Reflections on the Frat Ban

Editor’s Note: In this piece, several of our freshman contributors offer their thoughts on the freshman fraternity ban, which this year lasted until October 23.

William J. Brandon

During my final week at home I heard countless stories of debauchery after most of my high school peers were well into their college adjustment. Freshmen unaccustomed to their newfound lack of oversight and inundated with the potential for excess made available by Greek life ignored their academics and engaged in harmful behavior. Before I arrived at the College this fall, the statute barring freshmen from entering fraternities during their first month and a half on campus seemed like a simple, elegant solution problems including binge drinking and sexual assault. Although the frat ban seemed like it would support the tight-knit community Dartmouth values and smooth the transition to unsupervised living, its poor execution yields a host of logistical and social problems.

One of the things many freshman, myself included, looked forward to most in college was leaving behind the social hierarchy of high school. Unfortunately, the frat ban has inadvertently caused many of the same problems we experienced back home. First off, it has made dorm rooms the primary venue for socialization. This means students are forced by simple logistics to be socially exclusive. Even the most spacious dorm rooms get crowded when more than five or six people are present.  Freshmen quickly form small, insular friend groups that they rarely move outside of. The sense of familiarity that new students crave certainly fuels this exclusivism, but the frat ban encourages it. Without the freedom to form broader social circles, there is added incentive for students to find solace in familiar faces, eschewing the diversity that is an important part of our community.

Several Greek and non-Greek student organizations have made efforts to provide freshmen with alcohol-free social spaces, but those events are few and far between.  As a result, they are so crowded that conversation is impossible for those few students who were lucky enough to even get in the door.  The frat ban has also pushed freshmen into congregations in off-campus houses, which harbor all of the same dangers of Greek houses but lack the same level of regulation, oversight, and inclusivity.  These off campus houses are largely controlled by sports teams and are often far more exclusive than the Greek houses. While a student will generally have no trouble walking into a fraternity on campus, attending off-campus parties requires extensive social connections and thus encourages the formation of cliques for all students. Those students who are well connected enough to be welcome at these off-campus gatherings only socialize with each other, while those remaining freshmen are left to socialize with the cliques they made early on in their Dartmouth careers. Even if these houses were not far more exclusive than the Greek houses on campus, they do not have the benefit of checks from Safety and Security should these spaces become dangerous for students.

Furthermore, the College-implemented Alternative Social Spaces, such as residential housing community common rooms, stay near empty most weekend nights, failing to fulfill their roles as hubs of student interaction.  This lack of excitement for the Hanlon administration’s new “Moving Dartmouth Forward” housing system completely neutralizes any attempt of the college to replace Greek housing, leaving the freshmen to resort to the same exclusive social scenes that characterized many high school experiences.

During first-year trips, students were told time and time again that Dartmouth is their family, but many students’ experiences with the frat ban have offered evidence to the contrary. Not only does the frat ban separate freshmen from upperclassmen, but it also drives them away from each other. Although measures to create a cohesive freshman class and help freshmen adapt to college are admirable and necessary, the frat ban in its current form is a clumsy and counterproductive solution. The administration’s actions on this issue should positively influence Dartmouth’s culture and the reputation of our Greek system, however, as it stand now, the frat ban is primarily punitive and functions at the expense of students’ well-being and safety.

 

Robert F. Carangelo

While sitting in a freshman dorm room with two other guys, watching The Office at 10:30 on a Wednesday night of week 9, it struck me that the frat ban was not really all that terrible. I began thinking about what I would be doing at the exact same time four weeks prior to that day. On a Wednesday during the frat ban, I would probably be socializing with other freshman, in a safe and dry environment, with as many people as the College permits in each specified room. The image in my head of one of these pre-frat ban nights reminded me of some of the benefits of having a frat ban.

