During the 2010-2011 academic year, President Tilghman convened the Working Group on Campus Social and Residential Life. Among other issues, the Working Group considered the role of fraternities and sororities at Princeton. In May of 2011, the Working Group made the following recommendation:
Students should be prohibited from affiliating with a fraternity or sorority or engaging in any form of rush at any time during the freshman year, or from conducting or having responsibility for any form of rush in which freshmen participate. The penalty for violating these prohibitions should be severe enough to encourage widespread compliance, which probably means a minimum penalty of suspension. (Report of the Working Group on Campus Social and Residential Life, available at http://www.princeton.edu/reports/2011/campuslife/obs-rec/fraternities-s…)
In the summer of 2011, following consultation with the Board of Trustees, the president accepted this recommendation. Before the recommendation was to be implemented in the fall of 2012, there remained the tasks of drafting specific policy language for Rights, Rules, Responsibilities, articulating what students could expect if they failed to abide by the policy, and developing strategies for communicating and assessing compliance. These tasks were assigned to a committee of students, faculty and staff, chaired by Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan. The committee met regularly from October to March and presents the following report.
President Tilghman charged the committee with three tasks:
- Describe as clearly as possible, with examples, the kinds of actions and interactions that should be prohibited under the policy by freshmen and by other students.
- Suggest penalties that would be appropriate, fair, and effective in encouraging full compliance with the policy.
- Provide suggestions on the best ways to communicate the policy and assess compliance with it.
In charging the committee, the president noted that “[t]he goals of this policy are to reaffirm the centrality of the residential colleges and the eating clubs as the principal elements around which residential and social life at Princeton revolve; to encourage freshmen to take full advantage of the opportunities Princeton offers to explore a variety of interests and develop a diverse set of friendships; and to ensure that students who choose to participate in fraternities and sororities do so only after they have had the benefit of a full year on campus.”
The students on the committee represented different interests and experiences. Of the six student members, three are sorority or fraternity members and three have no Greek affiliation; some are members of eating clubs and others are not. The student members participate in varsity and recreational athletics, the RCA program, the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline, class government, and eating club officership. The committee also included two members of the faculty and three members of the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students. The committee members were as follows:
- Arda A. Bozyigit ’12
- Dean Kathleen Deignan (chair)
- Dean Thomas Dunne
- Professor William A. Gleason
- Thomas R. Hellstern ’12
- Jamie J. Joseph ’13
- Dean Victoria Jueds
- Shreya A. Murthy ’13
- Jacob M. Nebel ’13
- Professor Deborah Prentice
- Kees D. Thompson ’13
In carrying out its responsibilities, the committee was instructed to consult widely with interested students and others. To this end, we took several steps:
We hosted several discussion groups. Keeping in mind the president’s instruction regarding the goals of the policy we were charged with implementing, we convened four sessions with groups we regarded as having an important relationship with the issue we were exploring. We met with residential college advisers, members of the Inter-Club Council, leaders of Greek organizations and residential college staff members.
We also hosted a discussion forum open to the community at large which was attended by about thirty students. In addition, the committee accepted an invitation to meet with the Undergraduate Student Government.
The express purpose of these discussion sessions was to solicit comments, observations and suggestions about the specific tasks before the committee. In other words, we attempted to focus the conversations on the task of implementation. Although some participants were inclined to revisit the merits of the Working Group’s recommendations, we endeavored to emphasize that those recommendations must be taken as a given. We explored with participants which activities they believed ought to be prohibited under the ban and which should not. We also asked what disciplinary consequences should be incurred by those who violate the policy and solicited suggestions for the most effective ways to communicate the policy to the student body.
The committee also solicited ideas, concerns and suggestions by means of a web survey, accessible to all members of the University community and to alumni/ae. The survey was posted on the Princeton website, and was the topic of news stories on the University’s home page and the home page of the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students. The survey was available between November 7th and December 2nd. It asked respondents to indicate some basic demographic data and included five free response questions. The committee received 433 responses to the survey, the overwhelming majority of which were from current undergraduates. All committee members were provided with complete survey results, including detailed breakdowns of respondents by University status, class year, residential college, etc., and all text responses.
Finally, President Tilghman accepted an invitation to meet with the committee in mid-December in order to clarify certain aspects of our charge and to further illuminate her expectations for our work.
Policy Discussions and Proposals
Having gathered considerable input from students and other community members, our committee turned to its charges. Throughout discussions and drafting sessions, committee members endeavored to synthesize the responses gathered from across the community, the clarifications provided by President Tilghman, and ideas raised during our own committee meetings.
Central among our sources of information and guidance were the University’s long-standing official policy on fraternities and sororities and the report of the Working Group. In particular, we kept in mind throughout our discussions that the University disapproves of fraternities and sororities on principle. We observed that this disapproval is frequently cited in public statements and expressly conveyed to the student body by various means, including an annual letter to members of the freshmen class and their parents from the vice president of campus life and the dean of undergraduate students and an unambiguous statement in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities:
The University does not recognize fraternities and sororities because, in general, they do not add in positive ways to the overall residential experience on the campus. These organizations can contribute to a sense of social exclusiveness and often place an excessive emphasis on alcohol. Students are discouraged from participating in these organizations. (Section 2.2.8)
As recently as last spring, the Working Group’s report reiterated this long-standing policy. The members of our committee were aware of and sensitive to the fact that some individuals within our community may disagree—some strongly—with the University’s official policy on fraternities and sororities. Nevertheless, we agreed that our work as a committee must be responsive to the particulars of our charge.
