Tri-Delt Goes Local – We Should Help

On January 19, 2015, The New York Times published an article titled “Sorority Anti-Rape Idea: Drinking on Own Turf.” The article expounded on the structure of college sororities and the evolving “Go Local” movement that supports national sororities to disaffiliate from their national organizations to become local sororities. Shortly after the article’s publication, a social media frenzy ensued, with Facebook hashtag trends such as #GoLocal going viral. This past week, on May 28th, 2015, the Go Local movement bore fruit in the Dartmouth community- Dartmouth’s Gamma Gamma chapter of the Delta Delta Delta (Tri-Delt) national sorority announced that its sisters had officially voted to disaffiliate from their national organization and become a local sorority. Tri-Delt – which will select new letters for its local incarnation – will be the College’s fourth local sorority, joining the Sigma Delta, Epsilon Kappa Theta, and Kappa Delta Epsilon local sororities.

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The chapter house of Dartmouth’s Delta Delta Delta (“Tri-Delt”) Sorority with the national organization’s Greek letters and colors. The facade will likely change when the chapter reincorporates as a local sorority with a new set of letters and colors.

The Review first discussed and promoted the merits of the Go Local movement back during the 2015 winter term. At the time, President Hanlon’s Moving Dartmouth Forward plan dominated campus discussion and debate. Given the contentious debate surrounding sexual assault on American college campuses, a broader debate about the merits of the Greek system, and a slew of headline breaking stories such as various hazing incidents and Rolling Stone’s (now entirely discredited) article about an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, anti-Greek factions were galvanized. A number of fraternities during this period were put on disciplinary probation periods. As it related to Greek policy, this paper took the stance that the College – much like its peers across the country – was simply “succumb[ing] to the same business-as-usual, wrist-slapping policymaking” by merely holding fraternities up to “increasingly draconian rules and regulations.”

The Go Local movement, alternatively, promoted a much more viable – albeit not nearly as simple – solution to various social woes on campus. This paper then, as it does now, supported sorority localization as a potential keystone aspect of a Moving Dartmouth Forward-like plan. Accordingly, The Review’s coverage of the Go Local movement at the time centered on providing a blue print for why sororities ought to go local and how the Hanlon Administration could properly facilitate that process.

We have decided to reprint large parts of our January 2015 article about the Go Local movement with the hopes of airing our two cents on what the Hanlon Administration, Tri-Delt, and other national sororities also considering going local ought to keep in mind.

Female Social Spaces As They Are
Critics of fraternities often claim that Dartmouth’s fraternities have a monopoly on Dartmouth social life. They are not wrong. The campus at large routinely frequents fraternities as social spaces. Brothers and non-brothers alike can freely enter a fraternity for a casual game of pong in the basement or for a sports game viewing or for an open party. Most people by the end of their time at Dartmouth, moreover, can pick up the nuances that differentiate the brotherhoods of each house. There is a sense of intimate relationships that is built in these social spaces.

From an internal perspective, fraternity brothers are able to cement their bonds of friendship and brotherhood with constant interaction. Like sororities, few fraternities have the space to house all of their members in their plant. The key to their unity is, instead, a network effect of sorts with fraternity brothers interacting with each other and each others’ friend groups in their own basements.

The same cannot be said of national sororities. National sorority bylaws prohibit chapters from serving alcohol or even hosting large scale events for non-members. These institutions therefore cannot provide the external social benefits and services fraternities do for campus at large. They have no open basements or open parties. More often than not, sorority members are forced to leave their own houses and head over to a fraternity to play pong, attend a mixer, attend a party, or just socialize with their friends that aren’t also in their sorority. There is little in the way of sustained interaction that occurs between sororities as social organizations and the rest of affiliated or unaffiliated campus on the sororities’ terms. This is exemplified in the way people perceive sororities too. Sororities are differentiated in the minds of most people by crude stereotypes about their members’ physical appearance and outgoingness.

Local sororities, on the other hand, are a different matter. When The Review profiled Dartmouth local sorority Kappa Delta Epsilon (KDE), KDE President Emily Uniman ’15 remarked that her sorority operates “much like a fraternity.” KDE, along with Dartmouth’s other two local sororities, Sigma Delta and Epsilon Kappa Theta, can host parties and serve alcohol. Members of these local sororities can socialize and drink with themselves and their friends on their own terms in their own basement. Indeed, Uniman in the same article also remarked, “We give women on campus a space to feel comfortable, even if many of them are comfortable at fraternities. We give them a place to invite their friends, a place to call their own.”

Women control these local sorority spaces. These sorority sisters have the ability to kick overly troublesome or sketchy people out. They can determine what types of social activities they themselves will be doing – having dance parties each weekend or casual pong with good music.

Many assert that these types of female-dominated social spaces could be a key part of the answer to reducing sexual assault on campus. Women feel less vulnerable hosting and attending a party in their own spaces, where they are in control of the dynamic and the rules of the event and can expel anyone they choose from the house. The presence of sober, female sorority members at events ensures that someone is watching out for inappropriate behavior at all times. Having female bartenders also drastically lowers the probability of a phenomenon commonly associated with fraternity parties: students getting drugged by alcoholic drinks. This could also help combat a far more subtle and common date-rape tactic, where the perpetrator attempts to intoxicate a target to the highest degree possible and thereby impair the target’s decision-making abilities. Female bartenders would be less likely to serve a female partygoer that has clearly had too much to drink and female sober monitors are more likely to get help for vulnerable, drunk girls, leaving women better prepared to defend themselves and avoid precarious situations.

