Dartmouth College, which helped inspire the drunken and debauched antics in the movie "Animal House," says its storied fraternities will begin admitting women next fall, the first step toward what is likely to be the complete transformation of the Greek system on campus.
The trustees and college President James Wright said in a letter announcing the decision Tuesday that it was aimed at encouraging "respectful relations between women and men" and ensuring "opportunities to meet and learn from, as well as develop enduring friendships with, others who have different backgrounds, experiences, and expectations."
"The fraternities and sororities as we have known them will be ended," said Wright, who became president last fall after 30 years as a professor and provost.
"There has been a sense that we needed to take significant steps, and this is a piece of that."
Heightened concerns about fraternities came out of problems with drinking and hazing -- hardly limited to Dartmouth. Trying to cut down on binge drinking and abusive behavior, many formerly all-male colleges have eliminated fraternities altogether.
But rarely had fraternity traditions been so closely guarded by alumni and students, so widely known and associated with campus life, as at Dartmouth. One of the co-writers of the 1978 movie "Animal House," Chris Miller, was a member of Alpha Delta there.
Fraternities have been a flash point in a heated gender war at Dartmouth. Challenging them as emblems of a male-dominated campus, female students in the 1980s tried in vain to rush the fraternities. And as the second-last of the Ivy League to admit women, Dartmouth suffered a reputation as a school for conservative white males even after coeducation arrived in 1972.
Even after the introduction of women and sororities on campus, the fraternities have held on to the best houses on campus and occupied the center of its social universe.
Integrating fraternities and sororities, to take effect in the fall, was aimed at opening up that social life. But Wright, like many students, agreed that it would not happen without complaint.
"The Greek system is strong here. There are many people, both at the college and alumni, who loved it and who are going to object to any change," said Jacob Elberg, the editor of the Dartmouth, the nation's oldest student newspaper.
At the same time, Elberg said, "There are also those, both inside and especially outside the Greek system, that believe there needs to be significant change to the way things are at Dartmouth."
Pub Date: 2/11/99