The committee first engaged in exhaustive brainstorming about what the policy should look like in practice. In particular, we considered the questions of (1) what is intended by the terms “fraternity” and “sorority,” (2) what constitutes “affiliation” and what specific activities should be prohibited/permitted under the policy, and (3) appropriate penalties for violating the policy. With these discussions to guide us, we drafted proposed language for inclusion in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities. The committee’s work is described in detail below.
Defining “fraternity” and “sorority”
Early in the process, our committee concluded that it would be helpful to come to an agreement on what is intended under the policy by the terms “fraternity” and “sorority.” We began with a discussion of the structure of Greek organizations. It was observed that any national Greek organization requires dues and formal affiliations before any student chapter may use its name. The committee concluded that:
- Most (but not all) sororities and fraternities may be identified by the use of Greek letters in their names and their ties to national organizations.
However, we also felt obliged to consider the possibility that a group without Greek letters in its name or an affiliation with a national organization might yet provide, in all essentials, the type of experience that the Working Group’s recommendation seeks to exclude from the freshman year. We agreed that it would be important to be clear that an organization cannot evade the policy simply by dropping its Greek letters and/or its national affiliation. Of the many substantive characteristics of Greek organizations, we asked ourselves which are the most relevant to our charge. We agreed that the University’s disapproval of fraternities and sororities hinges on the social exclusiveness of these groups, and concluded that:
- Organizations that have dropped their Greek names and national affiliations may yet be considered sororities or fraternities, for the purposes of the policy, if they are marked by a primarily social purpose and an exclusive membership.
On the other hand, though it was not the intention of the Working Group or the president to include legitimate student organizations, study groups, athletic teams, and eating clubs within the freshmen membership ban, we were mindful of feedback from students and alumni/ae expressing the concern that such organizations not be inadvertently included in the policy. We discussed the process whereby student organizations attain University recognition through the Undergraduate Student Government and are registered by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students. Before an organization is recognized, its sponsors must describe its intended purpose and activities. The committee concluded that:
- Recognized student organizations should be exempted from the policy.
In addition, we concluded that:
- In order to avoid any possible confusion, the policy should specifically exempt eating clubs.
Identifying prohibited/permitted activities
Our committee’s main task was to describe, with examples, the kinds of activity that should be prohibited under the policy. This task necessitated, first of all, discussions about the processes of rush and pledging among the sororities and fraternities currently active at Princeton. In this regard, the input of members of Greek organizations was invaluable, as were the reflections of committee members affiliated with Greek organizations. We discussed in detail the nature of formal rush events and the timeline of the pledge process before a student is considered a full member of a sorority or fraternity. We concluded that:
- The written policy should leave no doubt that membership, pledging, and rush are prohibited where freshmen are concerned.
On the other hand, we perceived a widespread community consensus that the policy should not impinge on students’ ability to have casual conversations about Greek organizations, the pros and cons of joining a sorority or fraternity, etc. Our committee readily agreed that such conversations should be permissible. We concluded that:
- The written policy should also be clear that casual conversations about fraternities and sororities are not prohibited.
Our committee spent the most time considering events and activities that would fall in the middle of the spectrum between casual conversations on the one end and rush and other forms of membership recruitment on the other. Examples included formal dances and charitable events sponsored by sororities or fraternities.
We carefully considered feedback, communicated by students affiliated with Greek organizations and others, that the policy should only apply to a limited set of activities involving formal recruitment. These students argued that freshmen should be permitted to participate in sorority- or fraternity-sponsored activities that are not expressly designated as “rush” or “pledging.” The central argument supporting this proposal was that freshmen ought to have the opportunity to learn about fraternities and sororities during their first year by participating in Greek-sponsored events or gatherings, so that by the time they are sophomores they can make fully-informed decisions about whether to pledge.
Committee members agreed that we needed to assess the merit of this argument in light of the University’s official stance on fraternities and sororities. We agreed that the University’s policy, which is to discourage all students from joining sororities and fraternities at any time during their college careers, undercuts the argument in favor of exposing students to sorority- or fraternity-sponsored events during the freshman year. Furthermore, when the president joined us in December, she reiterated the University’s disapproval of Greek organizations, and explained that the policy targets the freshman experience because of the unique social vulnerability of freshmen. Based on the Working Group’s report, we agreed that the intention of the policy is to allow freshmen a full year of exposure to the social and residential aspects of University life without the distraction of fraternity and sorority activity.
Various other considerations informed our deliberations about whether the policy should address only membership, pledging, and rush, or should be broad enough to cover events like formal dances and charitable events sponsored by Greek organizations. We felt obliged to contemplate the possibility that certain activities might be called (by their organizers) something other than “rush” or “pledging,” but might be marked by all the relevant characteristics of rush or pledging. Moreover, we observed that our charge was phrased in terms of “affiliation” and “solicitation.” These terms clearly suggest that the policy should not be limited to events designated as rush or pledge events, but should extend to other sponsored activities as well. Finally, we considered it to be essential that all students should have a clear understanding of the policy and felt strongly that the boundary between prohibited and permissible activity should be unambiguous. Simplifying what is and is not prohibited enables students to make immediate and appropriate decisions in social situations without hesitation or concern that they might be violating the policy. We concluded that:
- In order to meet the clear objectives of the Working Group and the President, freshmen should be prohibited from participating in any events or activities sponsored by Greek organizations.
At the same time, we were attentive to feedback that freshmen should not be penalized for attending parties, events, or other gatherings just because members of sororities or fraternities happen to be in attendance, nor should members of sororities or fraternities be penalized merely for socializing and forming friendships with freshmen. Our committee readily agreed with this feedback. We recognized that it will be important to define what it means for an event to be “sponsored by” a fraternity or sorority, so that students have adequate guidance about what events are covered by the policy. We concluded that:
- The term “sponsorship” should be clearly defined in the policy.In particular, it should be clear that the mere presence of sorority or fraternity members does not, alone, provide evidence of “sponsorship.”
