The introduction of Alpha Phi as the College’s seventh sorority will provide a new female social space in what many view as a male-dominated social scene. But with 13 fraternities and only three sororities permitted to throw alcoholic parties in their physical plants, many feel the social scene still has a long way to go before this gender imbalance is corrected.
Director for the Center of Women and Gender Xenia Markowitt said that during the 10 years she has been here, “the number one complaint I hear is that women do not have control of the social space.”
“Women always talk to me about what they call a Jekyll and Hyde campus,” Markowitt said. “They can be in a classroom, partnered with a guy on a project on an academic level, and they’re treating each other with tremendous respect. Later that night in the social scene she feels that same man will be treating her as if she’s worthless.”
Alpha Phi will participate in rush for the first time this fall, and its national organization will buy a physical plant for the chapter when property becomes available. National sorority rules, however — which preexisting College sororities Delta Delta Delta, Kappa Kappa Gamma and Alpha Xi Delta are already well familiar with — prohibit alcohol in chapter houses. National fraternities on campus are not held to this standard and many sorority women blame the differing policies for some of the social scene’s flaws.
Kappa recently went on probation after a Safety and Security officer found a bowl of punch in the house, and according to Megan Johnson, assistant director or Coed, Fraternity and Sorority Administration, one of Kappa’s sanctions will be to work with its national organization “to be on the same page” in terms of alcohol policies.
Two juniors who are national sorority social chairs were interviewed, but requested to remain anonymous for fear of admitting violations in national policies. The first social chair said she “is amazed” by the charade that goes on to hide her house’s true character when national representatives come to visit.
“We completely change our chapters to create the illusion that they actually are what national wants them to be. It’s totally ridiculous,” she said. “All alcohol is removed from the house. Pong tables are removed from the house. We don’t allow boys in the house.”
Some College administrators feel students could create alternative social spaces for themselves if they made the effort.
“The new dorms might provide some opportunities to organize and host social events in those spaces,” Dean of the College James Larimore said. He added that the new dining halls could provide similar opportunities, but that “ultimately the students themselves will have to organize the events.”
“I had a conversation with Tri-Delts earlier this year and said I couldn’t imagine anything more boring than a party organized by college administrators,” Larimore said. “Whether the space is going to be used effectively is really going to depend on student creativity and energy.”
Johnson agreed that sorority women should take the initiative to create a social sphere outside of fraternities.
Johnson cited third-party vendors like clubs and restaurants as other possible venues for sorority events. The national rules of the sororities on campus all allow alcohol to be served at third-party vendors to members who are of age.
Kappa President Whitney Dickerson ’07 noted that while drinking is a part of the culture at almost all colleges, the vast majority of schools “have enough clubs and bars in town to host ample social events, whereas 5 Olde and the Canoe Club have not traditionally hosted sorority events.”
But that will not necessarily deter Kappa from trying. “We’re actually looking into renting space at bars in town for events this fall,” Dickerson said. “Who knows, it could be fun.”
The first national social chair interviewed said such a solution would be inadequate because a party held at third-party vendor “wouldn’t be a normal social event.”
“[It] doesn’t jive with Dartmouth social life,” she said.
The same woman did say that she feels the College takes a more realistic approach to drinking policies than national organizations in some ways.
“If really, really no drinking was an enforced policy, we wouldn’t be informed before walkthroughs. We would not have designated places in the house that are not subject to inspection,” she said. “The College knows what goes on. They realize. But they’re sort of between a rock and a hard place as much as we are, because they can’t lie to national.”
The second national sorority social chair interviewed disagreed and said she felt the College’s vigilance regarding sorority alcohol policies is unjust because fraternities violate not only organizational policies, but the law, on a regular basis.
“I don’t understand why, if the College is so hung-up on not allowing the dry sororities to drink, [that they] don’t show that same reservation or concern for parties that occur in fraternities,” she said. “Underage drinking is rampant in every fraternity basement. Is it a common belief that because we’re women we can’t handle it as much? That the College is accepting the fact that the guys still dominate the school even though it went coed more than 30 years ago?”
She also said the outdatedness of national sorority rules make the drinking that inevitably takes place in the house more dangerous. National sororities do not answer questions for Social Event Management Procedures because the College cannot openly acknowledge that drinking goes on in those spaces, and as a result national sororities are less prepared to deal with inebriated persons in their house, she said.
The different insurance policies covering national sororities versus fraternities may exacerbate this problem. All of the national fraternities purchase the College’s group insurance policy, according to Johnson, which will cover incidents in the house as long as underage drinking or hazing are not involved.
National sororities, however, receive insurance coverage from their national organizations, which will not cover any incident that takes place in the house if alcohol is present.
All of the College’s national fraternities are independently-owned and can receive room rent from members. The younger and College-owned national sororities cannot, and one national sorority president said that it would be difficult for national sororities to afford the College’s group insurance policy.
Sigma Nu is the only technically dry national fraternity on campus, but the national organization allows its Dartmouth chapter to have alcohol in the house because it purchased additional insurance.
Studies showing that having alcohol in sorority houses caused members to have lower GPAs and more incidents of vandalism prompted The National Panhellenic Council to make the 26 national sororities under its wing go dry, according to Johnson.
Local sorority Sigma Delta has alcohol in its house, throws open parties and has a higher average grade point average than Tri-Delt.
Liability is another factor that played into the Council’s decision, but it is unclear whether national sororities would permit alcohol in houses if extra insurance was purchased.