Amherst will enforce a ban on off-campus fraternities starting July 1, the Board of Trustees announced yesterday.
Cullen Murphy ’74, the chair of the Board of Trustees, sent an email to the campus community that included a copy of the board’s resolution and a statement explaining the board’s reasoning for the decision.
“In 1984, the board prohibited the use of any college facilities or resources, including staff time, by fraternities or sororities and revoked any college affiliation with, or recognition of, these organizations,” Murphy wrote in his email. “The board has voted to reaffirm the 1984 Trustees’ Resolution on Fraternities, and, effective July 1, 2014, to prohibit student participation in fraternities and sororities and fraternity-like and sorority-like organizations, either on or off campus.”
The board’s statement acknowledged that since 1984, several off-campus underground fraternities have continued to exist at the college under a “condition of ambiguity” in which the college has not expressed a clear stance about fraternities’ existence.
The three underground fraternities currently active at Amherst are Chi Psi, Delta Kappa Epsilon and the fraternity known as OT. In an email interview, Murphy said that he is not aware of any currently active organizations other than these three fraternities that would fit the board’s definition of a “fraternity-like organization” or “sorority-like organization.”
The board portrayed the decision as a response to the Sexual Misconduct Oversight Committee’s 2013 report, which asked the board to clarify the ambiguous position of fraternities at Amherst. The board’s statement cited the Sexual Misconduct Oversight Committee’s concern that because it seems as though fraternities “simultaneously exist but do not exist,” they prevent Amherst “from enforcing appropriate expectations for student behavior with respect to them, including accountability under the Honor Code.”
“For the college, the condition of seeming to have some measure of responsibility without possessing any measure of authority is inherently problematic,” the board’s statement said.
President Biddy Martin said in an email that she participated in the board’s discussions and voted on the resolution.
“The ambiguous status of fraternities was at the top of my list of concerns,” Martin said. “The college has responsibility for the students who belong to them and who take part in their activities, but has no way of providing oversight and no authority. This is not tenable.”
The college’s Honor Code will be revised to reflect the board’s decision on fraternities.
“The ban on membership in fraternities will be enforced through the ordinary procedures of the Honor Code system,” Murphy said. “If alleged violations come to the college’s attention, they will be considered through that normal process.”
Martin also said that the college will revise its requirements for students living off campus to include a stipulation that explicitly prohibits students from belonging to fraternities or sororities.
At Tuesday night’s faculty meeting, President Biddy Martin said that the decision had nothing to do with sexual assault.
At the meeting, some faculty members, such as Professor Ronald Rosbottom, applauded the board’s decision to ban fraternities.
Others, such as Frank Couvares, criticized the decision. Couvares said the board has “no right to police the free association of our students off campus.”
On Tuesday evening, many members of the three fraternities responded to the decision by condemning the board’s announcement and the lack of student input in the decision process.
“We see this not as a fraternity issue but as a student body issue,” said Michael Jacobson ’14, the former president of Delta Kappa Epsilon, in a statement on behalf of his fraternity. “The concern here is not for the existence of fraternities but rather that current Amherst students have their voices heard regarding matters that will affect their college experience. This current issue is just the latest in a string of decisions affecting student life in which student voices were silenced and student input was not solicited.”
Will Kamin ’15, the current president of Chi Psi, said that he was disappointed by what he saw as misconceptions about the nature of fraternities.
“I think there’s an idea that fraternities perpetuate very counterproductive ideas of what it means to be a man,” Kamin said. “I really can’t speak for the other fraternities, but I would like to think that ours is one that allows guys to go beyond that, and the values we try to instill in guys are values of gentlemanliness and self-sacrifice and charity.”
“I think that if the trustees had really talked to fraternity members about what the day-to-day goings on of fraternities are like, they’d see it’s a very different picture than what you might expect,” Kamin added.
He also responded to critics who have denounced fraternities as being bastions of white male privilege, saying that the members of his fraternity come from a variety of diverse backgrounds. According to Kamin, 14 of the 43 active members of Chi Psi are white, and the rest identify as people of color.
“The lessons we’ve all learned from being exposed to those diverse perspectives and being exposed to people from such diverse backgrounds have really played a huge role in my Amherst education, and I think a lot of the other fraternity members would say the same,” Kamin said.
Leaders of the fraternity known as OT declined to comment for this article.
At a meeting this evening at 8:30 p.m., members of the Association of Amherst Students senate will solicit student input about the board’s decision and discuss ways to present this input to the trustees.
“Senate is working based on the concerns of the students,” said AAS President Amani Ahmed ‘15. “Students have varying opinions on fraternities. I think where I’m hearing the anxieties and concerns among students is about the way in which the decision happened. Many students feel that their input should have been solicited, and they should have asked about whether this decision should have been made.”
On Monday at 6:30 p.m., Murphy and Trustee Andrew Nussbaum ’85 will hold an open meeting in the Cole Assembly Room of Converse Hall to answer questions about the board’s decision.
Kamin said that he does not expect Chi Psi will decide what to do next until after speaking with the trustees at Monday’s meeting.
“It is not our intention to do anything that would violate the college’s policies, so we’ll go to the meeting this Monday to talk with the trustees who are coming, and if what they say to us is that we need to surrender our charter for national organization, I am prepared to go to our national convention and do that this July in order to stay in line with the college’s ruling,” Kamin said. “I hope that on an informal and non-institutional basis we’ll be allowed to keep associating with each other and be friends and keep providing this support system to each other.”
Leaders of Delta Kappa Epsilon and OT have not yet said how they expect their fraternities to move forward following the board’s decision.
Emmett Knowlton '15 contributed reporting.