A critique faculty, staff, and administration have long attributed to Trinity students is their complacency on school-wide issues. When it comes to the provisions and plans set forth under the College’s Social Policy – especially regarding Greek life – complacent is everything Trinity students haven’t been.
On Sunday March 9th at 6:30pm, the Student Government Association hosted a forum on the co-education mandate. Open to all, its goal was to let the voices of the opinionated student body be heard concerning the Greek coeducational mandate. The mandate, one of the many aspects of the Social Policy, would require all Greek organizations to reach gender parity by 2016, inevitably conflicting with many of their charters. The panel, led by Eamon Bousa, an SGA Senator, took place just days before the student wide vote which will happen online this Thursday, March 13th. The vote will require a yes or no answer on the following question: “Should the coeducational mandate imposed on Greek Letter Organizations be repealed?”
Eamon Bousa, the SGA Senator who facilitated the forum, began by vocalizing the history of Greek life at Trinity and referencing the “Referendum Pros and Cons” sheet which circulated throughout the student body in the week prior. To begin, Bousa made note that Trinity College went coed in 1968. Surprisingly, the campaign to repeal school’s Greek organizations is not a novelty; It first took place in 1992 and continued to be brought up again a number of times in the following years as well. Currently, the push to enforce gender parity by 2016 was a decision enacted via the Charter Committee, a committee comprised of faculty and students responsible for discussing the issue. Bousa expressed that the purpose for the forum was mainly to allow students to make comments as they so choose pre-voting on Thursday.
The discussion began with two Kappa Kappa Gamma sisters who questioned the purpose and significance of the vote. Bousa answered by mentioning the lack of student involvement on the Charter Committee. Thus, the vote was to officially communicate the student body opinion which had been substantially missing in the committee meetings. As for the significance, Bousa was uncertain. He noted that the administration had the power to apply the mandate regardless of students’ dislike for it, but that the vote would clarify student opinion and could hold some weight. Another Kappa Kappa Gamma sister noted the importance of this vote for Trinity’s future president, who may view its results as a way to approach his future role at Trinity.
In order to incite responses on the details of the mandate, Bousa read off a number of pros and cons listed on the referendum sheet. Some of the arguments listed for repealing the co-education mandate include the following:
“Students should be afforded the right to freedom of association and the co-ed mandate, as advanced in the charter committee, violates this right.”
“Allowing single sex organizations to exist affords students more diverse options in terms of different types of social organizations to choose from.”
Conversely, some of the arguments for maintaining the co-education mandate are included below:
“Having single sex organizations with access to facilities that are significant parts of student social life limit the power and influence of the sex that these institutions exclude.”
“Evidence from our Admissions Office suggests there is a link between Trinity which is represented in the social media as having a party school reputation, and the decline in the
quality of our applicants and corresponding yield especially among women applicants.
Not surprisingly, Trinity’s student body has a lower proportion of females than
comparison schools. The highest-rated students who do come to Trinity are more likely to transfer out than other students. The most frequently mentioned reasons for doing so are the lack of academic seriousness among other students and an fun inspired social scene. (From Charter Committee Report)”
Upon hearing the pros and cons listed from the Charter Committee Report, Sonjay Singh, a junior and the President of Pi Kappa Alpha, best known as Pike, uttered his disagreement with the coeducation mandate for characterizing all fraternities and sororities as “oppressive” toward the student body. Similarly, Ian Robinson, a sophomore Kappa Sigma brother, claimed that the notion that fraternities and sororities promote exclusion of the sexes was a “ridiculous assumption”. He stated that the large number of fraternities on campus is not the fault of a fraternity itself, but is simply part of the climate and history of Trinity originating as an all-male institution.
Robinson and Singh weren’t the only Greek members who felt they were being wrongfully accused. One Kappa Kappa Gamma sister said she was “exhausted” of the attacks on Greek life: “If I wanted to be a part of a coed frat, I’d be a part of The Hall…Being a part of a women’s organization is empowering….being in a single sex organization is not a crime”.
Others referred to the referendum’s claims that Greek life on campus is widely associated with Trinity’s party school reputation, which may attribute to its decrease in quality students and the liberal arts rankings predominantly within the last few years. They expressed that blaming fraternities and sororities for Trinity’s party school reputation is unfair. Since Greek life is such a strong element of Trinity’s social life, the blame for school incidents is often placed on the backs of these organizations – there simply are few other options.
