In Bangor, ME this year, after a wonderful meal in the student favorite Dysart’s, I decided to buy a hat. Part of me knew it was an act of innocence and spontaneity, and yet part of me, a part that received later confirmation after chats with multiple friends, knew the hat was symbolic of something else.
The fact that there are underground fraternities and a sorority on campus is not surprising to most students, though they were banned in 1984. It’s not news to our College president either, who has vehemently spoken against these groups since he took the job, at one point even threatening expulsion and investigation. Yes, there’s no hard evidence for fraternities or the sorority, but does that matter? Do we really need that at this point? I am sure I know they exist. The deans know, students who have been here for long enough know, students who got tapped, denied the offer, and drunkenly discuss it know. We all know. If you’ve read this article simply to say, “finally, someone acknowledged the frats exist,” then you can stop reading now.
At this point in the story, the frat critics have arrived, angry with the reminder of a prime, relevant example of privilege in the community. Many of the issues they bring up that I’ve heard over the years are absolutely factual and problematic. Yes, they are elitist, based on a high school social structure, and oftentimes (though not completely) devoid of diversity. They absolutely promote gender stereotypes and have seperated themselves from the community through off-campus housing. They haze. For first-year males especially (or, further, Febfrosh first year boys) they target those who are unable to find immediate acceptance, despite the fact that options other than illegal frats are available.
At this point in the story come the underground defenders, upset at my unfair labelling and misrepresentation of a group of people I do not fully know. What they argue to me in passing and conversation is merited as well. These groups create lifelong connections just like you and me, simply differently. They haven’t had a major scandal in years, mostly keep to themselves, and, at the end of the day, are similar (though not in official label) to any other friend group at Colby, right? Also, the non-member students who attend fraternity and sorority events off campus are only legitimizing them, and are in some ways even more problematic. If students really cared, they wouldn’t show up. Even I, holy writer of this article, am guilty of occasionally attending. What right do I have to talk about these frats and srats?
But, both camps are wrong in that they ignore the administration’s role in fraternity and sorority life, and solely focus on the students and label them as either completely in the wrong or still in the right. This brings me back to my hat, which garnered comments from people on campus who either were tapped, are still in the frat, or are close friends with someone in an organization. It’s not secretive. Any observant student could notice where the frats (I know less about the sorority, as you can tell) hang out, live, and eat. They aren’t that secretive, because they need people outside of themselves to know about their events to stay legitimate.
So, why haven’t they been caught by the administration, who supposedly takes such a hard stance on it? Dean of the College Karlene Burrell-McRae `94 had an interesting answer in a recent conversation, where she mentioned that deans are “managing” the problem, which seems a bit passive. Is that OK that they are? If they were to change and find all the students organized in underground fraternities and sororities, should each one be expelled?
I believe they shouldn’t be expelled at all, because the College has taken such a confusing and apathetic stance on the subject. It feels like we’re in a weird waiting period on what to do about these organizations, potentially because of donors still giving to the underground communities, or trustees who were once a part of them, or apathy. What I propose with this article, is for them to stop being in this in between state. The College should either choose to take a softer stance on the underground fraternities and sorority, or a harder one. The easier route would be the latter. They could do some investigation, figure out who’s in each group, and actually ban with threats of expulsion, as is claimed occurred years ago on tours and in official information. Given how much power the College truly has and how many students know something about each community, there’s no way they couldn’t.
The harder, but in my opinion more helpful route, would be the softer one. In this scenario, Colby would incite outrage and discussion among the College community by admitting the existence of these groups more publically to students. The help of this option is it cuts at the real issues prevalent to the College. The fact that first-year males feel pressured into underground societies is not a problem of the fraternities themselves, but of the greater social culture on campus. The elitism of sororities continues across many more social circles. Sports teams also haze. The College itself has issues (althought this is improving) with diversity. Admitting to the fraternities and sorority on campus lets Colby look internally at its issues, rather than externally at a group of students doing something illegal in a handbook.
This is not to say that, inherently, organizations like the underground fraternities are not conducted in a manner that wholeheartedly opposes the College’s recent viewpoints and mission statements about inclusiveness. Something needs to be done about them further than what is happening, or else the College is simply acting hypocritical. The way to go about it, though, will be so impactful to certain students lives and will incite such debate and interest, that Colby and Greene need to thoughtfully consider the options of what to do. Either way, the limbo land we’re living in (some discussion, but no action) is a perfect legitimization for organizations looking for buzz, but no consequences. As an objective outsider with little skin in this game, I can’t help but think that needs to change.