Administration works with banned Greek clubs

A timeline of relevant dates. Click to enlarge.

After denying the appeals made last year by Gamma Chi Delta, the SPURS sorority, Chi Delta Tau and the Bengal Lancers, the university administration drafted a proposal outlining a reinstatement process over the summer that would allow the sanctioned Greek organizations the opportunity to reduce their suspensions. If approved, they could return to campus as early as the spring semester.

The reinstatement plan, which emphasizes alumni participation, requires students to author a proposal that addresses the four pillars of fraternity and sorority life: leadership, camaraderie, service and scholarship. The template provided by the staff of Campus and Community Involvement (a copy of which can be found on Page 5) also asks the organizations to commit to achieving the Standards of Excellence the university set for all Greek organizations.

According to Michael Fischer, vice president of faculty and student affairs, the earliest date a group can submit a plan for reinstatement is Dec. 31. Plans will be reviewed by Fischer; Jamie Thompson, director of CCI; and possibly Briana McGlamory, coordinator for sorority and fraternity life.

Fischer says there is no way of knowing how long the evaluation process will take but that it will occur in the spring. If a group’s plan is approved, it will be allowed to resume active status on campus but will be placed on probation for three years, meaning that any further infractions would, according to Thompson, result in “severe consequences.” Regardless of the date of reinstatement, the groups will not be allowed to take new active classes this bid day, Feb. 1.

“All of them want, obviously, to be reinstated, and we are helping them with guidelines on what that plan should look like,” Fischer said. “[The reduction of suspension] is certainly an option for them. They have that opportunity, and we are here to help them. That’s our role: to help them on that.”

This semester, the four suspended sororities and fraternities are allowed to meet with the supervision of their alumni advisors, but only if they submit a proposal to meet to CCI beforehand. The groups are allowed to attend initiatives such as Leadership and Lunch, Greek U New Active Retreat and other Greek leadership programs after the ten active-standing Greek organizations have applied for

seats at the programs. They are also permitted to take part in service events as a group but are not allowed to participate in rush or wear their respective Greek letters on campus.

The Plan

According to Fischer, the aforementioned template was provided to each of the organizations and will be the basis of the groups’ proposals. Within each proposal, there will be changes and enhancements made by and for each individual organization.

“Throughout the plan we hope they are able to identify varying components of their organization that they can improve upon,” Thompson said. “A lot of it is focusing inward, but a lot of it should also focus externally toward their organization. This institution has the reputation it does because of its students, and if they are forgetting that piece when they are wearing their Greek letters, then that is a disservice to everyone.”

According to Thompson and Fischer, there is no set time period in which the templates must be edited, nor is there a limit on the number of times the organizations can reapply for active standing.

Although it has been a challenging process thus far, the administration, many of whom have ties to Trinity’s Greek organizations, hope the process will yield positive experiences similar to their own.

“Jamie [a 2005 alumna] and I can both sit here and tell you amazing stories from our orientation periods and the fact that it did mean a lot to us. However, we both want to see the students have the positive experiences and not the negative experiences,” said McGlamory, a member of the class of 2010 and former member of the sorority Phi Delta Kappa. “Being a recent graduate, if I step back from my position as Greek life coordinator, it’s weird to not see all the colors represented. In that way I do think that our community is missing parts, so I look forward to the successful reinstatement of the organizations.”

Alumni Involvement

According to administrators, following the organizations’ initial reprimand last March, university relations with Greek alumni were tense.

“As you would expect, when the Greek organizations were sanctioned, we had a number of alumni who reached out to express concern,” said Kathy McNeill, senior director of annual giving programs. “Some indicated that they would no longer support the university because they were upset with the initial Greek decision, while others pledged their continued support because of the university’s priority for student safety.”

In the annual giving report, Greek versus non-affiliated alumni donors are not distinguished between one another so a definite number cannot be determined, but McNeill says she does not recall an alumnus removing funding.

Now, members of CCI and Fischer are working on strengthening communication between the organizations and the university through the use of alumni.

“At the time we are working with the four suspended organizations, we are also working with a large group of Greek alumni on recommendations on Greek life in general at Trinity and with an eye toward strengthening the sustainability of all of the organizations for the future, and alumni are involved in that,” Thompson said.

Attempts to contact the student liaisons for each group were made. The groups either did not respond or chose not to interview. The SPURS liaison deferred to their alumni advisor, Mary Japhet.

