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

Cotter presented the commission's report to the Board of Trustees in January 1984. The trustees then voted unanimously by secret ballot to accept the recommendations: to withdraw recognition of the Greek organizations, create a commons housing system, which would be governed largely by students, and to build a new student union. It was the only way, Cotter said, to create true gender equity on campus, give the commons system a chance to succeed, solve behavior problems, and increase academic integrity.

Many students were skeptical about the process. "A lot of the process that preceded the decision all of us thought was a sham," said Hall Adams '84, who nevertheless applauded the College's action because he believed the fraternities isolated members on an already-small campus. The suspicion of a set-up, Adams said, was widely held by fraternity members and others on campus. The thinking went like this: "The president made up his mind," Adams recalled, "and the process was a vehicle for making this look like there was more consensus than there was."

Not so, Cotter says.

Critics have voiced suspicions that the decision was made before the vote, but participants deny that. "I don't think it was a sham. I think [commission members] truly felt this was a legitimate process. . . . I think they felt it was truly to be an impartial investigation."
David Marson '48,
commission member and former president of Tau Delta
"One of the first things we agreed to was that everyone coming in knew what the issues were and that they had an open mind to what the solutions were," Cotter explained. "We would enter into a fact-finding process that would last into the spring, summer, and into fall. ... We would not have any meeting to discuss possible outcomes until the fact-finding was complete. No commissioners would talk to any other commissioners until the fact-finding was done--and then only at the commission meetings.

Critics of the process have voiced suspicions that the decision was made before the vote took place, but participants deny that. "I don't think it was a sham," agreed David Marson '48, former president of Tau Delta. He added, "I think [commission members] truly felt this was a legitimate process. I don't think they recognized their own biases. I think they felt it was truly to be an impartial investigation.

"The frats," Marson continued, "had done such a good job building a case against themselves, it did seem to be inevitable, but there was a high degree of passion among staff and faculty to resolve it" in a fair and thorough way.

Still, even Cotter was surprised by the outcome, he says. "I would not have predicted where we came out, nor that ... it would have been adopted by trustees unanimously by secret ballot."

Questions of process aside, the fraternities did not go quietly. They quickly filed suit to try to stop the College from taking their buildings, which they lost in part because their agreements with Colby stipulated that fraternity houses would revert to the College if the frats were no longer active.

Dozens of letters to the alumni magazine after the decision show mixed views. Some writers were pleased with the decision--including some fraternity members--while others were dismayed. Twenty-two years later, some fraternity members remain angry about the decision. But many are resigned to what has been done.

Lowry, the DU brother, said that although the fraternities' relationships with administration had been tense for some time, the decision still seemed sudden. "We were all very angered by the speed of it all," he said. "They should have tried some alternatives, move slowly. It just seemed like they moved and boom--that's it.

"It's a very well-respected college in the U.S.," Lowry said. "I'm proud of that, but it seems to me they've lost something socially that they haven't recreated."

But there are other ways to make friends, argues Adams, now a lawyer in Chicago. He declined to pledge even though, as a football player, he was recruited to join Lambda Chi, whose members included most of the football team.

He says his decision had more to do with wanting a broader experience than with anything against fraternal organizations. "I thought that Colby was small enough to begin with and it didn't need to be made smaller by joining [a fraternity]," said Adams, who now serves as his class president. "I thought that fraternity life--and it did become the primary college life--stunted the development of many of the guys in the frat. It kept them from doing things and meeting people they otherwise would have met."

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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!