We tested our conclusions about prohibited activities by considering various hypothetical situations. Among others, we discussed whether freshman males should be able to attend events sponsored by sororities and freshman women should be able to attend events sponsored by fraternities. On the one hand, we recognized that men are not able to affiliate with sororities, nor women with fraternities. On the other, our committee members all agreed that the policy must not be discriminatory on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. For example, we did not wish to allow a sorority member to bring a male freshman to her formal dance, while prohibiting another sorority member from bringing a female freshman to the same dance. We therefore agreed that:
- The policy should be applicable without regard to gender or sexual orientation.
Finally, our committee also noted that several responses to our web survey amounted to a recommendation that the policy should prohibit only the hazing of freshmen, and should allow all other activities. These recommendations echoed the Working Group’s concern that hazing and the excessive use of alcohol are the most pernicious aspects of some (although not all) Greek organizations. However, we noted that Rights, Rules, Responsibilities already prohibits hazing, and concluded that:
- While addressing the dangers of hazing remains a priority of the University, the policy we are charged with explicating is clearly broader than hazing.
Determining appropriate penalties
The committee then turned to the question of appropriate penalties. We began with the Working Group’s recommendation that “[t]he penalty for violating these prohibitions should be severe enough to encourage widespread compliance, which probably means a minimum penalty of suspension.” On the other hand, we also considered carefully the feedback of students and community members encouraging us to consider a lesser penalty, such as disciplinary probation, at least for first violations. In considering appropriate penalties, committee members reviewed the standards and procedures of the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline. In particular, we noted that students are not found responsible for violations of University rules absent “clear and persuasive evidence” (Rights, Rules, Responsibilities 2.5.2.).
In support of disciplinary probation, one of the arguments frequently cited was that students should not be excessively penalized for inadvertent violations, that is, violations that result from genuine mistakes. As an example, we discussed the possibility that a freshman might respond to an invitation to an event that made no mention of fraternity or sorority connections, and might therefore reasonably have no idea that it was an event sponsored by a Greek organization. Not only did our committee agree that reasonable mistakes should not be met with excessive sanctions, we felt strongly that reasonable mistakes should result in no sanction at all. We concluded that:
- Students should only be held responsible for actions which a reasonable person in that student’s position would know were violations.
We also heard arguments in favor of lesser sanctions based on the possibility that students—especially freshmen—will be insufficiently familiar with the new policy. We concluded that this possibility will be adequately addressed by a strong communications strategy (see below). Over the past year, there has been much discussion about the Working Group’s recommendation regarding sororities and fraternities; nevertheless, we urge the administration to continue to remind students—especially those who are new to our community—to review the policy carefully and to consider the seriousness with which the University will enforce it.
Another argument cited in support of disciplinary probation was that affiliation by a freshman with a Greek organization is an inherently less serious problem than (for example) sexual misconduct or the distribution of illegal drugs—violations that can result in suspension. Our committee considered this argument carefully. We felt that to compare the University’s response to a violation from one category of infractions (e.g., drugs) to the response to a violation from a completely different category (e.g., property damage) is not a useful exercise without considering the institutional values at stake. For example, where a student ought to have known that his or her actions were a violation, the University responds to plagiarism with suspension. By certain measures, plagiarism is inherently not as serious as (for example) physical assault, which may result in the injury of another person, or the theft of personal property, which is illegal; however, in a university community academic integrity violations have a particular significance and seriousness in the context of our shared academic life. Likewise, in considering our present charge, we found it necessary to return, once again, to the underlying premise of the Working Group’s recommendation: that the University’s official stance on fraternities and sororities is one of disapproval. We saw this as an institutional value judgment, not open to question by our committee.
Perhaps the most important consideration for our committee when it came to penalty discussions was deterrence. We were mindful of the Working Group’s goal of “widespread compliance” and President Tilghman’s charge that we aim for “full compliance.” We received feedback that some students experience the threat of disciplinary probation as an effective deterrent to misbehavior, and that many (if not most) of those who might be prepared to incur one period of disciplinary probation would not risk a second or subsequent offense. The Committee gave serious consideration to these arguments. On the other hand, we agreed that the consequences for violating the policy should be serious enough that no student will risk a violation. It is clear that all students commonly understand suspension to be a severe sanction, whereas students may vary in their reactions to disciplinary probation. We also observed that suspension is meaningful for parents as well as for students. These conclusions were bolstered by the example of the “Nude Olympics,” which was successfully curtailed a decade ago after a well-publicized policy imposing suspension for any violation.
We also discussed the possibility that a penalty of suspension might have some utility for sorority and fraternity leaders. During the Working Group’s deliberations last spring, arguments in favor of an outright ban on sororities and fraternities were discussed. When President Tilghman met with our Committee in December, she suggested that in the future, violations of the prohibition on freshman affiliation can be expected to further reduce the University’s tolerance of sophomore, junior, and senior affiliation. In other words, we recognized that sororities and fraternities will have the best chance of avoiding an outright ban by achieving full compliance with this policy. We further observed that when it comes to Greek organizations at Princeton, the only viable regulation of organizational functions and activities is self-regulation. Because sororities and fraternities are not recognized by the University nor are they dependent on University resources, there is no administrative oversight of their activities. We therefore agreed that the policy should serve to support the good-faith efforts of Greek organization leaders to shift recruitment efforts away from freshmen. We reasoned that the more serious the potential penalty, the easier it will be for leaders to resist pressure from their members to violate the policy or test its limits.
