Friday, February 23, 2018

Pi Kappa Alpha president responds to Charter Committee Report

SONJAY SINGH ’14

ARTS EDITOR

 

Official Response of the President of Pi Kappa Alpha (Epsilon Alpha) to the Charter Committee Report of Trinity College:

As Social Chair, Vice President and now President of Pike, my last few semesters have been a maelstrom of meetings discussing the future of Greek life at Trinity College in the wake of the now-infamous social policy drafted by the Charter Committee and approved by the Board of Trustees last semester. As most of you know, these policies essentially consist of a revitalized first-year housing and orientation system, expanded social options on campus through the introduction of new theme houses and a redesigned Vernon Social Center and a slew of new restrictions on the Greek system. These include overarching limits on the size, frequency and alcohol availability of parties, the reduction of pledging to a 10-day period, the introduction of a minimum GPA on both the individual members and the organization as a whole and required co-education.

Of these rules, I am in full support of revitalizing the social scene and although the GPA mandate, party regulation and limits on pledging will negatively affect our traditions and lifestyle, Pike is willing to comply. However, the co-education mandate violates the charter of almost every Greek organization on campus and irreparably damages our personal identity. If it is enforced, Pike will no longer exist at Trinity and any other Greek organizations which manage to remain will be nothing more than shadows of their former selves. Because the rationale for this plan merits reconsideration and the cost of this plan is our place at Trinity, I cannot support the co-education mandate.

According to the Charter Committee Q&A on the Trinity website, we deserve this treatment because, unlike athletic organizations, our membership selection is not “based on objective measures related to skill and talent” and is based instead “on subjective standards.” This is an absurd statement. Greek organizations select their members on the objective qualities that they deem worthy. Academic engagement, campus involvement, responsibility and the ability to perform well in a social setting are no more subjective than the ability to run quickly, hit a felt ball within a 60×60 foot grid or slap a disk into a net while balancing on ice.

Furthermore, the claim that our criteria are less legitimate than those for an athletic, academic, or community service organization does disservice to essentially every occupational industry in the country. Law firms, retail outlets, financial companies, administrative businesses, educational institutes: every place of business evaluates social criteria when looking for employees. It is a large part of the reason that most businesses have an interview process. As a social organization, we look for those same qualities, so why should we be ostracized for it?

Another interesting claim is the academic component. The claim, as quoted from the Homecoming open-forum is that Greeks “lose ground during pledging and never manage to catch up.” If we examine the chart given in Appendix B of the Charter Committee’s report, we find that although there is some truth to this statement, it has been wildly exaggerated. It seems that Greek members graduate with an average GPA of about a 3.19 while non-Greeks graduate with an average GPA of about a 3.27. So, the difference between the two groups is a .08, an essentially negligible distinction. However, this data is also a bit skewed because the questionnaire given to Greek organizations last year was not received by my organization, Pike, or Kappa Sigma, both of which are among the top three GPAs in the entire Greek system. I have no doubt that with numbers so close, that gap could have been closed and perhaps even surpassed if everyone was included.

Of course, no matter how much evidence exists against the motivations for the administration’s attack on the Greek system, it still stands that the enforcement of a co-education mandate is entirely unconstitutional. As originally stated in the First Amendment of The Constitution of the United States of America and confirmed by the Greek exemption in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, people have the right to associate in organizations as they choose, particularly in cases of gender. The Charter, Statutes and Standing Rules of the Board of Trustees of Trinity College states that: “none of its Standing Rules as aforesaid shall be inconsistent with Constitution and Laws of the State, or with the Constitution of the United States of America.” Furthermore the Integrity Contract which Trinity students sign upon their entry into the college includes in the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, Part 1, Article 1 : “Free inquiry and free expression are essential for the attainment of these goals. Therefore, We deem it necessary to establish the basic rights and freedoms of the students of Trinity College. Fair grading, protection against improper disclosure, and protection of freedom of association are guaranteed under this contract.”

Freedom of association has been continuously confirmed by legal bodies and educational institutes around the free world. The Greek system is composed of adults who hold privately-funded functions on privately-owned property. I’m not certain where the administration believes they derive the authority to censure the events of private citizens but they have overstepped their rights and responsibilities. When I entered this school, I expected Trinity to provide me with the resources necessary for a good education. I never expected or consented to having my social life regress into the strict regulation of grade school by an unwanted authority robbing me of my constitutional rights. Trinity College itself confirms that humans have a natural desire and need to be given opportunities to associate only with their own gender by offering all-female housing. We in the Greek system are adults acting on that desire by exercising our freedom of association to create single-gender groups. We should not be denied that right.

There is also an issue that the Charter Committee Report refers to as “the advantaged standing of Fraternities and Sororities” as evidenced by the “lack of non-exclusive social spaces, especially after midnight.” The claim of the report is essentially that Greek organizations, particularly those housed on Vernon, wield a disproportionate amount of control over the social scene as a result of our exclusive parties and membership. The truth is that no Greek organization is trying to foster exclusivity but this is instead the result of too few organizations in general. Every year, all of the fraternities and sororities on campus are forced to reject a tremendous amount of members because we simply do not have the resources to maintain a membership of that size. Likewise, at our parties, we cannot let in everyone who would like to attend because of fire code regulations and concerns about floor space. We understand and sympathize with the frustration of watching others get into an event while you are unable to but unfortunately we cannot allow everyone into our parties and we, of course, give preference to our friends. There is also an element of safety; we are liable for anything that happens in our house, so there is greater risk involved with letting in people whom we do not know.

Since there is clearly a great demand for both membership in Greek organizations and more of the type of events that Greek organizations hold, we should not be exploring social options which will force current Greek organizations to disband. Instead, we should expand the Greek system, thereby creating opportunities for students who would like to join a fraternity or sorority and more social options for the student body as a whole. This project would be easy to accomplish. Many schools allow prospective national organizations to recruit potential members on campus and there are many fraternities and sororities which would enthusiastically welcome an opportunity for a Trinity College chapter. Some of these organizations would be co-educational, while others would be single-gender, opening up a variety of options within the Greek system. Since part of the problem is that no female organization has housing on Vernon, houses should be offered to our existing sororities, Kappa Kappa Gamma and The Ivy Society, as well as any new sororities which arise. The existing Greek organizations would also gladly facilitate an umbrella system in which all fraternities were paired with a sorority and both organizations shared their resources, leadership structure and alumni associations. Although umbrella organizations did not work in 1992, this is because there was no enforcement or oversight following the exit of President Gerety, not because it is an implausible plan. Additionally, expanding the Greek system would not deter the creation of new theme houses because Greek organizations are self-funded and therefore, would not require a diversion of school resources. I urge everyone to examine Professor Gregory Smith’s Alternate Plan which provides an in-depth proposal for how these ideas could be implemented.

One of the most offensive things said to me by a school official in the last few months was: “I wish that your organizations cared about Trinity as much as you care about your letters.” If we had been consulted, the fraternities and sororities on this campus would have presented a variety of ways in which the social and academic life of Trinity could be improved. We freely admit that some things on this campus should be changed and that some of this change could come from us. Our organizations would not exist without Trinity College and because of that, the love we have for our houses is a reflection of the love we have for the school. I truly believe that Greek organizations can help to improve Trinity in their traditional form and because of that, I will continue to oppose these policies through any avenue that I can. Not despite my love for this school, but because of it.

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