The End

The End

Divisive demise of Colby's fraternities was the end of a tradition and the beginning of a new era.

By Julia Hanauer-Milne

Students, who widely supported fraternities, had expected the College to do something less drastic--require the frats to admit women, perhaps--so the decision came as a shock. Once the confetti stopped falling, however, students were "extremely curious," Cotter said.

imageWhere would they have parties? In a new student union (one that would bear his name, it turned out years later), Cotter said. And what would become of the frat houses? The renovated houses would open in the fall as dorms.

Later that night fraternity members burned furniture, including a piano, and damaged other property in protest. Security around Cotter's house was beefed up, and "then it became very unpleasant," Cotter recalled. While some students--especially women--supported the decision, the pro-frat majority was the most vocal. Cotter and his wife, Linda, endured shouted insults for the entire spring semester, he said.

Off campus, reactions varied. Many fraternity members from earlier years were incensed.

But the decision stood. The following fall, when students returned, there were no fraternities at Colby for the first time since 1845.

Today post-fraternity alumni and current students may have only vague notions of how and why the decision was made. But one thing is absolutely certain: the decision played a pivotal role in shaping the Colby of today.

It's hard to overstate the role that fraternities played in their heyday at Colby and at colleges like it.

"[Fraternities] offered nothing to the residential-life system that couldn't be provided by the College." However, "fraternities were an important part of the experience at Colby. There were going to be hurt feelings" if they were closed.
Earl Smith, retired dean of the College and longtime dean of students
Today four of the 11 colleges in New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC ) have fraternities. Those colleges point to traditions of community service and campus leadership associated with Greek organizations, as can Colby.

At what was then Waterville College, the organization of chapters of national fraternities Delta Kappa Epsilon and Zeta Psi was seen as one of the highlights of the tenure of President David N. Sheldon (1843-1853). When fraternities began to move off campus, in 1907, the College scrambled to keep the three remaining on campus by converting dormitories into fraternity houses. As the move was made from downtown to Mayflower Hill, it was a tradition that continued with the construction of fraternity houses as an integral part of the new campus.

During World War I fraternities were temporarily disbanded by the government because they were seen as incompatible with War Department activities on college campuses. According to The History of Colby College by Ernest Marriner, when the war ended and the military withdrew from Colby, the January 10, 1919, issue of the Echo reported: "Now that ... we are all civilians again, the fraternities are returning to their natural existence. ... It is a great relief to all fraternity men to be again in control of their residences."

When the College was planning the move to Mayflower Hill, a commission formed to study fraternities voted 19-2 to include them in the new campus plan. The Interfraternity Council, formed in 1938, became one of the most influential bodies on campus. It required a minimum grade-point average for new pledges, changed the traditional "Hell Week" initiation period to "Help Week," marked, at least ostensibly, by community service.

In the 1940s and 1950s, an estimated 90 percent of Colby men joined a fraternity, most living in one of seven residential houses on frat row. Later, two more fraternity houses were added, one in East Quad and one in the Hillside complex. Colby also had four sororities over the years, but, without houses, sororities had less impact than their male counterparts. The ranks of fraternities waned in the 1960s and 1970s. In his College history, published in 1963, Marriner, longtime Colby dean, contemplated their fate. "As this history goes to press, college fraternities all over the land are under attack as never before. Can they survive another century? Can the discriminatory constitutions, the expensive national offices, and some of the inevitable snobbery survive against the rising American demand for equality, for less bureaucracy, for less adherence to conformity?"

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  • On June 20, 2006, Robert Morrison wrote:
    It is rude and ignorant to use the term "frat" to generalize all greek letter organizations. The beer guzzling and hazing "frats" project an image that fraternities should not have to share.

  • On June 29, 2006, Robert J. Ryan wrote:
    As a fraternity member, and '81 Graduate, I recall being quite dismayed at the news and the fact that no options were presented in public and to Alumni. I believe that it has injured, in some cases irrevocably, the ability to reconnect with certain graduates, both in fund raising activities and in loyalty to the school, at least in the graduates from my era.

