Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman recently told the Ink in an interview that she is considering banning all Greek life on campus. The threat comes in the wake of a series by a recent Daily Princetonian tell-all with some surprising(?) conclusions. Students in fraternities were:
a. Wealthier and whiter than other students on campus. 88% of Greek Life at Princeton is white, 70% of Greeks come from families that make more than $150,000 a year. Even Tilghman said,
Those [students] who made the decision to participate in the Greek system were essentially engaging in organizations where they were going to meet people very similar to themselves. It looked and felt a lot like self-segregation. And that was a problem for us.
Tilgman’s thoughts on other, non-keg-stand-related extracurriculars:
You will see students who come out of very selective schools. You will see students who are coming out of public schools. You will see people of different ethnic groups. It looks like America.
Tilghman’s vision of America isn’t of a land run by a bunch of wealthy white me, like Princeton’s social life? For shame!
b. Frats are populated by barbaric, misogynistic brutes (remember, this is the DP talking. Haha… “DP.”) John Burford, a whistle-blowing sophomore who rushed SAE as a freshman briefly before jumping ship, gave some colorful descriptions. Burford was frequently forced to drink excessively; one of his brothers was taken to the hospital with a potentially life-threatening and totally buzz-killing blood alcohol level of o.40. Burford himself must have suffered damage to his stomach lining (or at least his gag reflex) after his first year;
On average, I threw up once a day for my entire first semester. Not every day, but once or twice a week, I would throw up multiple times.
Burford was sober enough to recall that 5 of the 7 guys in his pledge class were felled by alcohol poisoning during the year. As part of their pledge duties they were also sent to a strip club where he was treated to the world’s least enjoyable lap-dance:
Surrounded by his pledge brothers and 40 other club patrons, Burford climbed onto the stage and selected a stripper. She removed his shirt, handcuffed him to a tall metal pole in the middle of the stage and began to beat him with a thick leather belt volunteered by one of his pledge brothers.
Kinky. Burford, who also had trouble finishing his assigned tasks, was told to drink a 20-ounce soda bottle full of tobacco spit. This was reputedly a punishment for slacking off during milk-chugging/sprinting bouts; in other words, frat justice.
“Chewing tobacco pretty much instantly makes you throw up … so none of them thought I could do it,” Burford said. Still, he took the bottle and managed to drink all of its contents in one chug.
After pledge “activities” that forced Burford to risk hypothermia by swimming in a freezing lake — and his sanity, by making him listen to rounds of death metal at full volume in a dark, boiling hot room — he finally quit. Who can be sure of what was going through his head? Maybe he realized that he could make friends, get girls, and be social without having to suffer through barbaric ritual abuse? Or maybe he wanted to join ballroom dancing.
The national Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter, clearly all gentlemen, conducted a super-serious day-long investigation of hazing at the chapter–and shockingly found that the allegations were all super-seriously false. Princeton does not recognize greek life, which means they can’t investigate Burford’s claims or monitor fraternity activity. In President Tilghman’s words,
I fundamentally believe that it’s impossible to regulate the very things that we are most concerned about with fraternities … which are the excessive alcohol and the hazing.
She’s considering a few options: recognizing Greek life, suffering through the current status quo, or banning greek life completely by requiring students to sign a pledge not to pledge upon matriculation, which was the university’s policy between 1855 and World War II. If Burford’s experience tells us anything, it’s that the university absolutely needs a way to police it. A lot of the discussion in the aftermath of the Daily Princetonian‘s feature centered around a common refrain: “wait until a student dies–then the Princeton administration will learn its lesson”. It shouldn’t have to come to that– and besides, kids have already risked their physical and mental health. John Burford told countless news sources about the illegal activities of the men he used to call “brother”; it’s not too wild to assume that these barbarous bros didn’t like that too much. Princeton already has exclusive eating clubs–greek life seems excessive. Even the founding president of Kappa Alpha Theta at Princeton, Mimi Stokes Brown ’85 backs us up;
My personal feeling is that the school doesn’t need them. Between the eating clubs and residential colleges, it just seems unnecessary… I can’t think what value is added by having fraternities and sororities.
Shirley Tilghman was recently the subject of The Ink‘s recurring 21-question interview and when asked to describe, in one sentence, what exactly she does all day, Tilghman says;
I work to ensure that in the future, including tomorrow, Princeton University is fulfilling to the greatest extent possible its potential to transform the lives of its students, and discover new knowledge.
If Tilghman really wants this to be true she has to change her policy. Non-recognition allows for illegal action to go unchecked. Banning might work, but frats could continue in secret, or hazing could just get squeezed into other social groups. Recognition could work if Princeton decides to take full responsibility and monitor fraternity parties and rush activities for fraternities and sororities. Maybe this would make greek life so lame no one would want to do it. That might not be a bad thing.