Students Discuss Alternatives to Fraternity System
Issue   |   Thu, 08/28/2014 - 17:59

Following the trustees’ decision to ban underground fraternities, a group of students and administrators has been exploring ways to create alternative social groups on campus.

Amherst’s ban on fraternities went into effect July 1, meaning that students are now prohibited from belonging to any fraternity, sorority or “fraternity-like or sorority-like organization,” in the words of the trustees’ decision. Prior to the ban, three off-campus fraternities had been active at Amherst: Chi Psi, Delta Kappa Epsilon and OT (formerly known as TD).

Over the summer, a small group of students met to discuss reforming social life at Amherst in the wake of the fraternity ban. The group includes former fraternity members, senators, athletes and other unaffiliated students.

“I think the goal of everyone is not just to fill a void created by fraternities, but to create something even better than fraternities,” said Abe Kanter ’15, the former vice president of Chi Psi and a member of this student group.

The summer conversations have focused on ways to create more inclusive social groups that preserve some of the benefits of the fraternity system.

“There are a lot of things in the fraternity system that we want to get rid of,” said Tomi Williams ’16, who helped organize these conversations. “We don’t want hazing. We also don’t want people to feel excluded. But there are some things that fraternities bring that we want to be able to replicate, like the cohesiveness they have and the sense of belonging.”

Members of the student group have drawn inspiration from social organizations at colleges such as Duke and Union. Brian Lobdell ’15, the former president of Delta Kappa Epsilon, said he was particularly intrigued by Duke’s selective living groups — residential communities with selective membership that are often centered around a particular theme.

“We’re working to emulate models at other schools that are successful, because we’ve realized that doing something without any sort of road map isn’t going to be successful,” Lobdell said.

The group has looked at models from schools that have eliminated fraternities, schools that still have fraternities and schools that never had fraternities to begin with.

“We’ve talked about things with different ranges of exclusivity, and different ranges of administrative involvement,” Kanter said. “We talked about single sex and coed organizations, or multiple organizations — some single sex, and some coed.”

Students met via Google Hangout to discuss their ideas with Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey and new Dean of Students Alex Vasquez. Coffey said that representatives of all three underground fraternities were included in the discussions.

“It’s great to have their voices at the table,” Coffey said. “I think what that says is that they’re ready to look at options, to think about ways that they can find a superior alternative to what fraternity life gave the college, and to involve more people.”

The former leaders of the underground fraternities have already announced their intention to comply with the ban.

“I went down to Nashville this July for Chi Psi’s national convention,” said Will Kamin ’15, the former president of Chi Psi. “At our formal meeting I brought forward a motion to the floor for our charter to be made inactive indefinitely, such that it wouldn’t be reactivated unless the college for whatever reason decided to reverse its policy.”

Lobdell said that Delta Kappa Epsilon has revoked its charter. OT was not affiliated with any national fraternity at the time of the ban.

Moving forward, the student group that met over the summer will continue brainstorming new kinds of social groups and soliciting input from the community.

“Once everyone gets back on campus, we want to gauge student input on our ideas, but also open up the floor for new ideas,” said Virginia Hassell ’16, a member of the group. “We’re still working on how to do that.”