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

Another group of students began meeting with Professor G. Calvin Mackenzie (government) to draw up an indictment of the fraternity system. Mackenzie, a former fraternity president at Bowdoin, ended up writing the indictment himself, which was published in the April 7, 1983, Echo just prior to a trustees' meeting.

He wrote it, he says, because he was dismayed by what he saw happening on frat row and in his classroom. A staunch believer in gender equity, he thought frats should be co-ed and that their housing also should be available to women. He was the advisor to Alpha Tau Omega until that fraternity voted against admitting women, though ATO and DU had non-member women students living in their houses by the mid-1970s.

"Egregious" social behavior also irritated him, but not as much as the tendency for fraternity members to withdraw in his classroom. "You'd have these bright freshmen, then they'd join frats and shut up," Mackenzie said. "... That was just anti-intellectual. What they did at parties was their business. What was happening in my classroom was my business."

Fraternity brothers and a woman student line a fraternity house fire escape during Spring Carnival in the early 1970s.
The beginning of the end came in 1979, when behavior issues prompted the College's trustees to ask administrators to draw up fraternity guidelines. Among the standards were grade-point averages that could be no lower than .25 below the all-College average and behavioral, community service, and housekeeping expectations. The following year trustees wanted a report card. That responsibility fell to then-Dean of Students Janice Seitzinger (now Vice President of Student Affairs Janice Kassman), who determined that six of the College's eight fraternities were not meeting the criteria. "The trustees looked at that report and said, 'This is not working'," Kassman recalled. "They were concerned that the fraternities had fallen into disrepair. They weren't the fraternities they remembered."

Following the 1982 report, Kappa Delta Rho (KDR) was suspended and Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) was placed on probation.

Meanwhile, yet another report--the Select Committee on Housing--was poised to influence trustees. It recommended that all of the College's housing, including fraternities, be available to all students. With that report in hand, the College decided it was time to take a comprehensive look at the issue.

In 1983 the Board of Trustees created the Trustee Commission on Campus Life and charged it with conducting "a comprehensive inquiry into residential and social life in order to determine whether contemporary arrangements sufficiently reinforce Colby's educational mission and to recommend improvements." The commission was to investigate ways to improve campus housing, leadership, and social life, and to ensure equal access to those things.

The commission was chaired by Lawrence R. Pugh '56, a DKE brother, and it was composed of 18 members--of whom 11 were fraternity or sorority members--plus ex-officio members Cotter and trustee chair H. Ridgely Bullock '55. The group included trustees, alumni, faculty, and students. Administrators or College staff assisted subcommittees with surveys, campus visits, hearings, and reports.

The Commission worked for eight months, soliciting testimony on campus, holding alumni hearings in New York, Boston, Hartford, Washington, D.C., Portland, and Waterville. It conducted a campus survey, and commission members visited peer schools including Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Hampshire, Haverford, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Trinity, Wesleyan, and Williams to see how other colleges organized residential life.

Commission members considered four alternatives to closing the frats. Colby could:
  • require fraternities to admit women, something some Colby fraternity brothers were willing to do, though their national affiliates threatened to withdraw recognition;
  • provide space for sororities and co-ed fraternities on frat row;
  • acquire all the fraternity housing, then allow special interest groups, including fraternities, to occupy it through a lottery;
  • eliminate fraternity houses, but allow the organizations to remain as extracurricular clubs.
In December 1983, after days of discussion about the alternatives, the commission recommended that, based on its investigation, the College withdraw recognition of Colby's eight fraternities and two remaining sororities.

It wasn't an easy decision for Pugh, he says now. "I was sort of borderline" in the beginning, he said. "If I had to vote at that time, I would have voted to keep [the fraternities]." But a deeper understanding of a lack of diversity in the frats, coupled with "the disruption on campus" and the decline in membership convinced Pugh it was time for the frats to go. "Obviously almost all of us became convinced it was the right thing to do," said Pugh, a longtime Colby trustee. "It was going to be one of the most important decisions we could make at Colby for a number of years."

And commission members were aware it involved more than just removing fraternities. "It took me a while to come to the conclusion that this [eliminating fraternities] was the right way to go," said Anne Lawrence Bondy '46, a commission member and former trustee, who had been president of her sorority. "But we didn't stop there. We had an alternative to offer. We had a plan to give more people more say about their food, their living conditions, and everyone on campus more say about planning programs."
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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!