Based on all of these considerations, we concluded:
- Violating the policy by soliciting the participation of freshmen in Greek organizations should result in suspension.
We discussed the possibility that violations by freshmen should result in lesser penalties than violations by other students with respect to freshmen. We agreed that a freshman who goes so far as to join or pledge a Greek organization or to engage in formal rush has committed as egregious a violation as a student who solicits a freshman’s affiliation in a Greek organization. However, taking into consideration the fact that the policy is ultimately intended to protect freshmen, we agreed that freshmen who engage in lesser activities—such as attending a fraternity- or sorority-sponsored event—might be assigned a lesser penalty. We concluded that:
- A freshman who violates the policy by joining, pledging, or rushing should expect to be suspended, but a freshman who participates in any other Greek-sponsored activity or event may be subject to disciplinary probation.
Finally, while we aspire to full compliance with this policy in the future, we spent time envisioning how reports and inquiries about possible violations might play out. It was observed that the University expects all students to be honest and cooperative during all official processes, including disciplinary inquiries (Rights, Rules, Responsibilities 1.1.4). However, we recognized that because this particular policy addresses organizations that are social in nature and (like many, if not all, student groups) hierarchical in structure, reports and investigations may be hindered by unique social pressures among students. Our committee wanted to provide extra incentives for students to be candid and straightforward during any inquiry under this policy. We concluded that:
- Leniency may be afforded to a student who might otherwise have been implicated in a violation but who has been particularly forthcoming during an inquiry or investigation.
Suggested revisions to Rights, Rules, Responsibilities
Taking into account the above conclusions, the committee devoted several meetings to a careful drafting process. Our primary goal was to provide students with clear, unambiguous guidance about what activities are prohibited and what consequences are likely to befall a student who knowingly engages in prohibited activities. We were also mindful of the need to allow the Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline sufficient flexibility to respond to behavior that clearly violates the letter and the spirit of the policy. We propose the following addition to Rights, Rules, Responsibilities:
Freshmen may not affiliate with a fraternity or sorority. Affiliation includes but is not limited to: membership; “pledging” (i.e., participating in new member programming); participating in “rush” (i.e., formal recruitment); attending or participating in any activity sponsored by a fraternity or sorority; or contributing funds to a fraternity or sorority.
Students may not solicit the participation of any freshman in a fraternity or sorority. Solicitation includes but is not limited to: conferring membership on a freshman; inviting a freshman to pledge or participate in new member programming; including a freshman in rush or formal recruitment; inviting a freshman to attend or participate in any activity sponsored by a fraternity or sorority; organizing a sponsored event to which freshmen are invited; or soliciting or accepting funds from a freshman on behalf of a fraternity or sorority.
Indications that an activity is “sponsored” by a fraternity or sorority may include but are not limited to: an invitation to participants on behalf of a fraternity or sorority; the use of fraternity or sorority funds to support the activity; or an announcement or other explicit identification of fraternity or sorority sponsorship. The presence of individuals who are members of the fraternity or sorority is not, alone, evidence of sponsorship.
This policy applies to activities that occur both on and off campus.
Students covered by this policy
A student will only be held responsible for actions which a reasonable person in that student’s position would have known were contrary to this policy. A student who is not a member of a fraternity or sorority will not be held responsible for solicitation unless there is clear and persuasive evidence that he or she acted on behalf of or actively and intentionally enabled members of a fraternity/sorority in violating the policy. For the purposes of this policy, Bridge Year Program participants and students who have been admitted to Princeton but who have not yet matriculated are considered freshmen. Students are considered freshmen until the end of the final examination period of their second semester at Princeton.
Definition of a fraternity or sorority
For the purposes of this policy, a fraternity or sorority
- is a student organization (i.e., an entity with a leadership or financial structure that has or intends to have a persisting identity over time),
- is not recognized by the University, and
- either has Greek letters in its name and an affiliation with a national organization or has a primarily social purpose and an exclusive membership.
This policy does not apply to the eating clubs or to organizations which Princeton students cannot join.
Any violation of this policy will be regarded as a serious matter. A student who engages in solicitation, as defined above, should expect to be suspended. A freshman who joins, pledges, or rushes a fraternity or sorority should expect to be suspended. A freshman who attends or participates in any other activity or event sponsored by a fraternity or sorority may be subject to a lesser penalty (e.g., disciplinary probation). All relevant facts and circumstances will be taken into account in determining the appropriate penalty.
The University may offer leniency to a student who has been extraordinarily forthcoming during an investigation under this policy where that student might otherwise have been implicated in an infraction.
Communication and Compliance
Our committee’s final task was to discuss strategies for communication and assessment of the policy.
We interpreted the task with regard to communication as twofold. First, it will be advisable for the president and the vice president of campus life to solicit feedback about this report from the community before a final decision is made. Second, it will be necessary to communicate the particulars of the decision to the student body on an ongoing basis.
In terms of ongoing communications, it is understood that the final version of the policy will appear in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities, and that all students are obliged to be familiar with the contents of that book. We further recommend that the annual letter to incoming students from the dean of undergraduate students and vice president for campus life be modified to include an explanation of the policy. These steps should insure that all members of the campus community are fully informed about the policy. In addition, we consider it important to encourage students to reflect on the policy, its motivations, and its implications in discussions with their peers. To that end, we recommend that the final policy be the topic of an information session for Residential College Advisers during their annual training, and that the RCAs be encouraged to discuss the policy with their advisees. We believe it will also be important for members of the administration to meet with the leaders of Greek organizations to address any questions they might have about the implementation of the ban. Finally, we suggest that informational meetings with all the departments under the supervision of the vice president for campus life may also be advisable.
