Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Princeton Administration Does Not Support Greeks

Tilghman explains continued concerns about Greek life
By Melanie Jearlds, Staff Writer

As the University prepares to welcome another class of incoming freshmen, these members of the Class of 2013 will receive a letter from Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan and Vice President for Campus Life Janet Dickerson over the summer informing them that the University does not support fraternities and sororities on campus.

President Tilghman said in an interview last Wednesday that the administration continues to discourage incoming students from participating in Greek life on campus because she believes it restricts students’ social lives.

Several members of Greek organizations on campus said they were opposed to the University sending out a letter asking students not to join organizations.

“I thought it was unnecessary and really not the school’s place to interfere in such a manner,” said Caroline Rawls ’12, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. “Does the school send out letters asking kids not to join other organizations? No. So why should they send out a letter discouraging students to join a sorority or fraternity when they would never do the exact same thing for any other organization?”

But Tilghman said she thinks fraternities and sororities do not contribute as much to campus life as other groups, like athletic teams or performance groups.

“Those groups are forming around an ability, a talent [or] an interest that is likely to attract students from lots of socioeconomic groups, from lots of different geographical backgrounds, from lots of racial groups,” she explained. “When I’ve seen the way that fraternities and sororities go about attracting their membership, it’s not based on talent. It’s based on social comfort. And that strikes me as fundamentally different than joining a football team or joining an a cappella group.”

Tilghman added that she thinks the University’s letter may serve to inform students that Greek organizations do exist on campus and actually spark interest in joining a fraternity or sorority.

“I do worry … that it is a potential unintended consequence,” she said. “I still feel that it is important for the University to inform both the students and their parents what our policy is in regards to not recognizing these social groups.”

Tilghman said she was also concerned that participation in fraternities or sororities leads to early “segregation of students along racial … [and] socioeconomic lines.”

She said she is worried, in particular, by how rush activities come early during the academic year, leaving freshmen little time to form outside friendships prior to joining Greek societies.

“I think I have to go all the way back to Woodrow Wilson ... who said one of the most important things you do at Princeton is ... encounter the ‘other,’ ” Tilghman said. “When groups form - and more often than not, these are forming among students who feel very comfortable with each other - you’re losing your opportunity during your first and second year at Princeton to encounter the ‘other,’ and that’s my philosophical objection.”

But Kappa Alpha Theta president Emmy Ill ’10 said she thinks sororities like hers were beneficial to the campus community.

“I feel that sororities do add to University life in numerous ways, and I hope we will develop a positive relationship with the administration,” she said in an e-mail, declining to offer any other comments on the subject.

Numerous other members of sororities and fraternities who were contacted either declined to or did not respond to requests for comment.

Fraternities and sororities have long had strained relations with the administration. Back in 2004, officials in Nassau Hall approached officers from the Greek societies about the possibility of delaying rush until January or February, and the groups refused. The students were unwilling to consider the request for fear of conflicts with Bicker, Tilghman said.

But Rawls said the timing of rush during the fall semester of her freshman year did not restrict her social life.

“We have over a month to get information about Greek life and determine whether or not it is for you,” Rawls said. “Because things like the activities fair happen before rush anyway, it’s not like people aren’t already involved in other activities and informed about other social and service options that they might find interesting.”

Tilghman also criticized the way sororities and fraternities feed directly into the bicker clubs.

“We know that happens,” she said. “We’ve documented it year in and year out. Anyone who says that doesn’t happen hasn’t looked at the data.”

Though there are clear comparisons to be made between the Greek organizations and the eating clubs, Tilghman said she thinks there was an important distinction between the two because students don’t join clubs until halfway through sophomore year.

“You don’t really become active in the eating club until your junior and senior year, so by that time you have had a year-and-a-half to two years to meet lots of people, join lots of groups, create different ways of having a social life at Princeton, and I think you are ready to make some decisions about how you want to spend your last two years,” she explained.

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