What Moving Dartmouth Forward Means for Greek Life

There's going to be a few implications for the Greek system.

It is indubitable that the steering committee’s approach to Greek life was motivated in part by President Hanlon’s desire to restore the College’s public relations standing in the wake of bad press the fraternities have garnered in recent years.

Despite the 8:30 AM start time, which Daily Dartmouth columnist Michael McDavid found unfairly burdensome, hundreds of Greek-affiliated students somehow managed to pack into Moore Theater along with the rest of the audience for President Hanlon’s Moving Dartmouth Forward address. The moment was marked by anxiety all around; though both President Hanlon and committee Chair Barbara Will habitually referred to the deliberation process as open and inclusive, barely a trickle of the proposals’ details had leaked in the months before the reveal.

This lack of specifics meant the campus conversation about the future for Greeks was wildly speculative. Though most agreed that the trustees would balk if President Hanlon set out to abolish the system altogether, no observer could reliably predict how far he might go in that direction. Trustee Chairman Bill Helman ’80 intended to reassure the student body by expressing the Board of Trustees’ unanimous support for Hanlon’s recommendations in a blitz to campus the preceding evening. But his confirmation that they had already rubber stamped what he described as a “fundamental, not incremental” plan was also a reminder that further debate about MDF within the administration was unlikely, come whatever might.

While Greek life and its associated risks nearly monopolized the College’s focus during the lead up to the release of the proposals, they ended up being far from the centerpiece of the actual address. President Hanlon spent the bulk of his time and emphasis on the proposed reforms to the residential cluster system, and closed with his intention to ramp up academic rigor. The portion directed at Greek life was sandwiched unassumingly between these, and almost emphatically downplayed. “Over the past few months, many have suggested that we eliminate fraternities, sororities, and co-eds,” Hanlon recalled of the pressure he faced to push through a bold overhaul before ultimately concluding that “every one of our peers, regardless of the history or intensity of their Greek life, struggles mightily with harmful behaviors on their campus.”

Having ruled out the idea that Greek life is at the heart of Dartmouth’s ills, the steering committee’s final proposals were targeted rather than sweeping. The most immediately jarring change President Hanlon announced was the campus-wide hard liquor ban. Fraternities can expect big changes to the format of scheduled tails events with sororities, which usually feature shots of liquor and mixed drinks, and are subject to administrative oversight via Social Event Management Policy (SEMP) registration.

Because the coming liquor ban was the one element of Moving Dartmouth Forward to leak before the public release of the proposals, much has already been said regarding the policy’s potential risks and benefits for Greek students. As discussed in “The Dangers of a Hard Alcohol Ban” in The Dartmouth Review, the most apparent likely consequence of the policy is an increase in surreptitious and spontaneous drinking, whether in the form of closed-door get-togethers or full-on mixers between fraternities and sororities, now left off the books. The point has substantial merit; though President Hanlon was correct to note that “it’s hard alcohol rather than beer or wine that lands students on a hospital gurney,” he neglected to consider the specific risk of private drinking compared to drinking at the public events that will actually be subject to College oversight. If the prohibition of liquor on campus means more students hosting private ragers to compensate for the loss of casual cocktail hours, Dartmouth could plausibly see an uptick in high-intoxication incidents at fraternities.

Even with a seemingly clear understanding of the risks, however, many in the Greek system have already come to terms with the idea of a liquor-free system. Going hard alcohol-free for tails was among the concessions that Greek house presidents agreed to in their official Moving Dartmouth Forward counterproposal, which was released before the steering committee’s recommendations. The Greek organizations themselves also proposed “two-week social suspension” for any house caught providing liquor to minors, who are already unprotected by the legal right to drink and are most likely to be hospitalized for over-intoxication. The tentative consensus among fraternity and sorority members in anticipation of the ban is that it won’t likely be a major inhibitor to vibrant Greek social life, and may even lead to more experimentative tails themes and drink options to make up for the loss of the old mixed-drinks formula.

A less-frequently discussed but potentially influential change to Greek life on the heels of Moving Dartmouth Forward is the new requirement that all open, registered alcoholic events be served by professional bartenders and security guards. The cost of these services will combine with existing outlays for extra beer and DJs to make open events increasingly difficult for fraternities to bear. Although it is possible that the cost of bartenders could be avoided by continuing the trend of making open parties alcohol-free, which has developed over the past two years since freshman have only been allowed to enter Greek houses for parties of this kind. But the new security guards, or more aptly “bouncers”, would inevitably add to fraternity brothers’ already steep dues burden. Although many house officials expect the College to announce a cost-sharing plan for the new requirements, until those details are divulged it will remain likely that Greek houses will become more reluctant to host multiple open parties per term.

Another big change for Greek houses in the area of cost is the committee’s requirement that each house dedicate at least 15% of its social budget to financial aid to help reduce the cost of dues for members with difficulty paying. The policy is largely uncontroversial; increasing overall inclusivity has already become a consensus goal among Interfraternity and Panhellenic leaders, and moving the Greek system closer to a position of affiliation based on interest rather than class is essential to its self-justification. The committee also surely considered the fact that many houses have already surpassed the 15% aid threshold when determining what would be a feasible mandatory minimum level. Fraternity and sorority presidents and financial officers will tackle the mandate in the coming term to make sure dues remain manageable for all while making membership more attainable.

The final Moving Dartmouth Forward policy directed specifically at Greek houses is the creation of a new annual review of each house to monitor hazing, sexual safety, and drinking practices. The new oversight structure will supplement AXIS (Achieving Excellence in Standards), the existing administrative review of fraternities and sororities which focuses on service projects and other positive aspects of Greek life. President Hanlon made it clear that the review would be much more than a study, saying “it will be simple; organizations that choose not to fulfill these higher standards will not be a part of our college.” However, like much in the plan the specifics of the new requirements remain vague, and will only be fleshed out when a new permanent Dean of the College arrives to lay them out. Whether the standards come as a welcome incentive for healthier practices or a bludgeon used to subdue or even gradually eliminate certain Greek houses will only become clear after the first round of reviews are completed next academic year.

It is indubitable that the steering committee’s approach to Greek life was motivated in part by President Hanlon’s desire to restore the College’s public relations standing in the wake of bad press the fraternities have garnered in recent years. The liquor ban, for example, has already been covered by multiple national news outlets, in a mostly positive light. The fact that many of Moving Dartmouth Forward’s provisions were likely designed to keep up appearances rather than for the exclusive purpose of improving student life accounts for a lot of what is risky and otherwise lacking in the proposed changes. But compared to the harsh measures most Greek members expected to have to reckon with, and the total elimination or overhaul many student and faculty critics demanded, President Hanlon’s recommendations leave ample room for Greek students to continue to control their own spaces and flourish within them.