When it comes to assessing compliance with the policy, we recommend that the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students undertake a year-end review of any disciplinary cases and/or Public Safety reports that may involve the application of this policy. We also suggest that residential college staff, coaches and other campus life administrators solicit feedback at year’s end from student leaders about the overall effectiveness of the policy. We considered recommending the addition of questions about policy-related behaviors to the senior exit survey, but ultimately concluded that it would be difficult to assess the validity of students’ responses to such questions. Therefore, we do not recommend that students be polled directly about their compliance with the policy.
APPENDIX A: Charge letter from President Tilghman
Following consultation with the Trustees, last month I accepted the recommendation of the Working Group on Campus Social and Residential Life that the University prohibit freshmen from affiliating with a fraternity or sorority during the freshman year, and that the University also prohibit students in the other three classes from conducting or having responsibility on behalf of a Greek organization for any form of rush or solicitation in which freshmen participate or are invited to participate. I deferred the implementation of the ban for a year (until the fall of 2012) to allow a committee of students, faculty and staff to develop procedures for administering the prohibition.
I have asked Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan to chair this committee. Specifically, I am asking the committee to:
- Describe as clearly as possible the kinds of actions and interactions that it believes should be prohibited under this policy by freshmen and by other students. It may be helpful for the committee to offer examples of actions that would be prohibited and that would not be prohibited.
- Suggest penalties that would be appropriate, fair, and effective in encouraging full compliance with the policy.
- Provide suggestions on best ways to communicate and assess compliance with the policy.
In carrying out its responsibilities, I hope the committee will consult widely with interested students and others. I hope it will bring forward its recommendations by early in the spring semester so that there is ample time for campus-wide discussion before final action needs to be taken to put policies and procedures in place prior to the fall.
The goals of this policy are to reaffirm the centrality of the residential colleges and the eating clubs as the principal elements around which residential and social life at Princeton revolve; to encourage freshmen to take full advantage of the opportunities Princeton offers to explore a variety of interests and develop a diverse set of friendships; and to ensure that students who choose to participate in fraternities and sororities do so only after they have had the benefit of a full year on campus. I appreciate the importance of clearly articulating the policy and the willingness of Dean Deignan and members of her committee to advise on its implementation and enforcement, but when it is implemented I hope that all students will not only comply with the policy, but will join in helping to achieve the goals for social and residential life at Princeton that the working group articulated in its report.
Shirley M. Tilghman
APPENDIX B: Working Group Report excerpt
Fraternities & Sororities
We were asked to consider what the role of fraternities and sororities at Princeton is and should be. We brought to this question a broad range of personal experiences: Some members of the working group are or have been members of fraternities and sororities at Princeton and elsewhere (one even played a major leadership role), while others were learning about these organizations for the first time. We also brought to the question an awareness of Princeton's history, which we summarized earlier in this report. Princeton was home to some of the earliest fraternity chapters in the country in the mid-1800s, and then for almost a century fraternities were banned at Princeton and the penalty for violation of the ban was expulsion.
Because of this history, a paradigm developed at Princeton where dining and social life in the junior and senior years revolved around the eating clubs, while freshmen and sophomore dining life revolved around the shared experience of Commons. In the 1980s a residential college system was established to provide freshmen and sophomores with more attractive dining options as well as opportunities to engage in community life within their colleges. Since the colleges focused on a student's first two years and club membership did not begin until the spring semester of sophomore year, there was a natural progression from college life in the first two years to club life in the last two years. From the beginning of the residential college system there were some students who chose not to join the clubs, and the absence of enough attractive options for them led to the development of four-year colleges with spaces for juniors and seniors.
At most campuses with fully developed Greek systems, fraternities and sororities play roles that are generally comparable to Princeton's eating clubs, but typically with a residential component. These campuses usually develop elaborate systems of oversight and governance (including self governance) for the Greek organizations, frequently in partnership with national offices that establish rules and procedures for chapters on individual campuses. Princeton, by contrast, has a "faux Greek" system that began to emerge in the mid-1980s with fraternities and sororities that are not officially recognized by the University, are not permitted to convene openly in campus space, and are not residential, but which nonetheless exist and by most measures, including senior surveys, seem to enroll about 15 percent of the undergraduate student body.
As best we can determine, there are three sororities at Princeton that enroll roughly 120 to 160 women each, for a total of about 450 women, and there is a small (fewer than 10 members) historically black sorority. One point made to us when we met with the leaders of the three large sororities is that among them they admit any freshman woman who is interested in joining a sorority and meets the requirements of rush. There are just under a dozen fraternities, with memberships ranging from about 25 to 40, for a total of around 330. The fraternities vary enormously in the nature of their programming, with some making commitments to the traditional fraternity standards of leadership and service, but with others seemingly revolving largely around the use, and frequently the excessive or abusive use, of alcohol. Gatherings of the Greek organizations take place in the dormitory rooms of members; in other campus spaces under the cover of another organization's sponsorship; in some of the eating clubs; and occasionally at off-campus locations.
Demographically, as shown in Figure 8 from the USG's 2007 Committee on Background and Opportunity (COMBO) survey, white and higher income students are much more likely than other students to be in fraternities and sororities. From the senior surveys of the classes of 2009 and 2010, we know that 77 percent of sorority members and 73 percent of fraternity members were white; 30 percent of sorority members and 19 percent of fraternity members were children of alumni (legacies); and 69 percent of sorority members and 65 percent of fraternity members came from private high schools. Some 82 percent of sorority members and 68 percent of fraternity members were in the selective clubs.
