Web Exclusives: LetterBox

Letter from an alumnus about Sororities And Students' Rights

Date Posted:March 25, 2005

In response to the letter from Mike Parish ’65 (Jan. 26): I whole-heartedly agree that policies and opinions cannot be soundly based on a “sample of one.”  On that note, I am curious as to what other sources or first-hand experiences (in addition to reading my one letter to the editor) brought Mr. Parish to the conclusion that Greek letter organizations espouse “narrowness and lack of intellectual depth that seem to point those organizations away from the broad spectrum of positive values Princeton represents”?  In over 15 years as an involved member of Kappa Alpha Theta, I have witnessed hundreds of women and men from many different schools whose Greek membership has greatly enriched their academic, social, and charitable lives.

I would not wish for anyone to form his or her opinion on sororities solely from reading about my experiences in Theta.  However, it is my hope that reading about an extremely rewarding experience might inspire others to question their own perceptions of sororities, specifically at Princeton, and to do some research for themselves rather than accept one view (the University administration’s or mine).

The valuable potential of sorority membership is actually not the main issue here.  While I do not agree with their long-stated reasons, I do not have a problem that the University does not recognize or support in any way the Greek-letter organizations at Princeton.

I do have a serious problem that President Tilghman and Dean Deignan attempted to use their positions of authority to abrogate students’ rights to explore, research, and make their own decisions with regard to Greek-letter groups.  The arguments made in their letter to incoming freshmen and their parents – among them, that joining a fraternity or sorority “prematurely narrows” students’  “circles of acquaintances and experiences” – are unfairly prejudicial.  I am unaware of any research or data with which the administration supports these claims.  I feel very strongly that a student’s Princeton career should not begin with the university discouraging individual decision-making.

In my letter to the editor, I sought to point out (from first-hand experience) that sorority involvement was not harmful to me or to Princeton and in fact was extremely beneficial in the precise areas Tilghman and Deignan claim to suffer the most.  Does every member of every fraternity and sorority at Princeton gain from the experience?  No.  Do many of us? Absolutely.   Greek-letter membership is not critical to a successful, enjoyable, rewarding Princeton experience.  However, for many of us it has played a large part and it can for many young women and men to come, should they choose to participate.  Until the administration backs up its claims with real research and data, I see no justification for heavy-handed tactics such as the letter to incoming students and their parents.

Mr. Parish, I sense from the tone of your letter that you may not be interested in sincere dialogue on this issue.  My apologies if I am wrong.  If you are interested in the history, founding principles, missions, and operations of Greek letter organizations, I would be thrilled to point you to some wonderful sources and to share more information      with you.

Analysis and decision-making, and learning to how to deal with the consequences of your own decisions, are an enormous part of maturing and becoming a functioning, successful adult.  I do hope that Parish and our fellow alumni will consider how they feel about a University administration that not only seeks to make decisions for students (without providing any facts to back up their claims) but also actively discourages students from doing their own research and analysis.


Palo Alto, Calif.

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