this issue. Will social clubs address loneliness? Did fraternities, in their long history at the college, effectively address the issue? Does exclusivity help or hurt our larger community? We have to recognize the blatant similarities between social clubs and Greek life. We have to see the inherent exclusivity of these clubs and literal manifestation of divisions on campus they will create. Then, given our recent ban, we have to ask: do we want more divisions like that at Amherst?