Freshmen will be banned from joining fraternities and sororities at Princeton starting in the fall of 2012, and upperclassmen will be prohibited from conducting any type of rush activities for freshmen.
The University will maintain its policy against official recognition of Greek organizations, but students will be free to join them after freshman year.
In making her decision, President Tilghman accepted the recommendations of a working group that looked at fraternities and sororities as part of a larger study of campus social and residential life. She also approved a separate recommendation to reopen a campus pub. The University mailed separate letters detailing the new policy to incoming freshmen and to upperclassmen the third week of August.
Tilghman, who signed the letter to upperclassmen, said she knew the decision would disappoint supporters of the Greek system. “I respect their views,” she wrote, “and while some students have had difficult and disappointing experiences with fraternities and sororities, I know that others have valued their experiences.”
The primary factor, she said, was “a conviction that social and residential life at Princeton should continue to revolve around the residential colleges, the eating clubs, and the shared experience of essentially all undergraduates living and dining on campus.”
The Working Group on Campus Social and Residential Life expressed several concerns about the fraternities and sororities: their association with hazing and alcohol abuse, a lack of economic and racial diversity, their role as “pipelines” for particular eating clubs, and their pledging freshmen soon after their arrival at Princeton — which prematurely “narrows their social circles.”
Delaying the ban for a year, Tilghman said, will provide time for a new committee of students, faculty, and staff to make recommendations on enforcement and penalties and for discussion before they are adopted.
The working group said that penalties should “encourage widespread compliance, which probably means a minimum penalty of suspension.”
In a July interview with PAW editors, Tilghman was asked about suspension as a penalty for violating the proposed ban. “I think it’s essential,” she replied. “I think it has to be a severe penalty, or the students will be tempted to go underground and hope they don’t get caught.”
Tilghman said in her letter to upperclassmen that Princeton’s trustees “are strongly supportive of the recommendations and, if necessary, would be sympathetic to taking even stronger steps.”
While the decision was announced before most students returned to campus, one gauge of student sentiment — comments posted on the website of The Daily Princetonian — reflected a range of views. Criticism from supporters of the Greek organizations was clearly dominant in the first few days, however.
Jake Nebel ’13 — who wrote a public letter to Tilghman in the spring opposing the proposed freshman ban that received more than 700 signatures — said in an email that the Greek organizations “nurture close friendships in unique ways that are not captured (at least, not for everyone) by residential colleges and eating clubs.” Most importantly, “they unite freshmen with upperclassmen they admire, and I fear that a ban on freshman rush will deprive freshmen of this benefit in the future,” said Nebel, who heads the Pi Tau chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi.
“Greek life links first-year students with older students, providing cross-class mentoring,” said Catherine Ettman ’13, vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government. “Delaying rush to sophomore year will change this vehicle for mentorship and may further entangle rush and eating-club bicker.”
Princeton was home to some of the earliest fraternity chapters, but membership in Greek organizations was prohibited under threat of expulsion from the mid-19th century until World War II. Fraternities and sororities began to reappear on campus in the early 1980s.
William Robinson III ’51, a leader in the move to bring back the Greek organizations 30 years ago, said fraternity and sorority members and alumni should seek to reverse Tilghman’s decision. “She’s given us a year to do it,” he said.
The University said there are four sororities and about a dozen fraternities on campus and that about 15 percent of undergraduates join one.
In its May 2 report, the working group also urged the University to step up enforcement of policies that prohibit serious forms of hazing and impose “highly consequential disciplinary penalties” for actions that threaten a student’s health and well-being.
The University’s announcement did not address the hazing issue, but Vice President for Campus Life Cynthia Cherrey said in an interview that Princeton has “no tolerance at all for hazing wherever it occurs. That includes any type of student organization at the University.” Cherrey said that disciplinary actions have been taken in the past two years in hazing cases, with penalties “from probation to suspension to expulsion if need be.”