Given the issue of sexual assault on college campuses, these benefits to local sorority life make the Go Local Movement something worth considering, especially given how popular the Greek system is at Dartmouth.

Institutional Inequality
All of this is not to say that the localization of national sororities at Dartmouth is the social system’s panacea. Significant institutional inequalities exist between fraternities and sororities as they stand here at the College, and the Hanlon Administration would need to address these issues.

For one, most of Dartmouth’s fraternities own their houses and the land on which they stand. This provides a twofold benefit. Rent revenue from brothers who choose to live in their fraternities amounts to a significant annual fraternity budget. If a fraternity can pull together just 20 brothers to live in their plant and pay housing rent, this amounts to a nearly $200,000 annual budget. Social dues, which vary by house, form an additional $10,000 or so budget. These funds are used for brotherhood activities, house maintenance, and other services for brothers. Fraternities can also exert greater autonomy if their own plant is owned and managed by them.

Dartmouth’s fraternities are also beneficiaries of generations of alumni. Again, this entails a twofold benefit. Generations of passionate alumni form a thick network for fraternity brothers as it relates to professional or even social opportunities outside of Hanover. But secondly, generations of alumni also correspond to generations of alumni donations. Most Dartmouth fraternities are backed up by endowment funds that shield them against otherwise debilitating costs associated with house repairs and even legal expenses. Dartmouth’s fraternities, then, are well rooted not only in their own traditions and legacies, but also economically.

Dartmouth sororities, however, lack comparable roots. This shortcoming has as much to do with the fact that Dartmouth only relatively recently became a coeducational institution as it does with the fact that the Administration has routinely intervened in the upkeep, startup, and construction of its relatively novel sororities and sorority houses. Dartmouth’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity chapter house, for instance, was constructed using the national fraternity organization’s funds for the sole benefit and ownership of the local chapter; Dartmouth’s Kappa Delta Sorority’s chapter house, alternatively, was constructed with a combination of Kappa Delta national organization’s and the College’s funds, giving the College Administration undue influence in how the sorority chapter operates.

Going forward with Tri-Delt’s localization, these issues must be addressed. The College cannot undo decades of history and magically endow its sororities with generations of loyal alumni backers; however, it can work out a plan to gradually give sororities full ownership of their properties and assist sororities to form their own endowment cushions.

Resistance to Change?
National sororities, however, are understandably hesitant to dramatically cut their national ties and go local. It is far from an easy transition to make, notwithstanding legal and contractual obligations national sororities may owe to their national organizations.

The process of going local would require sororities to re-evaluate both their organizational dynamics and physical plant. Extensive renovations may be needed to enable sorority house basements and bathrooms to take the beating fraternity basements and bathrooms do on a nightly basis. Sororities must also coordinate how they would handle the tasks of having an open basement – assigning people door and bar duty, buying dozens of boxes of beer and cans, etc. A culture of having sisters hanging out in their basements to act as monitors of their own house and as people who themselves contribute to their social scene must be encouraged. Freely distributing alcohol to college students, of course, is a liability – a liability sororities would now need to pay insurance to cover.

These are neither cheap nor easy tasks. According to The New York Times, going local would roughly double insurance costs per capita for sororities. Alcohol purchases alone would amount to costs in the five digits per year. Most fraternities have multiple officer positions to deal with such responsibilities. Fraternity presidents routinely spend hours each week in meetings with the Administration – time that multiplies each time the house breaks even a minor ordinance or a guest is Good-Sammed because they overconsumed alcohol. Social chairs divvy up the task of making the pilgrimage to Stinson’s to buy beer each night. House managers have to routinely coordinate basement clean ups and inspections and carry out necessary repairs and renovations.

Sororities may also be anxious to lose the benefits of affiliation with a national organization. National Greek organizations do boast large alumni networks. These national organizations have resources of their own to help construct or renovate sorority houses. The national organizations also help individual chapters deal with their respective school administrations and otherwise act as an umbrella organization for dealing with larger legal issues.

Sorority members and leaders are understandably anxious to have to take on these costs, risks, and responsibilities. And they would have little precedent to rely on for guidance in how to handle things.

Clearing the Way Forward
The administration and Tri-Delt have already to some degree addressed many of these issues and points. Current Tri-Delt president Lauren Buchanan ’16 discussed in a Daily Dartmouth article the “administrative and technical arrangements” the sorority will be undergoing to reincorporate as a local sorority. It is reworking a new insurance policy through the College rather than the national organization and other matters related to finances –Tri-Delt sends 60% of the dues it collects to its national organization. For its part, the Hanlon Administration is doing its part too. For instance, according to that same Daily Dartmouth article, Tri-Delt had about $90,000 of savings tied up with its national organization; in the likely event that the national organization refuses to part with this money, the administration will cover the loss for the chapter.

A number of questions and issues are still, of course, up in the air. Tri-Delt’s localization will hardly result in an overnight cultural shift at Dartmouth either – the sorority has no plans to have an open-basement scene in the near future, and the Hogwarts-esque sorting-hat process that is sorority rush does not appear to be on track for significant reform any time soon. But cultural and institutional change is not and should not be an immediate process. Managing localization correctly – and ensuring that Tri-Delt’s sisters are properly versed in ever so pleasant cups and cans basement cleanups – indeed necessitates baby step pushes.