By Erin Maxwell || Editor-in-Chief
Fraternity life at Franklin & Marshall College is a black box—not only for the non-affiliated student but for members, too. Closed hearings and PR-friendly silence from the college on the more scandalous affairs exacerbate the problem and leave much up to the rumor mill to create. Following Kappa Sigma’s suspension in Spring of 2021, three fraternities are left on the F&M campus, only one of which is recognized as a “social” fraternity. The waning presence of Greek life on campus is symptomatic of a nationwide reckoning with its racist, misogynist, and outright dangerous past and present. On F&M’s campus, Dean of Student Affairs Colette Shaw is working hard to heal the hurt these organizations have caused, and create a brighter future for Greek life on campus.
Dating back to 1854, F&M has a long legacy of fraternities, with some notable names including Phi Kappa Psi’s Roy Scheider of Jaws fame. Still, that legacy is deeply scarred by alleged activities that would be unimaginable in the present day, particularly those carried out by the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. The xenophobia and misogyny of the chapters had nearly two centuries to fester into a culture that extends to the present day. That culture continues to endanger both the members of the fraternities themselves and those who affiliate with them, and is one that many would argue is inextricably linked to the institution itself. That culture is also responsible for fueling many of the activities that land the chapters in the disciplinary sphere, including hazing, providing minors with alcohol, drugs, and other unlawful or dangerous behavior. Disciplinary suspension has been the tool F&M has used to combat this activity, but Dean Shaw knows that there is “more work to be done.” “There will never be a return to what people thought of fraternity life before,” she says. “We can’t do that. We can’t be that again.”
Phi Kappa Tau, first established in 1921, was suspended in the spring of 2020. Though many students believe that this was due to hazing allegations, Dean Shaw revealed that the final decision was actually due to their hosting of large indoor parties during the height of the pandemic, before the COVID-19 vaccine had been available. However, they had been under investigation for a multitude of offenses, including alcohol-related incidents, unsafe social events, serving minors, and drug sales. Tau also had two allegations of hazing “back to back,” with disturbing details about forced alcohol consumption and servitude putting the school on high alert.
Kappa Sigma, established in 1928, was suspended in the spring of 2021, joining Tau almost exactly a year later. Several reports of hazing came from members in 2019, including allegations of forced calisthenics, physical mistreatment, forced eating and drinking to induce vomiting, food deprivation, servitude, and racist behavior.
Kappa Sigma is not eligible to petition to return until Spring 2023. However, Tau’s failure to return, Dean Shaw says, is of their own accord- they have been eligible to petition, but have never submitted paperwork for their return. The likely issue? A prerequisite for a petition is to find a faculty or staff member to sponsor the chapter—and nobody seems interested.
Returning to campus is not an impossibility, but it will look a lot different than it did before, Dean Shaw says. Instead of fraternities drafting a plan to present to the college, administrators, alumni, and undergraduates will now work together in a restorative justice capacity to construct a holistic plan. Unlike many other schools, F&M has hired an external facilitator to bring the chapters and school together in a mediated conversation to uncover the culture that motivates the reasons for their suspension. The blame isn’t only with the current members of the chapter, Dean Shaw says, but with everyone who constructed and upheld the culture. “Chapters take on the personality of whatever the culture is,” she says, “and sometimes the students want that to change, but feel powerless to change it themselves.”
The barrier to re-entry will be more complex, and rightfully so, but Dean Shaw does worry about the lack of fraternities on campus. “I worry that we only have three active chapters, and recruitment has been extremely hard during the pandemic,” she expressed. “I hope that it’s not dead, but that this can be a rebuilding time for our Greek life.”
For now, the college has its sights set on hiring a new full-time coordinator for Fraternity and Sorority Life, which has been an empty position for this past academic year. For every chapter, this is a time for reflection, which may be difficult for many, Shaw says. “Some chapters fear going through this process because it will uncover things that they won’t be proud of. And both the suspended chapters have quite a bit of work to do in order to repair just how much they’ve broken.”
Erin Maxwell is a junior and the Editor-in-Chief for The College Reporter. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.