Ending the Greek System: Brave, or Easy?

Well, it’s happened: The Daily Dartmouth’s editorial board has just decided that we ought to abolish the Greek system.

There are, of course, valid concerns about our Greek system and the state of campus social life. The Daily D’s editorial – entitled “Abolish the Greek System” – raises none of them, instead choosing to employ a host of disingenuous tactics – from the manufacture of consent to misrepresentation of Greek defenders – in order to make, I believe, its ultimately misguided point.

What stands out about the editorial is its particular use of language. The article appeals less to logic than to some assumed sense of collective duty: phrases like “for too long, we have wavered in fear” and “we must look forward” predominate. In fact, the word “we” appears 19 times, duly blurring the line between editorial board and student body.

This alone should make the student body and administration suspicious of the article. The editorial’s intentional overuse of that pronoun is a surreptitious form of conscription, an undue attempt to intimate that “we” all share the same underlying desires and opinions about the Greek system. At best, it’s intellectually lazy.

Concomitant with that misrepresentation is an unfair caricature of the Greek system’s supporters, who “waver in fear of declining donation rates” and “let emotional arguments cloud what is objectively best for our school and its students.” In essence, the editorial board accuses defenders of the Greek system of letting their innocent, almost naive affection for their houses obscure the “ethical” choice. All the while, they point to the perhaps least cited logical reason among Greek defenders (“declining donation rates”) in an attempt to disparage their characters.

There are plenty of perfectly legitimate, logical reasons why Dartmouth ought to keep its Greek system. Their editorial refuses to engage with them, instead choosing to flippantly dismiss them and reiterate the same tired, clichéd points.

At one point, they cite every public incident they could dig up over the past 30 years to prove the innate malevolence of the Greek system. Among other things, they cite an instance when a frat brother called somebody a “faggot” 14 years ago. They then – without their tongues anywhere near their cheeks – state that “the Greek system undeniably enables and institutionalizes harmful behaviors.”

Dartmouth_College_campus_2007-06-23_Robinson_Hall

Robinson Hall, the home of The Daily Dartmouth.

I suppose that it never did occur to them that as far as the actions of college-aged males go, and over so long a timespan, this collection of incidents is rather tame. Nor are they clearly inherent to the Greek system. This was underlined in tragic fashion last year when a male member of the Class of 2017 threatened the rape of a fellow student via bored@baker, and again via the trial of Parker Gilbert. No doubt had either man been affiliated, their vignettes would have been tacked onto the list as further proof of the fraternities’ evil.

The editorial board’s indignant solipsism prevents them from seeing that, for all its faults, the Greek system here at Dartmouth is a generally open one. They claim that they “do not seek to discredit the positive experiences that many have within Greek spaces,” and then proceed to do exactly that, refusing to acknowledge any upsides to a system that counts nearly 70% of eligible students on its rolls. They assert that “for many, Greek life takes precedence over academics,” all the while ignoring that the two are by no means mutually exclusive and that Greeks have consistently had markedly higher GPAs than their unaffiliated counterparts.

Perhaps most incredible is their last reason, which boils down to this: because the administration’s actions have made the Greek system more exclusive, the College should just make a “clean break” and end it entirely. It should go without saying that the board here presents a false dilemma: either keep the Greek system, whose positive qualities have been eroded by reforms, or remove the system altogether. Why not, as so many have suggested, simply roll back the reforms?

Hidden in their warped logic, however, is a fundamental truth: Dartmouth needs to change. Not because Dartmouth ought to change, but because certain criticisms of the College have permeated popular consciousness to the point where they simply cannot be ignored, even if they pale in comparison to the positives.

This is where strong leadership comes in. There are brave answers, and there are easy answers. What the editorial board has presented is the easy answer, disguised as the brave one. For all of their talk of “thinking boldly” and how “the time for cowardice is over,” there is nothing brave, or authentic, about their editorial. Vitriol against fraternities is more en vogue than ever, an easy bandwagon to catch.

In the meantime – to truly “move Dartmouth forward” – the administration really shouldn’t start marching to the rear. Instead, they should focus on what’s current and what lies ahead, and resolve the issues that students actually encounter in their day-to-day lives. Growing class sizes, decaying dorms, a judicial system begging for reform – all are much greater subjects of ire than the one thing that nearly 70% of eligible students willingly and happily join, and the others usually enjoy on Friday and Saturday nights.

So, to the administration: ignore the editorial, which falsely and underhandedly purports to represent most of the College. Focus on other things: namely, ensuring that Dartmouth students have the best academic experience possible in the world.