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

There were other quantifiable costs. Frat houses needed to be renovated. The College needed a student center to house student programs and activities. In addition the decision prompted expensive lawsuits, as some fraternities opposed the decision, though unsuccessfully. All of this cost millions at a time when the College's ability to raise funds might be jeopardized.

The Colby Echo edition of Feb. 9, 1984, reports on the fraternity decision and the reaction on campus. The Echo reported that the initial reaction to the announcement was ,negative,Š with fraternity members asking ,hostileŠ questions and walking out of the session at Lorimer Chapel.
Fraternity brothers traditionally provide significant support for their alma maters, something they might not do if alienated. According to College records and current and former officials, the Class of '84, the year most directly affected by the fraternity decision, has one of the lowest giving rates.

But the overall impact is less clear. Cotter says that some people gave more because they were pleased with the decision. In the capital campaign ending in 1986, the College raised $30.5 million--$2 million more than its goal. Still, some fraternity members say they only recently began to give money to Colby. "I didn't donate to the school until Bill Cotter left," said Bill Sheehan '84, a DU. "That's the only form of protest I guess you can really make."

While Sheehan was furious with the decision for many years, he says he has now made peace with it for the most part and helps recruit students for Colby. "I interview for the school because I love the school," says Sheehan, a Massachusetts venture capitalist. "But I think there's a hole there that didn't used to be there."

And for some fraternity members, a bitter taste that still lingers.

"All it would take is one gesture on the part of the College" to finally heal the rift between itself and fraternity members, said former DU president Rosenberg. He wants the College to acknowledge the existence and role of fraternities at Colby. A fraternity memorabilia room might do it, Rosenberg says.

There is a display of fraternity memorabilia in the new Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center, created at the behest of donor Jack Parker '76, a member of Lambda Chi. Fraternity history doesn't necessarily need to be limited to that single display, said Margaret Felton Viens '77, director of alumni relations. "If the right people came forward ... and it was a documented need on campus," a room might be created elsewhere, Viens said.

Current President William D. "Bro" Adams acknowledges that the elimination of fraternities was painful, but he says Colby is better off today without them. "All the reasons explained at the time were the right ones. ... The risk was we lost or would lose that sense of identity, and that has something to do with institutional identity," he said. "There are other ways to achieve that."

Club activities, sports, and shared academic interests all contribute to a sense of identity and belonging. Administrators say the College has replicated other benefits of fraternities too. Community service has become an integral part of the Colby experience through the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement. Students may live with the same people each year if they choose. The Office of Career Services maintains an alumni network for new grads and current students seeking jobs and internships.

"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."

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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!