“I think that is a really positive thing that is coming out of this whole process: that alumni are thoroughly engaged in seeing that their clubs succeed on campus. It’s something that we are all committed to,” Japhet said. “We have given a lot of energy and time to it, and we will continue to do so during the process, and it’s because we want what’s best for the students who are at Trinity right now and what we want for our sororities moving forward. “

Members of the administration also stressed the importance of alumni within the community.

“I think it’s one of the things that I’ve seen in my 30 or so years in higher education: the importance of networking, where you have a 20-year-old fraternity brother interact with a 70-year-old fraternity brother, and that’s a powerful connection,” said Dennis Ahlburg, president of the university.  “Having observed that interaction while I was in Colorado, it’s clear that it can be a very powerful positive force, not only for the individuals, but for the institution.”

Along with alumni, Greek Council is also involving themselves in the process of the organizations’ possible return.

“We have been changing standards from what they were, but we are also modifying the recruitment process,” said Moira Allen, women’s Greek Council co-chair and member of the sorority Alpha Chi Lambda. “We are really in the beginning stages right now, so we haven’t really been able to see any real change, but I wouldn’t say it’s for the better or for the worse.”

Allen’s men’s Greek Council counterpart, CJ Robison, a member of Pi Kappa Alpha, voiced some concern over the possible changes to these particular organizations, but is still anticipating their possible return.

“I believe that it would be okay for them to come back depending on how they’ve improved and progressed forward from what has happened thus far,” Robison said. “I think there really does need to be a visual improvement or change within the organizations that reapply before we can consider taking them back on. However, I think their return will give great benefits to the rest of our Greek community, and it definitely will be nice to have a lot of guys back that we’ve missed.”

Looking to the Future

The administration is hopeful that the potential proposals will bring about a permanent positive change in the university culture.

“The message is that sororities and fraternities are an incredibly important part of the university today, they were an incredibly important part of the university in the past and they will be an incredibly important part in the future,” Ahlburg said. “The enormous contributions they can make and what we want to do is set the current members up to be as successful as possible in both their roles as students and members of Trinity and as members of their sorority or fraternity, and their choir or soccer team or drama team or whatever. Students are not one dimensional. We don’t see them as a sorority member or a fraternity member or a football player. They are students, and that role is highly complex “¦ That’s what’s so great about the university. It is such a wonderfully complex place, and there are enormous overlaps. You can’t stereotype students at Trinity.”

Despite this positive outlook, Ahlburg reaffirmed the university’s commitment to a no-tolerance policy for hazing activities for all organizations, not just Greek groups.

“If anybody hazes, then they are in deep trouble. For me, I’ve made it so clear that I have no tolerance for anything that endangers a person or demeans a person. In an environment where there is hazing, people cannot contribute. You have to think about the mentality of the people who haze”¦It’s really the idea of breaking someone down and trying to undermine their self confidence and self worth,” Ahlburg said, noting previous university efforts to prevent hazing, including bringing in speakers and abiding by state and federal laws.

When asked why the university considered a reinstatement plan and possible shortening of suspensions, Ahlburg points to the nature of the university as an educational institution.

“There are a couple of things going on. One of them is that when you violate laws or you violate regulations, there has to be some consequence. That was the suspensions, so we could have just left it there, but there is no learning that goes on there. It’s like “˜you broke the law, now we put you in jail,'” Ahlburg said. “My wife works in restorative justice and mediation, so there is a point that you can have a better outcome if you can get people to recognize what they’ve done and, in some way, restore the damage that’s been done.”

Although emphasizing the university’s understanding, Ahlburg referenced his time at the University of Colorado Boulder and noted that student safety remains the top priority.

“[Hazing] is one of the pressures that you all experience every day and you have to figure out how to deal with it,” Ahlburg said. “It’s all about taking responsibility for your actions and not doing stuff that puts you or your friends at risk. As you know I have been at other places that there have been fatalities “¦ and I don’t want that to happen [at Trinity].”

Finally, Ahlburg attempted to put to rest claims that he or the administration wishes to eradicate Greek life from campus.

“There is absolutely no way that I have a plan to get rid of them. That would be just crazy, but some people love conspiracy theories,” Ahlburg said. “My understanding is that the discussions with the students are going incredibly well, and that to me is a great outcome. There are a lot of pressures [on students], and sometimes it’s really hard to keep everything balanced and in perspective. We understand that people make mistakes, but what we have to do is, when student safety is an issue, we have to be very firm on that, and that’s what we were on this case. We do really want people to have an opportunity to learn from mistakes and learn for their future, and that’s what this is all about.”