- One of the lessons we have learned from polling data and comments on our website is that fraternities and sororities continue to be polarizing entities at Princeton. Some see fraternities and sororities as incongruous with Princeton's distinctive social paradigm that revolves around colleges and clubs, while others argue that Greek organizations fill gaps and meet student needs that are not otherwise being met. Some focus on what they see as the positive contributions these organizations make — or can make — to student life, while others focus on what one student described as their contributions to "social stratification, cliquishness, and high-risk drinking and hazing." Many students fall squarely in a middle ground where they either have little awareness of the fraternities and sororities on campus or express an agnostic view about whether and how they should exist at Princeton. We did an analysis of the comments submitted to our website about fraternities and sororities and of those who commented, we found that 29 percent were generally or strongly supportive; 35 percent were generally or strongly unsupportive; and 35 percent were neutral.
- Why do these organizations exist at Princeton and why do students join them? The principal reasons that are offered by students who join these organizations are the following:
- To get to know students across all four classes. In our focus group discussions and on our website students frequently cited the importance as freshmen of having access to more experienced students who can help them with course selections, choosing and gaining access to extracurricular organizations, understanding the social dynamics of Princeton, and gaining access to club parties. Students point out that while athletes have these relationships within their teams and while some freshmen join singing groups or other organizations that connect them with upperclass students, most freshmen do not readily connect with older students, especially early in freshman fall.
- To increase the likelihood that they will get into a particular selective eating club. While we acknowledge that this is not a motivating factor for all students in fraternities and sororities, there is ample statistical evidence and extensive testimony (cited in last year's report of the Eating Club Task Force) to support the fact that for significant numbers of students in fraternities and sororities, membership is a means to an end, with the end being admission to the club to which their particular Greek organization serves as a pipeline.
- To be with other students with similar interests who enjoy a similar social life, and to have access to alcohol and parties, especially in freshman and early sophomore year before becoming affiliated with an eating club.
- Particularly in the sororities, but also in some of the fraternities, to take advantage of opportunities to assume positions of leadership and engage in community service.
- For some students, and perhaps especially students whose parents or family members were in Greek organizations at other colleges or universities, there is an attraction to being affiliated with organizations that exist at other campuses and have traditions of continuing involvement following graduation. One student said: "These organizations allow students to connect to national communities, rather than relying solely on the 'orange bubble.' Connecting with other campuses is a huge benefit for Greek life." The opportunity to connect with students outside of Princeton is frequently cited as an important consideration by women who participate in historically black sororities.
- There are a relatively small number of students who join sororities and fraternities in lieu of joining an eating club, saying they prefer the colleagueship of these organizations to the milieu of the clubs.
- Many of the students and alumni who express serious concerns about these organizations cite the fact that Princeton long has defined itself as a campus that developed a distinctive social model and for most of its history did not have a Greek system. (Several students said one of the reasons they chose to attend Princeton was because it did not have such a system.) Beyond this fundamental incongruity, the major concerns expressed by students and alumni are the following:
- Affiliation with fraternities and sororities at Princeton begins very early in the freshman year, and in some cases even sooner. (Efforts to obtain commitments from admitted students begin at Princeton Preview and members are solicited through Facebook and by other means over the summer). This means that students who join fraternities and sororities narrow their social circles long before they have an opportunity to meet a wide range of students and gain full exposure to all that Princeton has to offer. It also means that students who join these organizations are forced to make choices before they have adequate opportunity to get to know these organizations and assess alternatives that might serve the same purpose.
- Members of fraternities and sororities disproportionately come from certain socio-economic demographics, which perpetuates an unhealthy divisiveness within the student body based on ethnicity and income and a perpetuation of patterns of exclusivity and privilege. Because of the pipeline relationship with some of the selective eating clubs, this in turn sustains the social and economic stratification of the clubs.
- Students point out that the cost to students to be in fraternities and sororities can amount to several hundred dollars a semester and that a substantial portion of dues are sent to national offices. This can serve as a financial deterrent for students from lower- to middle-income families, partly because of the cost itself (some students similarly feel they can't afford the eating clubs) and partly because not all of the funds they pay in dues are used to support programming that benefits them. It was also pointed out that some of the fraternities and sororities handle significant amounts of money with little oversight.
- Because of the demographic composition of the Greek organizations, students express some skepticism about the need for these students to join a fraternity or sorority to have access to upperclass students when many of them come from private schools or are children of alumni and thus arrive at Princeton already connected to upperclass students and already knowledgeable about Princeton's social structure.
- Many of those who express concerns about fraternities and sororities simultaneously express support for the eating clubs, and point to the multifaceted activities at the clubs, their coeducational membership, the deferral of admission until spring of sophomore year, the absence of a "pledging" process, the presence of professional management, and the open sign-in process of half the clubs as significant differences between the clubs and Greek organizations. They object to the role fraternities and sororities have come to play in de facto determining which students will become members of some of the clubs.
- The greatest concern about fraternities and sororities relates to the degree to which they are associated with irresponsible, excessive, dangerous, and in some cases coerced, consumption of alcohol, and, particularly for some of the fraternities, the extent to which they are associated with pledging, hazing and social activity that can be demeaning, humiliating and dangerous. On this last point, one student said: "I think the University needs to intervene in the rush process to make it somewhat more humane for the pledges and less dangerous. Some of the stories that come out of it are pretty horrific."
