(Note: The following is an expanded version of a letter published in the Sept. 22, 2010, edition of PAW.)
Have little in common with your residential college-assigned roommates? Or do they, too, want to find a smaller community of friends with whom to feel “at home”? Would you like to follow in the footsteps of family or friends with national sorority or fraternity ties? At a minimum of time and expense, would you like to become upwardly mobile when it comes to campus organizations and off-campus eating clubs that interest you? If ’12 s and ’13’ s experience is any indicator, no less than 16 percent of the Class of 2014 will have answered “yes” to some or all of these questions and “gone Greek” by now.
But that was before the Undergraduate Student Government's survey in the spring of 2009 found that extracurricular groups like the Greeks and sport teams appear to serve as pipelines to bicker clubs (Notebook, Feb. 3). Of the students who identified themselves as members of fraternities and sororities, 89 percent entered bicker and 61 percent joined bicker clubs. This was in marked contrast to all other students, only 38 percent of whom bickered. Less than half of those, 18 percent, were successful. As members of the Class of 2014 realize the doors to Greek affiliation are open, the numbers rushing the some 10 fraternities and four sororities should jump.
If there aren’t enough chapters to meet the demand, or if your mother’s sorority or father’s fraternity is unrepresented, consult the National Panhellenic Conference or North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC). Or perhaps you’d feel more comfortable or challenged in the predominately black Divine Nine and the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPC). Other ’14s will team up with the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations or LGBT-friendly fraternities and sororities. Almost all their headquarters should welcome your efforts to become founding members because they are spared the expensive of chapter houses. Princeton’s eating clubs have already taken care of that.
Don’t delay rushing because of the August 2010 letter you and your parents received from Nassau Hall. Since becoming Princeton’s president in 2001, Shirley Tilghman has caused one to be sent every year (and I regularly thank her for making the Greek presence so widely known to entering freshmen). Just remember, her chief accomplishment to date has been to bring into being Woodrow Wilson’s Quad Plan: all four undergraduate classes assigned to what are now termed residential colleges.
When Wilson told the eating clubs that they must either become quads or close, Ivy sent a team to Oxford and Cambridge to investigate and report on the residential colleges that, had inspired his plan. Before condemning, shouldn’t President Tilghman see what Greek life has become since the College of New Jersey sought to ban it in 1855?
According to 2005-2006 NIC figures, 48 percent of all U.S. presidents and 40 percent of U.S. Supreme Court justices have had Greek affiliations, as did 42 percent of the U.S. Senate and 30 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives at the time. Its 73 member organizations have 5,500 chapters enrolling 350,000 undergraduates. The NPC’s 26 sororities have 268,998 undergraduates in 3,011 chapters. And while the several million Greek alumni/ae make up only 3 percent of the population, they comprise 10 percent of the honorees in Who’s Who. Closer at home, Woodrow Wilson 1879 himself was not only a Phi Kappa Psi, but president of his chapter at both the University of Virginia and Johns Hopkins. So three of Princeton’s six 20th-century presidents were Greeks. Three of Ivy’s 1879 founders, too, were Zeta Psis. For more on the long history of fraternalism at Princeton, see my prior PAW articles, “Bring Back the Frats” (Jan. 11, 1982) and “The Frats Are Back” (Sept. 21, 1983).
Today Professor Cornel West *80, an Alpha Phi Alpha, is a leading light in African-American studies. Countless other faculty, coaches, and staff also have Greek ties. When President Tilghman lightens up and accepts the fact that the Greeks are here to stay, many have told me they stand ready to provide the counseling that chapters elsewhere enjoy. (At first, her predecessor, the late Bob Goheen ’40 *48, opposed coeducation. In 1965 he said that he believed coeducation “would bring more new problems to Princeton than it would cure.” So I am hopeful that our current president can be persuaded to rethink her position on Greek life.)
Ivy Club, according to its historian, Frederic C. Rich ’77, was willing to discuss its perceived shortcomings with Woodrow Wilson in 1907. But the club’s “continued existence was non-negotiable.” So, too, today’s Greeks are addressing alleged hazing and drinking. At the time some infraction comes to the administration’s attention, Cynthia Cherrey, vice president for campus life (and the other signatory to the August 2010 letter), knows how to get in touch with the erring chapter’s headquarters. After all, she was in charge of Greek life at Tulane and knows it is her risk-management partner.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon, too, is zero-tolerant of hazing and was more than willing to investigate an alleged incident, even though unreported by anyone for two years.
This spring, The Daily Princetonian rightly criticized the administration for denying Sigma Chi a place to hold an alcohol-awareness workshop for all the campus. The Princeton town library, just down Witherspoon Street, obliged instead.
Completely dry as a national policy, Phi Delta Theta colonized its 27-man, New Jersey beta chapter at Princeton on May 15, 2010, followed by a celebrity dinner at Thai Village with officials and Rutgers brothers.
By the spring of 2012, the 30th anniversary of the Greeks’ return to Princeton, I’m working toward the re-establishment of all 12 19th-century fraternities. Then, joining hands with the several others that are enlisting Princetonians every day, let’s expand the number of sororities that, too, are composed of Hispanic, Afro, and Asian undergraduates from every socioeconomic walk of life.
Meanwhile, the Class of ’14 should note that the other signer of their August 2010 letter was Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan. Her office’s list of some 250 recognized student groups is devoid of the names of all 10 eating clubs. They, like Princeton’s fraternities and sororities, are proudly independent, self-governing institutions.