Still, others felt that the need to promote gender parity to save Trinity’s reputation was flawed logic. Oliver Lykken, a sophomore Kappa Sigma brother stated “going coed isn’t going to change the way we do things.” Alex Loy, a junior and the President of Kappa Sigma, questioned the position women would have in a fraternity. He expressed the fact that the administration has already determined that male and female Greek members would not be allowed to live in the same house, which would split up members of the E-Board and ultimately create a more divisive, rather than unified, organization. Likewise, a Kappa Kappa Gamma sister mentioned that men will not want women to join their organizations and vice versa; this will lead to changed traditions and a ruined climate.
Curious to hear the opinions of non-Greek students, a member of the SGA spoke out to defend the Greek organizations and voice his opinion of the administration’s treatment of Greek life: “Shutting down organizations doesn’t change things”, he stated, believing that the administration has great ideas but isn’t pursuing their goals in the best way. He used the renovation of Vernon Social as an example – an expensive “flop” which hasn’t entirely changed the social life. He also mentioned that Trinity should “re-imagine” their vision because even with the coeducation mandate, “there’s still gonna be drinking…and homophobic incidences”, a compelling and stark truth.
Another issue that was widely discussed was the absence of faculty appearance at the meeting and their general nonappearance and interest in the Greek life issue. Sonjay Singh argued that their lack of attendance is due to the faculty’s inability to provide strong arguments against Greek life. Oliver Lykken announced that the disinterest of the faculty shows a complete lack of respect for the issue of Greek life, one that clearly many students are invested in. Lykken stated that Tim Dunn, the Associate Director of Student Services for Social Houses at Trinity, expressed interest in the forum and the margin Thursday’s vote would provide. Evidence exists that the ’92 referendum expressed that 82.5% of the student organization was against the coeducation mandate. Thursday’s statistics will certainly be compared with such past data.
The forum topic then switched to the options that could exist to increase the social life at Trinity whilst maintaining Greek life. Ben Millard, a Kappa Sigma brother, brought up this point. Kyle Pak, a Pike brother, shared his knowledge regarding Trinity expanding social life opportunities. He claimed that the members from the Board of Trustees he communicated with used the lack of campus space and funding as reasons for their inability to increase social life opportunities while maintaining the Greek system alive. This conversation took place shortly before Vernon Social and Crescent Street were renovated. “They’ve scapegoated us”, Pak asserted, emphasizing as well the debt Trinity already was in prior to the new constructions and the lack of funding Greek organizations are given to begin with.
Still, the future of Trinity’s Greek life remains unclear. Members have offered suggestions to clarify the steps the administration should take: pool students on what they are looking for in their Trinity experience, stated Alex Loy, or have the SGA run another meeting involving faculty and students, specified one non-Greek student. Many are unable to see how the administration will foster enough power to uphold the mandate if the student body’s answer is a clear and defiant “no”. Ian Robinson, spoke out on the issue of resistance in order to preserve Greek life on campus: “What real power would they have if we exercise our right to associate…aside from expelling good kids?” Robinson believes the administration lacks the ability to control the actions of Greek members and organizations as a whole and thus, enforcing the mandate despite their large opposition would be entirely unjust. However, forcing resistance will have real consequences. The administration’s plan is to prohibit membership to fraternities and sororities beginning in 2016. If an organization continues to do so or attempts to hold school-wide events, they will expel students.
Ultimately, those who feel the co-education mandate should be repealed recognize the importance that these single-sex organizations have offered for many students and are unable to see the problem of Trinity’s social life as a direct effect of having active fraternities and sororities on campus. Many argued that imposing the coeducation mandate would inevitably shut down most fraternities and sororities, only enforcing exclusivity in the process because few options will be available.
Whatever your opinion is on Greek life at Trinity, the box you check in this Thursday’s online vote will say something to the student body and administration as a whole. As Plato once said, “One of the penalties for not participating in politics is that you will be governed by your inferiors”, so get on your computer and be sure to let your opinion be included. In the end, I think I speak for everyone when I say we all genuinely want to see Trinity rise again in the rankings, increase its retention rate, foster strong relationships in organizations – whatever those organizations may be – and overall, improve its social life for the advancement of the current student body, proud alumni, and the future face of Trinity. It is what we decide to do with Trinity’s social life that will dictate the kind of students who apply, become admitted, and change for better or for worse a school we all have the right to call our own.