Wesleyan fraternities: echoing Colby’s history?

On Sept. 22, Wesleyan University President Michael Roth and Chair of the Board of Trustees Joshua Boger sent an email announcement to the University stating that Wesleyan’s remaining residential fraternities will be required to co-educate within the next three years. The term “co-educate” stipulates that women are to not only become integrated into residential fraternity houses, but also that they are to become official, equal members of the fraternal organizations.
Three residential fraternities remain at Wesleyan: Psi Upsilon, Delta Kappa Epsilon and Beta Theta Pi. However, as of Sept. 15, Beta lost its house due to a sequence of high-profile incidents including a sophomore girl falling from a third-floor window and sustaining serious injury. If Beta “reorganizes on campus, then they will be subject to this as well and the process will go forward like it will with DKE and Psi U,” a University spokesperson said. “This really depends on their reorganization, if it happens.”
The Trustees’ decision transpired from a petition signed by hundreds of students, alumni, faculty and staff insisting upon the co-education of Wesleyan fraternities. The petition was largely a response to previous sexual assaults at the fraternity houses.
“This has actually been under discussion for a long time. […] What was driving this was really the desire to get closer to Wesleyan’s tradition of progressive leadership [because] the three residential fraternities—now two, effectively—were the sole spaces used not only residentially, but also as social spaces that were not co-educational,” the University spokesperson said.
“Although this change does not affect nonresidential organizations, we are hopeful that groups across the University will continue to work together to create a more inclusive, equitable and safer campus,” Roth and Boger said in the email.
The fraternities have yet to demonstrate whether or not they will be able to survive the drastic change, a key concern being women’s interest in joining. However, a representative for Psi U told Business Insider that they would still maintain national recognition if they integrate.
“I understand President Roth’s decision to make the frats coed ever since Beta was widely recognized as a ‘rape factory.’ The introduction of a female presence will supposedly shift the tone away from being misogynistic,” Arianna Tamaddon ’18 said. “However, I would personally never join a co-ed frat, mainly because I have no desire to live in a frat house.”
Tamaddon believes that, on the whole, the idea of co-educating the frats is better than the alternative of shutting them down altogether. “Their hosted events definitely contribute a lot towards Wesleyan’s social scene,” she said.
The change at Wesleyan recalls a major milestone in Colby’s past: when the College abolished all Greek life in 1984. The College felt that the presence of fraternities and sororities was inherently creating an exclusionary atmosphere. According to a New York Times article on May 22, 1984, a few of the fraternities sought judicial action to forbid the College from expelling their organizations. “Justice Robert L. Browne of Superior Court denied a request for an order that would have stopped the expulsion. The order was sought by Zeta Psi, one of the eight fraternities whose status was revoked after they were criticized as discriminatory and harmful to campus social life,” the [Times] reported.
Heide Schmaltz Dolan ‘87 was on the Hill during the monumental decision to rid the campus of Greek life. “It was a very polarizing issue,” she said. “The campus was split between people in support of the decision and those against it. There’s a lot of truth to the idea that the fraternities were making social life hostile and were promoting bad drinking habits, and I think in the long run, it was a good decision for the College.”
Wesleyan’s decision also forces the University’s student body to bridge some of the gender gaps often seen in collegiate social life. The idea that fraternities create unsuitable spaces for women was found to be true on the Hill previous to the 1984 decision. The campus used to be split between fraternity housing and co-ed housing, meaning that women were unable to live in certain areas on campus.
As Wesleyan found, fraternity houses were often used as recreational places, and the College found it to be unjust that women were prohibited from inhabiting certain social areas. “The fraternities occupied the best housing that was most central at the time,” Dolan said. “Because the student center hadn’t been built, life revolved around Roberts and Miller Library, and it was a big deal that women couldn’t live in those central houses.”
Though the general opinion was varied, 30 years later it is clearer that the Hill reaps many benefits from its all-inclusive ideology. The NESCAC community can look forward to seeing these changes in Wesleyan.