Princeton to ban freshman affiliation with fraternities, sororities as of fall 2012

Beginning in the fall of 2012, Princeton University will prohibit freshmen from affiliating with a fraternity or sorority or engaging in any form of "rush" at any time during the freshman year.

The decision to institute the ban is being communicated this week to all returning Princeton undergraduates by President Shirley M. Tilghman, who made the decision based on recommendations from a student-faculty-staff working group on campus social and residential life that submitted its report last spring. The decision is being communicated to all entering freshmen and their families by Vice President for Campus Life Cynthia Cherrey and Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan.

In addition to prohibiting freshmen from affiliating with fraternities or sororities or engaging in the recruitment/membership process known as rush, the ban will prohibit students in the other three classes from conducting or having responsibility for any form of rush in which freshmen participate. As recommended by the working group, there will be no prohibition on membership in fraternities and sororities after freshman year, although the University will continue its longstanding policy of withholding official recognition for such organizations.

In her letter to returning students, Tilghman said that "the decision to prohibit freshman year affiliation and recruitment is driven primarily by a conviction that social and residential life at Princeton should continue to revolve around the residential colleges, the eating clubs, and the shared experience of essentially all undergraduates living and dining on campus."

She said she decided to defer implementation of the ban for a year to allow a committee of students, faculty and staff to develop procedures for administering the prohibition. This committee will be appointed early this fall and will be asked to "consult widely with interested students; think carefully about precisely how the prohibition should be described and enforced, and about the penalties that would be imposed for infractions; and to bring forward its recommendations by early in the spring semester."

Tilghman also said that deferring implementation for a year will provide time for the University to make progress on other ideas that the working group proposed for creating connections between freshmen and students in the other three classes, and for improving social life on campus and in the residential colleges. She announced specifically that she had accepted the working group's recommendation that the University select a location and begin the process of seeking approvals to reinstitute a campus pub. The most recent on-campus pub closed in 1983.

The recommendations of the working group were discussed last spring at several campus forums and in comments submitted to the group's website. Tilghman discussed the proposed ban on freshman year engagement with the trustees in May and again in July, and noted in her letter to students that the trustees are strongly supportive of the recommendation "and, if necessary, would be sympathetic to taking even stronger steps."

In their letter to entering freshmen, Cherrey and Deignan pointed out that for most of Princeton’s history, membership in fraternities and sororities was prohibited. These organizations began to reemerge at Princeton in the 1980s, although unlike at many other campuses, none of the fraternities or sororities at Princeton has houses. All Princeton freshmen and sophomores live on campus in residential colleges, as do some juniors and seniors, while most juniors and seniors take their meals at off-campus independent eating clubs while continuing to live in University housing.

"Because Princeton social life revolves around the residential colleges and the clubs and because of concerns that we have had about aspects of fraternities and sororities, the University does not recognize fraternity and sorority chapters," they wrote. "We have found that they can contribute to a sense of social exclusivity and privilege and socioeconomic stratification among students. In some cases they place an excessive emphasis on alcohol and engage in activities that encourage excessive and high-risk drinking. A major concern is that they select their members early in freshman year, when students are most vulnerable to pressures from peers to drink, and before they have had a full opportunity to explore a variety of interests and develop a diverse set of friendships. We hope students coming to Princeton will want to expand their circle of acquaintances and experiences, not prematurely narrow them."

In her letter to returning students, Tilghman acknowledged that "this decision will be disappointing to some who have advocated an expanded role for Greek life at Princeton. I respect their views, and while some students have had difficult and disappointing experiences with fraternities and sororities, I know that others have valued their experiences."

Approximately 15 percent of Princeton undergraduates participate in four sororities and about a dozen fraternities.