In focus groups and on our website, students and alumni put forward three possible answers to the question of what role fraternities and sororities should play at Princeton. Some argued forcefully that Princeton should reinstitute the ban that was in place from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century and suspend students who violate the ban. Others argued just as forcefully that the Greek organizations should be recognized and regulated by the University. Surprisingly, perhaps, the viewpoint most often presented argued — sometimes forcefully, sometimes reluctantly — for the status quo, a policy of not recognizing these organizations but also not prohibiting students from joining them. One student said: "They play a role for people who care about them, and they don't really play a role for people who don't care about them." Another said: "By not having houses and needing to keep a low profile, they do not have too strong a presence, and social pressure to join is not very large, which is good. A policy of 'we know you are here and won't bother you as long as things stay within acceptable limits' is the way to go in my eyes." An alumna said: "I think their current role, where they are unofficial and kept off campus, is the proper one. It encourages them to remain social clubs while preventing the sort of oppressive social hegemony they have achieved on other campuses."
In our deliberations we acknowledged the incompatibility of a fully developed Greek system with the social structure that has evolved at Princeton over more than 150 years and the awkwardness of the partial system that has grown up over the past 25 years. On aspects ranging from alcohol abuse and hazing to rush and community service, we acknowledged that there are significant differences between sororities and fraternities, as well as differences among fraternities, in their approaches to these issues. We appreciate the reasons students give for joining fraternities and sororities, and we share the concerns that students and alumni express. We especially share the concern that because of the nature of the selection process and the cost, fraternities and sororities exacerbate the divide on campus between students of means and students with limited resources, and the concern that behavior that occurs within at least some of the Greek organizations is demeaning, dangerous and incompatible with Princeton's values.
In the end, our deliberations focused on two major concerns — the negative impact of membership in these organizations in freshman year and the dangerous use of alcohol and hazing — which lead us to make the following recommendations:
Students should be prohibited from affiliating with a fraternity or sorority or engaging in any form of rush at any time during the freshman year, or from conducting or having responsibility for any form of rush in which freshmen participate. The penalty for violating these prohibitions should be severe enough to encourage widespread compliance, which probably means a minimum penalty of suspension.
We believe that Princeton's goals for undergraduate residential and social life are best achieved when students do not narrow their social circle before they gain a full sense of the opportunities Princeton has to offer them or experience the full diversity of backgrounds and interests among their fellow students. We understand the human desire to fit in and to surround oneself with others like oneself, but we believe that a certain amount of unsettlement and exploration in a student's first year is a good thing — it requires students to go beyond the familiar and comfortable; to challenge assumptions; to be open to new ideas and experiences; and to think hard about issues of identity and purpose. We want students in freshman year to explore a range of options and meet different people, and we believe that early engagement with fraternities and sororities makes it much less likely that this will occur.
We also believe that because of the relationships between many of the Greek organizations and some of the eating clubs, membership or affiliation with Greek organizations in freshman year tracks students too early in their Princeton careers. If fraternity and sorority membership is deferred until sophomore year, students can make a more considered and informed judgment about whether this is something they want to do. Several students wrote about how flattering it had been to have members of Greek organizations seek them out upon their admission or arrival on campus and invite them to pledge, but that in hindsight they realized they had prematurely closed other doors that they wish they had kept open. As one student said, deferring rush allows freshmen to "see what all aspects of Princeton social life are like before they get too obsessed with one group of friends."
When students in fraternities and sororities cite the positive experiences they have in those organizations, they frequently intimate that they would not have been able to have those kinds of experiences in other settings. We agree with the student who noted that "there are numerous other campus organizations where students can exercise leadership, build friendships, and organize meaningful and productive activities." We also agree with the student who described the recruiting practices of fraternities as "inappropriately aggressive and uncomfortable for freshmen."
We know that some students point to other student organizations, such as sports teams and a cappella groups, and suggest that they, too, narrow a student's range of friends and can serve as pipelines to the clubs. Why don't we have the same concerns about them that we have about fraternities and sororities? Part of the answer is that as a University we value the talents and skills that students bring to those activities and develop through them, which is why they have been an integral part of campus life for many generations of Princeton students. With respect to pipelines to the clubs, we believe that students join teams or singing groups because they want to engage in those activities, not because a particular team or group may have a relationship with a particular club. The pipeline relationship is incidental to being on the team or in the group, not the reason the student joined in the first place. With fraternities and sororities, frequently a major consideration in joining is to position oneself for eventual membership in a particular club. This observation is reinforced by the pattern at Princeton of student engagement in at least some fraternities and sororities diminishing significantly after sophomore year as student interest shifts to the clubs.
In recommending a prohibition on fraternity and sorority membership in freshman year, we also want to underscore our earlier recommendation that the University do a better job, through the residential colleges and in other ways, to make sure freshmen have meaningful opportunities to engage more with sophomores, juniors and seniors early in their Princeton careers. These connections are important as students begin to navigate their way through the University and its academic, residential, extracurricular and social choices.
We are not proposing a prohibition on membership in fraternities or sororities beyond freshman year. We recognize that to completely address concerns about pipeline relationships with the clubs we should extend the proposed prohibition until spring of sophomore year. We have chosen not to make that recommendation. Once students have a year's experience behind them, if they wish to join a Greek organization, along with or instead of joining an eating club in junior and senior years, we believe that is a judgment they should be permitted to make.
At the same time, we agree with the preponderance of visitors to our website who thought that the University should sustain its policy of not officially recognizing these organizations. If students affiliate with them, they do so as outside organizations with no formal or official connection to the University. Organizations would continue to be unable to use any University resources or facilities to engage in any type of Greek activity.
