Editorial: Adapt and survive

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For 18-year-olds, the world of college is synonymous with freedom and independence, especially compared to life under the care of parents or guardians.

Freedom means experimentation. It means fewer rules and restrictions. It means partying.

Party and drinking culture is a heavyweight at American universities, and it is indisputable that Greek life holds an enormous stake in Lehigh’s party culture.

Approximately 40 percent of our undergraduate students are involved in Greek life. Students join Greek life for a variety of reasons, including fostering a sense of community and making new friends in their college environment, though there is definitely an emphasis on social life.

Since July 2017, four chapters have been kicked off Lehigh’s campus: Kappa Sigma, Sigma Chi, Alpha Chi Omega and Pi Kappa Alpha. These chapters have lost recognition for a multitude of issues, ranging from alcohol violations to culminating instances of university misconduct.

When a chapter loses recognition at Lehigh, its members lose their on-campus housing facility and communal kitchen.

They lose the ability to participate in organized philanthropy and intramurals. They lose the ability to attend events wearing their letters.

However, with the removal of these chapters Lehigh also loses something: control.

Because these Greek organizations are so clearly defined, it is easier to manage and attempt to hold them accountable as a whole, as opposed to non-Greek students who are still partying, but are not doing so under an organization name.

The administration can no longer mandate that members attend specific trainings or maintain certain GPAs. The members are no longer subject to the rules set by the Interfraternity or Panhellenic councils. If members of these organizations move off campus after their chapter loses recognition, the school cannot set restrictions on behavior in their residences.

Once fraternities are kicked off, they no longer have the responsibilities associated with being part of a Greek chapter. They just have their brothers, an off-campus house with a backyard and an abundance of cheap beer and vodka.

Effectively, by removing a chapter from the Hill, Lehigh is ceding power of the group. The administration may believe this decimates the group, but recent actions have proven otherwise.

In the past, if a chapter lost recognition at Lehigh, it would cease to recruit members. Sometimes the hope of recolonizing after all members at the time of dissolution have graduated would encourage the chapter to quietly dissipate.

In 2014, Lambda Chi Alpha was kicked off Lehigh’s campus. But, unlike the chapters before it, the members refused to dissolve. Instead, they continued the organization as an underground brotherhood, recruiting new members and holding off-campus parties.

They laid in wait until they saw an opportunity to return to campus by merging with a recognized chapter.

Following this model, unrecognized fraternities have begun to merge with recognized fraternities. The unrecognized chapter gets a place back on the Hill, in exchange the recognized chapter gets new members and an active social schedule.

If Lehigh’s Greek system were to disappear overnight, the systematic problems, like dangerous drinking culture, would not. Greek life is simply an easy scapegoat. By getting rid of Greek chapters, the administration is attempting to hold members accountable, but in reality is relinquishing power over the group.

It’s impossible to tell now if this new method of circumventing dissolution is sustainable, but Lehigh students will always search for ways to thwart administrative control over their social lives.

They’ll adapt and survive.

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5 Comments

  1. Barry Jenkin ‘66 on

    For once a good article. The other thing Lehigh looses is a happy and contributing group of Alumni. How many of these “brothers” will ever give back to Lehigh?

  2. Robert Davenport on

    When dissolving a fraternity or sorority the University has not lost control, it has been relieved of responsibility. Control is now in the hands of the individual and local authorities. Those caught breaking rules and laws will adapt. We hope they will survive.

  3. Bravo, this is a well reasoned and well thought out article that should make people think.

    I agree that if the admin continues its approach then parties will get smaller, move further off campus (to overnight party houses in the country) and to secret societies and I applaud the students to free associate as they chose.

    The article does make me think and ask a follow-up question.
    The one question I have is why do universities feel the need to control the social lives of students (this is not just a Greek only phenomenon)?

    What has changed over the last 30 years? The drinking age in PA has been 21 since it was passed after prohibition – so for Lehigh controlling students is not likely related to the current state drinking age.

    In my estimation, what has changed is that universities began looking at their enterprises as businesses shortly after USWR reported college rankings so that by 1990 many private universities were undertaking the same measures with “Greek Renaissance” etc. If the universities were not busy with virtue signaling then they were busy making as money as possible off of each student.

