By Gabriella Levine
A recent report by the Charter Committee for Building Social Community at Trinity College included a comprehensive plan to reform the social climate at Trinity by instituting new changes to campus life.
Union’s former dean of students, Fred Alford, is currently the dean of students at Trinity and was one of the few influential members of the Committee and the campus community to assist in implementing these changes.
The Committee that developed the report approved the following amendments to Trinity’s Greek system: banning a pledge period, mandating that an organization’s collective GPA must be 3.2 or higher and instituting a coed policy which mandates that by October of 2014 organizations must have 15 percent of the minority gender, 30 percent by October of 2015, and, by October of 2016, organizations must maintain a coed balance of approximately 50 to 50 percent.
The coed mandate applies only to Greek organizations and does not extend to other social organizations on campus.
[pullquote]The report expressed that, “The fraternities and sororities of old are gone.”[/pullquote]
Other policy changes include a new House System designed to improve the social climate at the college.
Alford came to Union in 1987 as an assistant dean of students, and he was promoted to dean of students in 1993. In 2003, Alford accepted a position as the dean of students at Trinity.
Alford helped in spearheading several social and residential life changes at Union, including the creation of a new alcohol policy in 2001 and a new housing system plan, known at the time as the “House System,” which eventually developed into the current Minerva Program.
In 2003, The Chronicle noted that Alford was proud of the plans laid out for the House System, which would permit Union to take over several Greek houses, transform them into residential theme houses, and move the Greeks to different locations on campus.
According to The Chronicle, in May of 2003, then President of Union Roger Hull noted, “In Union’s creation of a new social and residential life system, Fred also has been a leading force. The advent of the House System is an exciting and important initiative.”
In 2001, the Times Union reported that the housing plan was set forth by Union’s administration in an effort to “foster more of a social life that doesn’t revolve around drinking beer and being the member of a Greek clique.”
The Times Union article also included Alford’s claim that the Greeks were in decline at Union at the time, down from 50 percent 15 years prior to 2001’s 25 percent.
In 1995, Union had 687 Greeks. By 2001, Union had 751 Greeks. In the spring of 2011, a decade after Alford’s claim and the initial inception of what would later become the Minerva Program, The Chronicle reported that 45 percent of eligible students were members of Greek life, and that Greek life was thriving on campus.
Alford left Union in 2003 before the House System took full effect. According to the Concordiensis, nearly $20 million was poured into renovating seven houses for the eventual Minerva Program, which kicked off in the fall term of 2004.
The Concordiensis reported that many students viewed these changes to Greek residences as a blow to the Greek system, while others remained optimistic about the possible benefits that the new housing system could offer to Union’s students.
For the 2003-2004 academic year at Union, Steve Leavitt assumed the role that he still retains today as Dean of Students. In September of 2003, the Concordiensis quoted Leavitt’s remarks regarding his overarching goal as the new dean: “restoring a sense of integrity for the dean of students’ office in the minds of students.”
Trinity’s social and Greek life reformation contains a unique coed mandate that is unlike anything Union has experienced.
In November, Hartford’s Courant described Alford’s justification for Trinity’s modifications to social and Greek life: “Alford said administrators were concerned last year about a spike in the number of students taken to the hospital for drinking- and drug-related problems. Trinity was also developing a reputation as a party school on social media.”
The Charter Committee at Trinity first entertained the notion of abolishing Greek life, but eventually determined that the best way to solve the problem would be to strike an equalizing balance in the campus’ social climate.
According to the report, “approximately 18% of the student body is a member of a fraternity or a sorority, but their parties serve a majority of the campus as they are the only ‘game in town.’”
The report ultimately concluded, “The current system of fraternities and sororities is not a constructive influence on Trinity’s overall social environment.”
The Courant reports that Alford believes the new changes seek to uphold the constructive characteristics of Trinity’s Greek life while quelling “behavior that is of concern.” However, many Greeks on Trinity’s campus are now faced with obstacles that include the loss of a national charter due to the coed mandate.
Certain sororities, such as Kappa Kappa Gamma, will lose their national charters if they begin accepting men.
Alford is optimistic that the reforms “will change the culture of selective organizations by making them co-ed and raising academic and civic expectations.”
The social policies also contain plans for a new House System at Trinity that shares many similarities with the House System that was established at Union when Alford was Dean.
According to the Committee’s report, the new House System at Trinity would “be organized into six groups of 375 students. These groups…would give every student an automatic affiliation with a representative group of fellow students, help organize the way the college provides services and support to students, and increase the opportunities and expectations for students to get engaged and contribute to the vibrancy of campus life.”
