Trustee announcement turns 1999 weekend into fiasco

The Board of Trustees’ announcement of the Social and Residential Life Initiative three days prior to the opening ceremonies of last year’s Winter Carnival’s disrupted a tradition that had endured through Prohibition and two major wars.

With the Initiative’s hints at the elimination of single-sex fraternities and sororities — one clause called for a substantially coeducational social system — the festive mood on campus changed into an uproar and discontent that climaxed with student protests and national news media attention.

The Initiative was met with bold signs of resistance during the weekend, and the Carnival theme “Gone to the Dogs” came to bear an ironic undertone. The Coed Fraternity Sorority Council decided to cancel all parties, traditionally a popular social option during Carnival.

The silent weekend at Greek houses helped unite CFS affiliates and supporters of the current system, yet presented an unsettling prospect to some students of a not-so-distant future without fraternities and sororities.

This year’s theme, “Lest the Cold Traditions Fail,” is a not-so-subtle wordplay reminding us of traditions that were interrupted last year and that may be challenged in years to come.

“When I look back on the weekend, the idea of a party doesn’t come to mind,” Teddy Rice ’00, who was president of Psi Upsilon fraternity last year, said. “In lieu of that we had some pretty exciting events that were a lot more exciting than parties in some respects.”

A powerful message of Greek opposition to the Initiative occurred during the Opening Ceremonies. Approximately 900 students — most wearing clothing with Greek letters or T-shirts stating “Unaffiliated but I support the Greeks” — converged silently in front of the Carnival snow structure in anticipation of College President James Wright’s first public appearance since the announcement of the Initiative.

However, jeers and boos surfaced when Wright said during his speech, “I haven’t been invited to any fraternity parties this year but I’m still intending to have a good time this weekend.”

With fists pumping in the air, the crowd also yelled when it came time to sing the “lest the old traditions fail” line of the alma mater at the end of the ceremony.

Two days later, tradition was literally put on ice, as nearly 800 students crowded the ice-covered lawn of Psi Upsilon fraternity, not to watch brothers jump over kegs as they have for the past 18 years, but rather to participate in a spirited rally featuring 15 emotional speeches.

While not having the keg jump, a defining symbol of Carnival, was upsetting to some students, Rice said the rally was eventful in its own right and probably more memorable because of the sheer number of people and media on the front lawn.

“The rally was an inspiring and exciting moment and I think one that made an important contribution to the way the Student Life Initiative was handled,” he said.

Again, many in the crowd wore Greek letters and green ribbons as symbols of their support for the current system. Speakers representing a wide spectrum of the Greek community, as well as one unaffiliated student, expressed anger towards the College’s tampering with social options and extolled the existence of single-sex Greek life.

In contrast to the largely repressed opinions during the opening ceremony, the speakers at the rally seemed to hold little back and a petition was circulated calling for Wright’s immediate resignation.

Not every disruption that weekend was Greek-related — the mild weather disrupted the tubing park on the golf course — although the polar bear swim went on as scheduled.

“I expect to have a lot more fun this year and have a degree of normalcy to my weekend, but look back on last year as an exciting and memorable occasion,” Rice said. “I was glad to be able to contribute something to the political discussion on campus.”

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