Lehigh's chapter of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity had its charter suspended a few days ago by its national chapter for "violations of their risk management policies".
According to this article in the student newspaper, the chapter faced charges of "hazing, furnishing false information to university officials and illegal or unauthorized consumption of alcohol"; the article also states that "Delta Tau Delta's poor conduct... was ongoing over the past few years", "they were poor in accreditation" and "[t]he decision to suspend the chapter was made by Delta Tau Delta headquarters [not by Lehigh]."
The article also states that DTD could return possibly on campus after all current brothers have graduated, i.e., after the Class of 2014 graduates. Lehigh's chapter (called Beta Lambda) of DTD dates back to 1874, making it one of DTD's olders chapters, and "is one of six fraternities in the past six years to have its chapter closed at Lehigh."
Yesterday's student newspaper published a letter of the New Member Educator of DTD, who is also President of the Class of 2011, and who I will mercifully keep anonymous on this blog, although you can learn more about him here. You really have to read the letter to understand the rest of my post, and I urge you to do so.
The letter shocked me many times (for instance when its author blames Lehigh as early as the first paragraph, although the investigation was conducted by the national chapter), but mostly by its author's unflinching defense of underage drinking, which appears to be what the author views as "strengthening those brotherly bonds" and "having fun", in the sentence: "[the charge of] "lying to the university" [on university property] in this instance is nothing more than an unavoidable and bureaucratic loophole meant to further indict any chapter unlucky enough to get caught having fun."
Another excerpt: "So, while the generous offer of "registered events" may seem like an adequate compromise, there is just something about paying $250 for event staff to be present at an exhausting and sweaty dance party twice a month that doesn't suffice for my entire social life in college. And it shouldn't. I don't feel guilty that I've hosted and enjoyed parties in college, and that I didn't pay for event staff to be present, as if I were being babysat by my parents in middle school."
Oh, and the author calls the administration "oppressive" and its policy "so tyrannical that fraternities no longer host parties on the hill", finds Safety Bulletins to be spam, and deplores the hypocrisy of alcohol policies because university officials, he says, did the same exact thing when they were in college.
In other words, he's really upset that DTD lost its charter after 137 years at Lehigh, and as the New Member Educator he might feel a tiny bit responsible for that, and his DTD brothers really, really should've stopped him from sending his letter to the Brown and White. It's hard to believe this is going to do any good to DTD's case were it to want to return to campus in 2014, or ever, after such an unabashed defense by the brother in charge of new member education of the culture he was promoting - with an emphasis on underage drinking - as well as a vague attack of the administration.
This makes me think of a teenager who is rebelling against the rules his parents have set for him, and does not inspire confidence in his ability to promote a culture that would prevent catastrophic events such as alcohol-related coma or death from happening in his fraternity, events that must be on the administration's mind.
I honestly don't know what the administration is thinking, about the Greek system in general or DTD in particular. I do know that Alice Gast spent a few years at MIT before coming here, and I was a grad student at MIT from 1999 to 2004. (I only met Alice Gast after she joined Lehigh.) When I arrived in Cambridge it had been 2 years since a freshman died of alcohol poisoning at a fraternity initiation event, and people still felt like they'd been hit by a freight train. Losing someone young is always a tragedy, but losing someone because of something so preventable should never happen. Until you've been through the aftermath (and I wasn't even there immediately after the teenager's death, but I was enrolled at MIT during the negotiations between the university and the family of the dead fraternity pledge), you can't begin to understand how badly people who've been through this never want to see it happen again.
I happen to like the Greek system (I think it is important to build a network during college, and the Greek system is a great way to develop strong connections with other people, especially in other majors). I also happen to be French, which means the issue of underage drinking was moot when I was in college, since I lived in France, where drinking before age 21 is perfectly legal. I also always drank responsibly; I've got to say I'm far from convinced that most US students in the 18-21 age group are able to do the same, and I would never tolerate underage drinking anywhere near me. You just never know what can happen.