We recognize that this proposal raises challenging issues of enforcement, and that some students may wish to test whether they can affiliate in freshman year, or sponsor rush activities for students in freshman year, and escape detection. We would caution students to think long and hard about the risk they accept if evidence of their affiliation is discovered and the penalty is separation from the University.
The University should significantly increase its commitment to enforce policies that prohibit serious forms of hazing. This would affect not only students associated with fraternities and sororities, but with eating clubs, athletic teams and other student organizations.
We are very concerned about the dangerous drinking and other dangerous, demeaning and dehumanizing behaviors that can often be associated with fraternities and sororities. These can occur as part of "hazing," but also in other "requirements" that can be part of the pledge process or "bonding" activities. We heard from several students about the horrific nature of these behaviors, especially at some fraternities, and some have been discussed publicly in recent years at Princeton and on other campuses. These concerns are exacerbated if rush takes place in freshman year because newly arrived students may be more insecure and less capable of resisting peer pressure than will be the case once they gain their footing. They also are exacerbated by the pipeline connection between Greek organizations and some of the eating clubs because of the fact that students may agree to participate in certain behaviors if they believe this will get them into the club of their choice that they would not be willing to engage in if the only issue was whether they got into the fraternity or sorority. Finally, our concerns are exacerbated by the other idiosyncrasy of Greek life at Princeton: the lack of a significant junior and senior presence in fraternities and sororities, which means that most of the hazing is conducted by sophomores who have not yet gained the perspective that at other campuses is brought to the fraternal rituals by the juniors and seniors who typically occupy leadership positions on those campuses.
Hazing is illegal under New Jersey law and University policies already prescribe serious penalties for students who engage in hazing, no matter where or under whose auspices that hazing occurs. We believe the risks associated with this kind of behavior are significant, and that the University should become even more vigilant in imposing highly consequential disciplinary penalties on students found to have engaged in hazing that seriously threatened the health and well-being of any student. In making this recommendation we intend to encompass serious hazing wherever it occurs, not just in connection with fraternities and sororities, and we do not mean to suggest that the University has been inattentive to these issues. We are calling for a greater awareness among students that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated and that students who put other students at risk face serious penalties through the University's disciplinary process as well as potential criminal penalties under New Jersey law.
We want to conclude this section with one other recommendation that relates to the inappropriateness of national offices of fraternities and sororities claiming to have chapters at Princeton. There are no chartered Greek letter organizations recognized by the University, and yet a number of those organizations cite Princeton chapters on their websites. We recommend that the University be more vigilant in challenging national organizations of fraternities and sororities to remove Princeton's name from their websites and not to suggest they have recognized chapters sanctioned by the University when they do not.
In making these recommendations, we recognize that they may represent only a first step in determining how best to define the role of fraternities and sororities at Princeton. If the University accepts these recommendations, it will then need to see what impact they have, whether the behaviors of concern to us change, and whether further steps need to be taken in the future.
APPENDIX C: Related sections from the current edition of Rights, Rules, Responsibilities
2.5.2 The Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline
Deliberations and Findings
In order to determine that a student has violated a University rule, a majority of the voting committee members present must conclude that the evidence presented constitutes a clear and persuasive case in support of the charges against the student. If the student is found responsible for one or more of the violations charged, the committee will consult applicable rules and precedents to determine the proper penalty. If the student is found to have misled the committee during the hearing, the committee may take that fact into account in reaching a conclusion and assigning a penalty.
New Jersey Law
In compliance with New Jersey statute, Princeton University is required to notify all students of their rights under law.
- A person is guilty of hazing, a disorderly persons offense, if, in connection with the initiation of applicants to or members of a student or fraternal organization, he or she knowingly or recklessly organizes, promotes, facilitates or engages in any conduct, other than competitive athletic events, which places or may place another person in danger of bodily injury.
- A person is guilty of aggravated hazing, a crime of the fourth degree, if he or she commits an act which results in serious bodily injury to another person.
- Consent shall not be available as a defense to a prosecution under law.
- Conduct constituting an offense under the law may be prosecuted under any applicable provision of Title 2C:40 of the New Jersey Statutes.
Prohibition on Hazing
- Any student shall have the right to be free of all activities which might constitute hazing, while attempting to become a member of a fraternity, sorority, athletic team, student organization, eating club, or other campus organization. Organizations, their members, and their prospective members are prohibited from engaging in or encouraging others to engage in activities that are defined as hazing.
- A broad range of behaviors that may place another person in danger of bodily injury or behavior that demonstrates indifference or disregard for another person’s dignity or well-being may be classified as hazing. Examples include but are not limited to the following:
- forced or required ingestion of alcohol, food, drugs, or any undesirable substance.
- participation in sexual rituals or assaults.
- mentally abusive or demeaning behavior.
- acts that could result in physical, mental, or emotional deprivation or harm.
- physical abuse, e.g., whipping, paddling, beating, tattooing, branding, and exposure to the elements.
Any new member initiation process should be conducted in a manner that respects the dignity of new members and protects their mental and physical well-being. Examples of acceptable behavior include the promotion of scholarship or service, the development of leadership or social skills or of career goals, involvement with alumni, building an awareness of organizational history, development of a sense of solidarity with other organization members, or activities that otherwise promote the mission of the organization or of the University.
2.2.8 Sororities and Fraternities
The University does not recognize fraternities and sororities because, in general, they do not add in positive ways to the overall residential experience on the campus. These organizations can contribute to a sense of social exclusiveness and often place an excessive emphasis on alcohol. Students are discouraged from participating in these organizations.
Sororities and fraternities are not permitted to use any University resources or participate in University-sponsored events (e.g., Student Activities Fair, Princeton Preview Program, etc.).