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Social reform: The destruction of tradition at Trinity College

Ben Green ’14

Contributing Writer

Edmund Burke once said, “Society is indeed a contract. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Students, faculty, alumni, and whoever else’s eyes happen to fall upon these words: our social contract has been stripped and twisted, leaving the parties of the past, present, and the future disillusioned.

Last week, the Charter Committee for Social Reform placed a recommendation in front of the Board of Trustees, who unanimously passed the six point plan. The recommendation is an outline of drastic changes to the social dynamic at Trinity College for the coming years. The plan has caused an uproar in student, faculty, and alumni circles, with most of the confrontation centering around the final point, reinforcing the coeducational mandate for greek life first attempted in 1992. Upon its implementation, Greek life organizations would be forced to meet certain percentages of members of the opposite sex, consequently dismantling several organizations whose national charters forbid coeducation.

The impetus for this change is not stated simply. Through several surveys and studies on the social life at Trinity, the members of this committee have attributed the current academic woes of the school to social life, specifically the fraternities and sororities. These academic problems of the school are varied, from drops in national rankings to a low retention of our best students.

We are now left with an increasingly apathetic student body. It has been made clear that many of us are not the type of students that Trinity wants to call their own anymore. To change our ways, the ways in which the administration and these committees think we are responsible for the degradation of our school, they have targeted our oldest institutions. Within the Greek system are among the most socially vital, philanthropic, community oriented, and alumni involved organizations to ever exist at this school.

Many of the Greek organizations have existed for almost two hundred years, and cracking down on the Greek system does nothing to change the mindset of the students. The school has connected problems of binge drinking and social exclusivity to these organizations multiple times in different forms, yet the prior social reforms like the newly instated (and ridiculously threadbare) social policy have shown to be adversely effective to solving these apparently high risk problems. Increases in T-CERTs are often during weekends and days when fraternities are closed. When they are open, they limit guests, thus increasing exclusivity and putting a chokehold on the social environment.

I have gained many things from my experience as a member of one of these organizations. I have learned about tradition, accountability, resolve, and trust, but most important of all, I have learned to be a part of something bigger than myself, to put the needs and wants of others before my own. This is a lesson so intrinsic to our society it is a shame there are not more ways to experience it at a place like Trinity. To be a successful and contributing member of society you must understand that no matter who you are and what you do you are a part of something bigger than yourself.

The new social reforms are plans for the dissolution of the most important facet of our organizations, and one of the greatest things this school and this country has to offer. We will not stand idly by as those who claim to understand and care for us threaten to take our bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood away from us.

To say that the current social system at Trinity is working fine, however, is just a lie. We have major social problems that have been made very clear, but this is simply not the answer. Students, faculty, and administration love this school, and everyone would like to see it improve, and that is why we need input from all sides. Instead of destroying these organizations, why not create more? The house system idea is fundamentally flawed in some aspects, but the basis of the idea is not. We do need alternatives to Greek life in order to create a more inviting social atmosphere. Instead of having this huge Hogwarts-style house system with Snape and McGonagall looking over our shoulders, we should have open houses for students to run and decide what the social scene is to be like. Greek life only represents twenty percent of the student body; if the school would like to see a more diverse social life, give opportunities for that eighty percent to decide what they want to do.

To enact real, effective change within the social scene at Trinity, the change cannot be to an administration-structured environment. Teachers and administration, to college students, will always be un-cool. A student-run club or organization will always be more inviting and ultimately successful to the students, which is why the Greek system has dominated the social scene for so long. There needs to be a real conversation, colored by civility and respect, between students and faculty before any changes are implemented.

Some people believe that the only groups that are truly upset about these new reforms are students affiliated with Greek life. They are not. Last week, a first-year student created a petition that spoke out against the reform. The student acquired over three hundred and fifty signatures solely from first year students, which represents a majority of their class. These are the students that the school forgot to consider, the most affected who seem to have the smallest voice. There have been statements claiming a concerted effort on the side of the Charter Committee to engage the student body in the process, yet there are only three student members on the Committee, one of whom voted against the recommendation, another who did not have a vote, and all three are due to graduate before any of these reforms are to truly take place.

There is a strict divide in the reaction to this mandate. It seems that there is no middle ground here, as students, faculty, and alumni have chosen sides. Many, if not most, professors strongly believe in the new reform, and some even feel the reform did not go far enough. Yet there are those in the faculty who are on the other side, who believe that this change attempts to fix something that is not broken.

I almost went to Oberlin, but there is a reason I chose Trinity College. I had heard great things about this school: a president who knew every student’s name, a student body that was both famously intelligent and notoriously fun, and a stimulating and intellectual environment that lets you decide what you want to do, and who you want to be. We, in the past few years, have experienced the decadence of the pillars of this institution, and are quickly losing the reasons that students like me chose Trinity over Oberlin, Bard, or Middlebury.

Multitudes of alumni feel that this is not the school they once went to, and many of them are convening over social media platforms to organize a resistance to the new change. Several have withdrawn donation pledges, further dwindling our already meager endowment.

With so much animosity on both sides, could there not have been a way to do this civilly? To, as the school’s mission statement says, “work closely with students in a relationship of mutual trust and respect?” Instead of implementing drastic changes and talking about it with students afterward, why not have these discussions beforehand?

I love this school. I am so incredibly proud of who I am because of it, and thankful for the opportunities that allowed me to decide who I want to be here. Change is tough, but it is necessary for progress. I believe in the progress of this school, and I believe the destruction of these organizations is antithetical to that progress. I believe this could have been done in a way that would have spurred progress from a unified student, faculty, and alumni body, but it was not. Instead, we are left with anger, disrespect, and mistrust on all sides.

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