    The trend the last 10 years has been requiring students to live in student housing for more years. While the Admin and Board will give the reasons of “student safety” and “risk reduction” for their actions that is only a cover for the true reasons they pushed to take over Greek housing year ago and more recently to require a second year and soon a third year on campus. The real reasons are money and enterprise growth, and result is that all in cost to attend the university rises and universities are in control of students for a longer period.

    In the 1990s many universities saw benefit from expanding to capture rising enrollment from baby boomer kids. To ensure contiguous expansion the universities needed to control Greek houses that sat on bordering land. And as far as profit, universities make about 6K per student profit between room and board for each year on campus with a full meal plan. Ever think the primary purpose of a university was to provide quality higher education to students?

    Unfortunately students graduating from many universities suffer three ways:
    1. Higher family cost and potentially student debt for more expensive on campus room and board.
    2. Students have limited freedom of association and may not develop as fully while at the private university in social areas compared to earlier generations or peers at larger state school which do not have these requirements, and the graduating students may be resentful of an institution if overbearing resulting in a less active and contributing alumni.
    3. Most importantly in my mind is that students deprived of the opportunity to enter into a lease with a landlord, sign up for utility bills, manage food budgets and cooking, and coordination of rent and expense collection from roommates graduate from such a university immature in yet another way and much less ready for the world than they have been prepared in past generations.

    The infantilization of university students by the administration is to me the primary reason the current college age group is getting branded as “snowflakes”. Universities that contribute to developing snowflakes in a university that is achieving the opposite of what its mission should be. What direction is Lehigh heading?

    • Great points. This goes along with the Yale Halloween costume scandal a few years ago. The school administration decided to attempt to tell students directly (literally sending images and links) of what students should wear on Halloween! As if 18-22 year olds cannot reasonably agree to a standard, using basic social and communication skills to determine as a group what is acceptable and what is offensive.

      I think another big problem is the way that universities (including Lehigh) use their administrative bodies as extrajudicial channels of enforcing paternalistic policies. The judicial process of universities only requires a preponderance of evidence to convict and sentence students for infringements of the university code of conduct. The code of conduct is very broad, some policies include things like disobeying university officials, so if a university police officer tries to search a student’s car on campus and if the student exercises his constitutional right to decline then he can be charged separately by the university. The school can enforce its rules onto students thru what is essentially a kangaroo court where the student is tried and sentenced by a single dean and does not have the right to an in-person appeal. This is dangerous and increasingly scary as the consequences of the university including suspension and expulsion can have a huge detrimental effect on a student’s life. There have been many stories of students convicted of rape and sexual assault where the local law enforcement actually cleared the defendant’s name for lack of evidence, but the school went ahead, prosecuted and convicted the student in an unjust manner.

  4. Robert Davenport on

    “The one question I have is why do universities feel the need to control the social lives of students (this is not just a Greek only phenomenon)?” From Wikipedia: “The murder of Jeanne Clery occurred in 1986, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania at Lehigh University. Clery, who was a student at the time of her death, was killed in her campus dormitory. Clery’s parents, who believed the University had failed to share vital information with its students regarding campus safety, campaigned for legislative reform for several years following their daughter’s death. Their sustained efforts ultimately resulted in the passage of the Clery Act, a federal law requiring all universities and colleges receiving federal student financial aid programs to report crime statistics, alert campus of imminent dangers, and distribute an Annual Campus Security Report to current and prospective students and employees.” If students acted responsibly the university would not need to be involved. The propensity to blame others and to rationalize one’s behavior has not lessened with time. The ability for students to find and afford trouble has also not lessened.

    Lehigh students have had the privilege of using alcohol before legal age but the privilege has been abused, don’t blame the University for that.

    In the 60’s fraternities were moved onto campus, probably to help prevent unwanted contacts (noisy abusive drunks?) between students and neighbors. On campus neighbors tend to be more forgiving.

    The “infantilization of university students” has not been the result of Administration actions, it is the result of the actions of an increasing number of infantile students who refuse to accept responsibility for their actions.

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