#ThrowbackThursday: A decade of Minervas


The year 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of the Minerva Housing System.

While today classes, events and social gatherings are held in the seven Minerva Houses, they were born in and from controversy.

During the late 20th century Greek life dominated the campus. Many fraternities lived in beautiful homes, and the one Sigma Phi called home was built by members of the fraternity in 1905.

While all the fraternities offered their own rich history of alumni and contributions, many members of the Union community grew disenchanted with the Greek system.

This bitterness was not directed specifically at the Greek system, but instead at what was easily found at the houses: alcohol.

While the fraternities were very present on campus, it was the bottle that made many weary.

The blame for the abuse cannot be pinned upon the fraternities, as it was one of the easiest places for students to obtain it.

Along with the problem of social life, the college had to cater to the needs of female students following the acceptance of women in 1970.

While male students had an abundance of houses to select from, the newly accepted females had a marginal selection.

In a survey taken in the 1990s, 67 percent of upperclass women were not satisfied with the housing selections on campus.

To see how the face of the campus could be changed, the board of trustees and President Roger Hull created the U2K Committee in 1990 to determine how the college should prepare for the year 2000.

During their research, U2K came to several conclusions based upon extensive studies.

One of the major problems facing current students was the “substantial inequity in access to prime housing, center-of-campus housing and social spaces, especially for women, but also for men who choose not to join fraternities.”

They went on to claim that Union was “not the residential campus we say we are.” In surveys taken in 1995 and 1996, it became evident that many residential dorms were simply “sleeping barracks.”

Other on-campus issues they discovered involved “virtually all Union social life (seemed) to revolve around alcohol.”

While they did not blame fraternities for the issue, they did state that “alcohol is easy to come by and largely unsupervised within fraternities that host parties and other gatherings.”

The final on-campus issue was the lack of faculty involvement outside of the regular workday.

Thinking of the future of the campus U2K turned to prospective students. They believed “Union College’s reputation has suffered because of the culture we have allowed to evolve, hurting our ability to attract high-end students and faculty.”

They claimed that many of the top prospective students turned away from Union due to “a one-dimensional social scene dominated by the Greek system.”

It became clear to U2K and the board of trustees that a change was needed.

To help control the social scene, U2K sought to reform the Greek system. One solution was to follow the steps of NESCAC and ban fraternities and all Greek life from campus.

However, the college soon realized that killing the Greeks would not solve the problem of the social scene of Union, due to the fact that Greeks were not the problem, but the alcohol and lack of good housing was.

U2K did recommended that the Greeks disassociate themselves with organizations that hazed and had a history of abuse, something all the Greeks have done well on campus.

They also supported the idea of “(rectifying) a system of unequal privilege in housing,” and to nurture faculty involvement on campus outside of the classroom. On Oct. 27, 2000, recommended the “introduction of a House System.”

The original House System called for the establishment of 12 houses with every student and faculty member being assigned to one.

To make this a reality, the committee decided that some fraternities would have to be relocated. This decision come on the basis that of the five Class A houses, all belonged to Greeks with none available to women and non-Greeks.

To make the housing more equal to all, Psi Upsilon, Chi Psi and Sigma Phi all lost their houses and were moved to Fox and Davidson Halls.

In February of 2001, the board of trustees agreed upon the plan of U2K and the House System was to be implemented.

The initial costs to establish the House System was $20 million with $16.4 million going to hiring architects and renovating the houses, with the rest going to other expenses, including compensation for displaced fraternities and the moving and preservation of a Sigma Phi mural.

With the move of fraternities in 2003 and 2004 in order make room for the agreed upon seven houses for the Minerva System, (House System) many alumni who were part of those brotherhoods grew enraged.

Annual donations dropped drastically and the college lost more than 1,000 donors. It would take several years and the hard work of the members of Alumni Relations to restore donations to pre-Minerva numbers.

The sacrifices the fraternities made allowed for a more modern campus to emerge. Students now have the ability to live in beautiful homes which offer fun and enjoyable events every week.

The Minerva System offered equal choice to students who had no interest of joining Greek life. The creation of the Minervas has seen the increase in the quality of students applying and attending Union.

The average SAT score rose 30 points and the number of top-ranked students from their respective high schools rose as well. While some Greeks may still not like the Minervas, progress has been made.

No longer are Minervas vandalized by Greeks, and I have yet to see a T-shirt that reads, “My fraternity beat up your Minerva House,” something that was common in the early 2000s.

While you may not like them, the benefits that the Minervas offer are large and fair to all students.

As the Minerva System finishes its first decade, it is evident that the new House System benefits all students willing to be a part of it.

Whether choosing to live in one, attend club events taking place in them or having a meal with a professor, Minervas give students the opportunity to be part of the Union community and embrace a new version of social life.


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