The thing is, if DTD couldn't see the writing on the wall after five other fraternities lost their charter, then it was probably only a matter of time until it happened to them too. Comparing what's happening now to whatever Lehigh was like in the 1980s - before it became a research institution, before its identity changed substantially - is as unproductive as trying to convince a police officer not to give you a ticket for driving without your seatbelt, just because decades ago people did not wear seatbelts in their car.
And in case my readers are wondering, the writing on the wall says something like: times have changed, change too or face trouble. It does not say: the Greek system at Lehigh is doomed. Part of what makes Lehigh so special is the strong relationships alumni have with former classmates and their willingness to help current students; since at least one third of the undergraduate population is Greek, it seems obvious the Greek system has had an important role to play in that.
Hopefully it can still continue to do that while convincing the administration it can operate responsibly. (And yes, the letter writer will say that non-Greek students may drink too, and maybe they'll be the ones with alcohol poisoning one day. But that is out of your control. What you have control over is how your own organization is being perceived, and right now, it seems that you have some mending to do.)
The author, in his letter blaming Lehigh, does not talk a single time about any accountability procedure ("risk management procedure", in the words of the national office) that might indeed have been in place at DTD, or any good thing DTD was particularly proud of accomplishing, or anything positive that would allow people like me to feel positive toward the fraternity in its current struggle. If anything, the writer has only succeeded in convincing me it is a good thing that DTD lost its charter because the image of the fraternity that comes across through this letter is of a disaster waiting to happen.
So what should people do now?
If you're DTD, I would suggest you get all the officers together and write a collective letter to the student newspaper that attempts to mitigate some of the damage done by the letter above (although I understand he's upset) and describes what you as a fraternity were about, even if it wasn't about the official values of DTD, in a positive light. It doesn't look like the underage-drinking type of culture is going to be tolerated at Lehigh any more (euphemism), and making it harder for your own fraternity to come back to campus in a few years doesn't serve any purpose. I can't write the letter for you, but I know what I would've wanted to read in the letter that appeared in the B&W, so email me if you want to know more.
If you're not DTD, it's time (in my own opinion) to admit Lehigh will go to great lengths to prevent the "party school" label from sticking (it has invested great amounts of money in becoming a research institution), and it will tolerate neither hazing nor underage drinking; whether you're happy about it or not does not matter. So you've got to think of ways where you can create a shared identity within your sorority/fraternity using ways that are neither illegal nor traumatizing. This is usually achieved through some defining experience, which used to be hazing; however, hazing nowadays is a big no. "Providing an identity-defining experience" doesn't have quite the same ring to it, but until marketing majors come to the rescue, that's what we're going to call it.
(Oh, and not only am I French and alcohol is legal in France before age 21, but I went through the "engineering school" route in the French higher education system and there was hazing there too. And I'm perfectly fine. Frankly I thought there had to be a better way to create an esprit de corps than to make us walk barefoot throughout Paris with trash bags over our clothes and asking random strangers for money, but this had happened every year in the Quartier Latin until then; people were very nice when they saw us come and gave us money. Other schools had more questionable hazing practices. The following year, the school put an end on hazing - I wouldn't have gotten involved anyway, I had better things to do, such as reading Russian novels on my couch while eating Nutella, which is my idea of an afternoon well spent. But I digress. - People I knew then got involved into hazing anyway and almost got kicked out.)
So anyway, I get the point of creating an esprit de corps, and there might not be real differences between the different fraternities, in the same way that there were not any differences between the engineering schools, except that you had been admitted to one and that was your school now. But hazing is not the way of creating a shared bond that will make people go out of their way to lend you a hand if you need them ten or fifteen years from now.
I remember going to the DTD fraternity for a faculty-student cocktail one year; the brothers were all very nice and proud members of the Lehigh community. I'm sure DTD can recover from this setback and hopefully it will return to the Hill at some point. In the meantime, other fraternities and sororities should work to make sure they won't meet the same fate.