Princeton Bans Freshmen From Fraternities, Sororities

Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman is banning freshmen from joining fraternities and sororities as of the 2012-2013 year after an internal report said the groups encourage exclusivity and alcohol abuse.

Members of sororities and fraternities will also be forbidden from any form of “rush,” or recruitment, of freshman students, the Princeton, New Jersey-based school said in a statement on its website. Upperclassmen won’t be stopped from joining the groups, said Cass Cliatt, a university spokeswoman.

While about 15 percent of Princeton undergraduates participate in sororities and fraternities, the organizations aren’t recognized by the university, don’t have residential houses and have been prohibited during much of the school’s history. The report on campus social life produced by a 13- member panel of students, faculty and staff last year, said that the groups lead students to narrow, rather than expand, their set of friendships.

“We have found that they can contribute to a sense of social exclusivity and privilege and socioeconomic stratification among students,” said Vice President for Campus Life Cynthia Cherrey and Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan, according to a letter to students cited on the website. “In some cases they place an excessive emphasis on alcohol and engage in activities that encourage excessive and high-risk drinking.”

Second Semester

Fraternities and sororities, often called “Greek” societies because they’re named for Greek letters, don’t limit students’ contact with others, and in fact help them expand their relationships, said Jake Nebel, a Princeton junior who is master of the school’s Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter.

“Developing close friendships is both difficult and important during freshman year, and Greek societies serve that purpose for the large number of students who are interested in them,” he said in an e-mail response to questions.

Supporters of the societies suggested a compromise that would allow freshmen to join the groups in their second semester of school, rather than banning participation for the whole year, Nebel said. He said he didn’t know why that compromise was rejected. He said his chapter will continue to grow because it fills an important role for students.

Eating Clubs

Social and residential life at Princeton should center on its residential colleges and eating clubs, Tilghman said in a letter to students. The eating clubs, which provide private, off-campus dining facilities for students, have also been criticized for high prices and exclusivity. Tilghman herself has said the clubs select students too “homogeneously,” and Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton before becoming U.S. President, proposed in 1907 that the clubs should be eliminated.

As an elite educational institution that admitted 8.4 percent of its applicants this year, Princeton shouldn’t criticize the student societies for their selectivity, said Brendan McCurdy, a national trustee of the Sigma Phi fraternity. Sigma Phi hasn’t had a chapter at Princeton since the societies were banned in the 1800s, said McCurdy, a loan officer at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York who graduated from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, in 1980.

Fraternities and sororities were established to build leadership skills and lifelong bonds, and colleges should work with the societies to achieve those goals, McCurdy said in a telephone interview.

‘Not Our Purpose’

“We have a good time, but that’s not our purpose,” he said. “Colleges should recognize that there’s good that can be derived from the potential development of relationships that can benefit the college, the student, and the fraternity.”

Princeton’s ban on sororities and fraternities lasted about 100 years, and lapsed unofficially during the 1940s when the college stopped enforcing it, Cliatt said in an interview. While some who contributed to the report on social life have said that prohibition should be reinstated, the university is allowing the groups to continue for students who find that they fill a role in their lives at Princeton.

“We determined that we’re not ready to dramatically change the character of social life at Princeton by attempting to integrate Greek life,” Cliatt said.

Tilghman consulted with university trustees before making her decision, Cliatt said. Implementation of the ban will be worked out during the coming school year and will include input from the committee of students, faculty and staff that recommended the move.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at jlauerman@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Kaufman at jkaufman17@bloomberg.net

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