  • On June 29, 2006, Paul Harrington ATO '74 wrote:
    "We want there to be a sense of belonging to the College as a whole," Adams said. "There are other places and ways of finding that." I hope this is true. During my last visit to Colby a few years back I noticed more "special interest" and ethnic specific rooms throughout the student union. More segregation and isolation than I experienced at Colby. We didn't have those in the early seventies when I was a student and Treasurer of ATO. Granted we threw some outrageous parties, but everyone was welcome! We also did a lot of community work, especially with the local Boy's Club as most of us ATO's were on the swim team then. I can tell you when I meet up with a brother ATO today it feels like 30 years fade away. And there was just as strong a bond when I was a trustee for the new chapter here at URI. I doubt those types of bonds are formed today. It was interesting that this article appeared at the same time as President Adams plea for financial support. I admit, I make a very small donation to count towards the 50% participation. But I make a more generous donation to ATO! You will have a hard time convincing me Colby is a better place without fraternity and sorority presence on campus. And the so called negative aspects (beer guzzling parties etc) still go on, only off campus in private residences where kids get back to campus behind the wheel, instead of a stumbling walk back to their dorm. Out of sight out of mind.

  • On July 28, 2006, Chad Frederick wrote:
    Rude and ignorant? As a modern student, everything I've heard about frats and seen in the popular culture points to "hazing and beer guzzling". Can you tell me more about the fraternities of the old days?

  • On August 18, 2006, Nicholas Snyder '05 wrote:
    Many students chose Colby specifically for the fact that there were no longer fraternities. In a school of its size having groups such as fraternities can act as a divisive force. It is too bad that alumni have been alienated by these actions but a new and different Colby has emerged. If fraternities were still in existence would we be ranked as high as we are with news organizations and named a ,new ivy?Š Would students from international origin still be as interested in the Colby experience? Yes, new and different groups have been created that have filled some of the gaps, and to a returning alumni it might seem as though these new groups promote division. But in truth, they give students an outlet to express their beliefs, in a way a fraternity never could. Joining one of these groups allows a student a voice, but it does not have to be their only voice, they can join as many groups, as many factions as necessary to truly express themselves. And they get to choose, they do not have to be chosen. What makes Colby such an amazing institution is that each student has the ability to choose their own path, whether it is through groups, academics, or athletics, everyone finds their own way, without having to follow the path set out by others.

  • On October 2, 2006, Paul Harrington ATO '74 wrote:
    This is in response to Chad Frederick's and Nicholas Snyder's question and comments above. It's not surprising that all you've seen portrayed is the hazing, beer guzzling, Animal House mentality of Fraternities and Sororities. Face it, good, nice, well behaved just doesn't sell! Would you pay ten bucks to see a movie about straight A students doing nothing but charity work? I don't think so. So while many of the things you refer to did occur, some with disastrous results on some campuses by the way, there was a tremendous amount of good to come out of Fraternities and Sororities. When I joined ATO in the Spring of 1971, the chapter like many on campus, was in trouble. Two years later we had done a good enough job of turning things around membership wise and academically that two alumni paid off the house mortgage in full. Not something they would do if it was all hazing & beer guzzling parties. I won't deny those things went on, though our hazing did not include anything that we brothers would not do ourselves. And by the way it was all in FUN! A person joined a Fraternity or Sorority because they had a common bond with the members, not because they were "chosen". Many of those revolved around athletics; ATO was the swimmers, Lambda Chi was football, DKE was hockey (though they had a swimmer too) and so on. You didn't have to join a Fraternity because you were on a team, or part of any group, but you sure might have the desire. Just because you did, you weren't giving up your individuality. In many ways you had a safe place to express it. You could belong to as many organizations as you wanted. Many ATO chapters even had a group of ATO Sisters on campus, so we weren't even totally gender biased. The friendships I have formed, and common bonds with all ATO brothers extend beyond Colby and have lasted a lifetime. I don't know many Dana, or Woodman people who say the same thing. I learned more about living, working and playing together being a member of ATO and living in that house than I ever did from any classroom. Colby was an exclusive, highly ranked little Ivy school then, just as it is now. You will have a hard time convincing me that the social atmosphere is more inclusive today, with all the special interest separation, than it was back then. You think it's better, because you never had the chance to experience it yourself. You only get to read what others have to sensationalize. Talk about taking away your choice! If you want more, keep asking!