Dartmouth College’s Board of Trustees decided last week to end the college’s 150-year-old single-sex fraternity and sorority system. Dartmouth President James Wright said the trustees’ decision will end the Greek-letter system “as we know it” and the college is prepared to spend tens of millions of dollars to implement its decision. The decision is a bold move to bring an outdated and exclusive system into the 21st century.
The administration’s goal is to completely overhaul the residential and social life at the Ivy League school. The trustees called for a system that is “substantially coeducational and provides opportunities for greater interaction among all Dartmouth students.” By doing away with the single-sex Greek-letter system, the school hopes to better the educational experience of students by broadening their social and residential options.
In essence, Dartmouth will serve as a social laboratory. The past few years have been rough for Greek-letter organizations across the nation. Stories of alcohol-related deaths and injuries, physical assaults and a multitude of disciplinary problems have tarnished the image of organizations that claim they exist solely to better the lives of their members.
A coed Greek-letter system could include many, if not all, the positive aspects of Greek-letter life – the friendships, the philanthropy, the parties. But a coed system might foster more campus unity and abolish the image of a sexist, good-old-boy network associated with some fraternities. Other campus organizations – community service groups, student government, academic organizations – operate successfully with male and female members year after year.
The Greek-letter system has existed for generations and the traditional single-sex fraternity and sorority system does not face extinction on a nationwide basis. But the Dartmouth experiment should be given a fair chance. Though potentially unpopular among students, it could be a prototype for what colleges will do in the next century. Almost every other gender-segregated institution in America has integrated. A unified Greek-letter system is another step in the right direction. It’s worth a try.