Student affiliation with these houses would be permanent throughout the four years of study, but students are only required to reside in the houses for their first two years.
Union’s House System developed seven Minerva houses consisting of memberships of about 300 students, faculty members, and staff members each, with 30 to 60 students living within the houses. Like Trinity, a student’s membership in a Minerva at Union carries through for four years.
In January of 2003, Alford submitted an article to the Concordiensis regarding his support of the underlying plans of the House System at Union. Alford explained that Union’s system “has the potential to redefine the social hierarchy to put all students on a more equal footing and to bring faculty and students a significant measure of ‘collegium.’” Furthermore, Alford noted, “It would ensure that all students would have access to one of the best residential and social spaces on campus and money to support social and cultural programs. One would not need to be invited or initiated; neither would one need to participate if he or she did not want.”
At Trinity, first year seminars will be held in a student’s respective house; similarly, many Union students take their first year preceptorial class in their respective Minerva houses.
In regards to the resemblances between Trinity and Union’s housing systems, Alford remarked, “Two very good colleges wanted to be better and felt that aspects of their social climate were one dimensional and not contributing what they could to the intellectual life of the campus. Both plans call for a House System that will involve faculty and students in living and learning communities and create a platform for a more and more varied forms of social life.”
Some students and alumni at Trinity perceive the new changes as valid solutions. Trinity’s student newspaper, the Trinity Tripod, published a submission by Mike Lenihan ‘07, who served as the Class of 2007’s president for four years.
Lenihan wrote, “Trinity is slipping. By the two most important measures — social cohesion and academic rigor — the school is less competitive today than it was 10 years ago.” Lenihan believes that the school is trying to address the problem head-on, which, “if successful, it would mean a stronger and more competitive Trinity than ever.”
Conversely, some students have been vocal in expressing their dissent for the new policies. Arts Editor of the Tripod Chanel Palacios ‘14 stated in an article that the coed mandate “is simply a backhanded and political way of shutting down fraternities and sororities.”
Palacios also argued that the plans for the new House System at Trinity are “a nice idea in theory, but in essence it is faculty and administration determining your friends. College is about finding your own group of friends, and there is no scientific way to determine how friendships form.”
A petition has been circulating amongst Trinity’s students and alumni who oppose the new social policies. It can be found at www.savetrinity.com. A group of concerned alumni created the petition, stating, “we represent a large group of Alumni and students who strongly assert that the College’s best efforts have been flawed and, in some cases, biased against the very groups that have contributed in many ways to the Trinity we love and hold dear.”
Alford noted that it’s “hard to know exactly” the composition of students who support and reject the new reforms. “The voices of the aggrieved tend to be more shrill and supporters nod quietly from a remove,” Alford said.
“While I have repressed some of it, my recollection was that the same was true at Union,” he added.
Looking to the future and the outcome of new reforms such as the House System, Alford noted that Union is “in a better position to predict this than I am because you can see how the House System has evolved over ten years.”
Today, some students view the Minerva program at Union in a negative light, while others believe it betters the campus community. This academic year, two opposing views on the Minerva System were published in the Concordiensis by Bryan Grover ’14, and Steven Stangle ’14 and Catherine Tjan ’14.
Despite the similarities between Union and Trinity’s housing systems, the coed mandate that is now in place at Trinity was sharply rejected by Union’s students when it was proposed.
In 1998, Union created a committee known as “U2K” comprised of students, faculty, alumni and Alford to discuss plans to reform Union’s Greek life and develop a new House System. Students on the U2K committee strongly disliked many of the proposed policies that are now being implemented at Trinity.
Kate Stefanik ‘01, a student on the U2K committee, was then interviewed by the Concordiensis and noted that, “There were many aspects of the Greek system that the Greek students wanted to preserve – specifically, the right to stay selective, single sex, residential and to have a pledge period. We debated for more than a year about all aspects of the Greek system, particularly coeducation. The students on the committee were successful in showing that the elimination of any one of those aspects could have been synonymous with eliminating the Greek system.”
In October of 2012, after the changes that were made to Union’s Greek system over the years, Dean Leavitt remarked that “A strong vibrant Greek life is critical to what makes Union a uniquely strong community.”
Alford hopes that Trinity’s changes will contribute to a stronger community by having “more social outlets, more variety in the way we socialize, and an environment where men and women of diverse backgrounds form true friendships based on mutual respect.”