Board of Trustees ignores Greek House System proposal

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After helping to knock down the co-ed mandate, the Foundation for Student Freedom of Association (FSFA) has spent this academic year lobbying the College to expand the opportunities for Greek Life on campus, especially for women.  The organization has offered to pay to construct up to nine new Greek Letter houses, possible renovate existing houses, and establish eating facilities in all of them.  But not many students even know about the proposal – or FSFA at all.

Incorporated in Delaware in 2013, the seven-member organization aims to “help ensure that students, who are the future leaders of our world, can have their voices heard, can demonstrate peacefully in support of their beliefs and can organize and associate freely among themselves without fear of discrimination and punishment.” They’ve actively protested the Trustee’s Charter Committee, called for transparency in the College administration, and criticized school’s social policies. Now they’re fighting for the Greek system.

In November of 2015, FSFA sent a letter to the Board of Trustees, lamenting that the co-ed mandate hadn’t been repealed under unanimous vote.  The letter focused, however, on Trinity’s social infrastructure.  Pointing out its inadequacy, the group proposed that the Trustees complement the College’s current social policy by expanding the Greek presence.  They believe that expanding the options for male and female students to be members of same-sex Greek Letter Organizations (GLOs) would satisfy our Title IX obligations and social needs, while remaining within the economic constraints of our limited endowment. FSFA is not just focused on gender equality, though.  Besides the new sororities, they have also considered constructing houses for a Latino fraternity and AEPi, a national Jewish GLO.

The group stakes its proposal on the fact that many students have “strongly indicated that they want same-sex Greek Letter Organizations  at Trinity,” and on the assumption that the “College exists to serve its students.” The argument unfolded, however, in economic terms.

FSFA proposed to privately fund the construction of nine new GLO houses – a nine million dollar project that would create 90-135 new beds for Greek members.  The resulting vacancies in Trinity’s housing would bring between five million and eight millions dollars of additional revenues as we expand the student body.  The group has promised to rely entirely on independent funding and to offer Trinity all the profit, only asking for permission to move forward.

On Jan. 30,  Chairwoman Cornie Thornburgh `80 responded to FSFA in an email sent on behalf of the Board of Trustees.  In it, she raised doubt that the school would be able to fill members-only residence halls because students identify by more than just their Greek letters.  Regarding FSFA’s accusation of inadequate and sexist social infrastructure, she pointed to the Bantam Network Mentoring program (the Nest System) as the solution, calling it “highly successful.”  However, Ms. Thornburgh promised to pass the proposal along to the new VP of Finance when Trinity hires one in the early summer, but also reminded FSFA that any budgetary move will have to fall in line with the College’s “strategic planning.”

Then, this February, FSFA followed up with a letter to President Berger-Sweeney outlining FSFA’s concerns.  After criticizing the decision to shrink our student body, the group suggested using their GLO-proposal as a way to instead expand our class size and generate additional revenue.  Perhaps in response to Ms. Thornburgh’s skepticism, FSFA suggested executing their proposal in stages.  First, they would put Kappa Kappa Gamma and Ivy Society into new, 10-15 member houses equipped with dining facilities.  Not only would this initial step meet some of the need for female-centered social options, but would gauge demand for expanding membership in GLOs generally.  If students demonstrated significant interest, then FSFA would construct and finance seven additional GLOs in the second stage.

Further into the letter, the group challenged Ms. Thornburgh’s response to FSFA’s proposal.  They maintained that women do not have equal social opportunity at Trinity and that the school has no clear, viable plans to improve the social infrastructure.  While admitting that FSFA and Ms. Thornburgh fundamentally disagree about what a liberal arts college’s community should look like, FSFA contended that the student support for his group’s proposal is much greater than the Trustees will acknowledge.   In fact, they expressed concern that she’d already made her mind up and would not give FSFA’s suggestions any reasonable consideration.  Accordingly, he urged President Berger-Sweeney to realize that their proposal is “the right solution at the right time” and not to wait for a new VP of Finance to act on it.

As of now, the President’s office has not responded to FSFA’s letter.

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