First, Dartmouth goes through incredible measures to make sure that the freshman class bonds in the first couple of weeks. We were all first acquainted with the spirit of the school on first year trips. Our trip leaders all anointed us with a communal anecdote of being tricked into believing we were spreading Robert Frost’s ashes. Similarly, during Homecoming, all of us bonded over running around in a sweaty mob twenty-one times (or at least pretending that we had ran twenty-one laps). The frat ban accomplishes a similar goal. It forces the freshman to interact with each other and develop similar memories to bond over. Once the frats opened up to freshman, all the freshman parted ways and engaged in a whole set of diverse new social activities. For better or worse, the things that we will always have are the common anecdotes over being bored on Wednesday nights in the company of each other. Further, nearly all of the social spaces that freshman interacted in – primarily dorm rooms – were guaranteed to be completely filled with freshman. Therefore, freshmen were primarily socializing with other freshmen. Had frats been open to freshmen since the beginning of the term, our social spaces would have been a mix of people from different classes. Freshmen, many of whom came to Dartmouth not knowing anyone when they came here, would have been less comfortable approaching people and making new friends in frats than in dorms that were entirely composed of freshmen.

One obvious advantage of the frat ban is that it creates a safer transition for some students from high school life to college life. While it is up to the individual to know their limits and not to drink in excess, it is much easier to make these better decisions when they are not in frats, surrounded by possible sources of alcohol. The frat ban gives students time to adjust to college life before being introduced to frats. It also must have also been refreshing for upperclassmen to not have those few eager 21s who are already trying to network themselves into a frat.

Finally, the frat ban did promote a healthier lifestyle for some freshman students. On a Wednesday night, freshmen would be more inclined before than after the frat ban to stay in and get a good night sleep instead of staying up late, socializing, and being tired the next day. Also, during the frat ban, freshmen would not wait till 11 pm to start their night socializing as they do post-frat ban.

However, I have come to the conclusion that as there are benefits to a frat ban, I truly wish that Dartmouth did not have one. After all, starting the night hanging out with friends and watching The Office is not that bad after all, especially considering that the social scene after 11 is far superior to that during the frat ban.

 

Jacob M. Karlan

Every alumnus remembers his first Dartmouth Fall Term. But, the experience of Dartmouth freshmen today would be hardly recognizable to most alumni. The administration has toppled tradition and enacted policies like the hard-alcohol ban, the new housing system, and the fraternity ban. These actions have fundamentally altered the age-old Dartmouth experience. The administration has claimed that the intention is to make Dartmouth a “safe, sustainable place” with a community that is “more inclusive… with more options for social life and community interaction.” The administration is utilizing policies like the fraternity ban as vehicles of this change. When evaluating a policy, however, intention is only one of many factors. In the case of the Dartmouth fraternity ban, my experience was generally positive in the first few weeks of its enactment, but the actual effects of the policy do not, in the end, align with its intended effects. The policy essentially isolates freshmen from the rest of campus for seven weeks and precludes them from taking full advantage of the Dartmouth community.

For the first two weeks of my freshmen fall, the fraternity ban did benefit me as the administration hoped it would. I met new freshmen every day, as I was essentially cordoned off from the night-life areas frequented by non-freshmen. The freshman social scene is forced into the ancient confines of the Fayerweather dorms or the farthest reaches of campus in the river dorms. If I was feeling particularly adventurous, I could visit the Choates for a change in scenery. Having all of these new freshmen friends in the beginning of the year admittedly gave me a needed sense of security at Dartmouth.

Although I am grateful for the friends I made in these first weeks—and while the administration need not eliminate the policy entirely—the fraternity ban lost its positive effect after about two weeks.  Meeting fewer people with each passing day, it seemed to me as though the freshmen had settled into their groups. Once a beneficial policy that facilitated my transition quite effectively, the fraternity ban became just another example of the administration limiting my opportunities to take advantage of the Dartmouth community. The policy became a drawn out, sluggish way to prolong the feeling that freshmen are new students and not yet full members of the Dartmouth community. In this way, it is not unlike a “pledge term,” which the College has condemned in regards to Greek life.

My days since the fraternity ban’s conclusion have only solidified my understanding that the time mostly stalled my social development as a student. The day the ban ended—although the houses of Webster Ave did seem somewhat daunting to me, perhaps because they had been a sort of forbidden fruit for seven weeks at this point—the fraternity brothers welcomed me and other freshmen with open arms. Dartmouth’s fraternity houses have been particularly inclusive in this way, and I generally feel like more of a member of the Dartmouth community now.

If the policy only has benefit for the first two weeks of its enactment, should it not end after two weeks? This logic should concern the administration, but they insist on seeing the Greek system as a scourge on the pure social scene they hope to cultivate instead of the inclusive tradition that I and other freshmen have experienced.