Committee recommends freshman fraternity, sorority policies

The University's Committee on Freshmen Rush Policy has issued recommendations for administering and enforcing the prohibition on Princeton freshmen from affiliating with a fraternity or sorority during their freshman year, and on students from soliciting the participation of freshmen in a fraternity or sorority. The recommendations have been presented to President Shirley M. Tilghman, who will make a final decision on the recommended policies and practices later this spring.

The committee of students, faculty and staff was appointed in October by Tilghman to help implement the new University policy that will ban freshman affiliation with Greek organizations starting in fall 2012. The group also was asked to suggest penalties to ensure compliance with the policy, and to provide ideas for how to best communicate with students and parents to ensure understanding of the new rules. The committee was asked to complete its report early enough to allow for a period of comment by students and others before the end of the spring semester.

In a report issued March 25, the committee said its primary goal was to provide clear guidance about what activities should be prohibited and what the consequences may be for a student who knowingly engages in such activities. They added that violations of the new policy should be considered as a serious matter.

"The committee consulted with students and other campus community members through discussion groups, stakeholder meetings and an online survey to develop recommendations that address a number of issues associated with the new policy," said committee chair and Dean of Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan.

The report includes the following recommendations:

--Freshmen would be prohibited from affiliating with a fraternity or sorority, with affiliation including, but not limited to, such activities as: membership; pledging; participating in formal recruitment known as rush; participating in any activity sponsored by a fraternity or sorority; or contributing funds to a fraternity or sorority. This prohibition would extend from the time of admission through the end of the spring semester of freshman year.

--Students could not solicit the participation of any freshman in a fraternity or sorority, with solicitation including, but not limited to, such activities as: conferring membership on a freshman; inviting a freshman to participate in new member programming; including a freshman in rush; inviting a freshman to attend or participate in any activity sponsored by a fraternity or sorority; and organizing a sponsored event to which freshmen are invited.

--Students who solicit the participation of freshmen in Greek organizations or affiliated activities should expect to be suspended.

--Freshmen who join, pledge or rush a fraternity or sorority should expect to be suspended.

--Freshmen who attend or participate in other Greek-sponsored events or activities may be subject to a lesser penalty (e.g., disciplinary probation).

The committee proposed that indications of "sponsorship" by a fraternity or sorority could include: an invitation on behalf of a fraternity or sorority; the use of fraternity or sorority funds to support an activity; or an announcement or other explicit identification of fraternity or sorority sponsorship of an activity. Activities that occur both on and off campus would be covered by the policy.

The report added that an activity where members of a fraternity or sorority may be present should not, alone, be considered an indication of sponsorship. Similarly, the committee recommended the rules be clear that casual conversations about Greek organizations would be permitted.

Members of the campus community can provide feedback through an online survey available on the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life website through April 6. In addition, an open student forum will be held at 4:30 p.m. April 2 in Frist Campus Center, Room 302, to receive comment on the report and meetings will be scheduled to discuss the report's recommendations with leaders of Greek organizations and several other groups.

The procedures and penalties that are ultimately adopted will be outlined in the University's policy guide, Rights, Rules, Responsibilities.

History of fraternity, sorority committee

The 11-member committee included six undergraduates, half of whom are affiliated with a fraternity or sorority. The undergraduate members were: seniors Adra Bozyigit and Thomas Hellstern, and juniors Jamie Joseph, Shreya Murthy, Jacob Nebel and Kees Thompson. In addition to Deignan, the other committee members were: William Gleason, professor of English; Deborah Prentice, the Alexander Stewart 1886 Professor of Psychology and chair of the Department of Psychology; and Thomas Dunne and Victoria Jueds, associate deans of undergraduate students.

The committee was one of six groups established last fall to help implement the recommendations of two recent student, faculty and staff initiatives: the Working Group on Campus Social and Residential Life and the Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women's Leadership. Tilghman announced in August 2011 the acceptance of the Working Group's recommendation to prohibit freshman affiliation with fraternities or sororities and participation in rush activities.

In her charge to the committee, Tilghman said the goals of the policy regarding fraternities and sororities are to "reaffirm the centrality of the residential colleges and the eating clubs as the principal elements around which residential and social life at Princeton revolve; to encourage freshmen to take full advantage of the opportunities Princeton offers to explore a variety of interests and develop a diverse set of friendships; and to ensure that students who choose to participate in fraternities and sororities do so only after they have had the benefit of a full year on campus."

The University already has a long-standing policy of not recognizing fraternities and sororities, and discouraging students from participating in such organizations. The current policy explains that Greek organizations are not recognized because "in general they do not add in positive ways to the overall residential experience on campus" and because "they can contribute to a sense of social exclusiveness and often place an excessive emphasis on alcohol."

For most of Princeton's history, membership in fraternities and sororities was prohibited, though the organizations began to re-emerge in the 1980s. 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.

Other report recommendations

Recognizing these aspects of social and residential life at Princeton, the committee's report further outlined how to define a fraternity and sorority and how the new rules could be applied. The University's Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline would review alleged violations of the policy, as they do with similar student conduct regulations.

In the event that a fraternity or sorority may attempt to avoid the rules by dropping its Greek letters and/or affiliation with a national Greek organization, the committee recommended defining a fraternity or sorority as a student organization that is not recognized by the University and that either has Greek letters in its name and an affiliation with a national organization and/or has a primarily social purpose and an exclusive membership. To avoid possible confusion, the report added that student eating clubs — which have a long historical association with the University — would not be included in the new policies.

In order to ensure that penalties will be applied to behavior that "clearly violates the letter and the spirit of the policy," the committee said students should only be held responsible "for actions which a reasonable person in that student's position would have known were contrary to the policy." The committee also suggested providing extra incentives for students to be candid and straightforward during an inquiry into possible violations, recommending an option of possible leniency for a student who is "extraordinarily forthcoming during an investigation."

On the topic of hazing, the committee noted that existing policies already prohibit hazing across the University and the University would continue to take seriously the dangers of hazing in any form.

Finally, the report recommended strategies for communicating new procedures to the University community. In addition to including policies in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities, the committee recommended detailing new procedures in the annual letter sent to incoming students and their families by the vice president for campus life and dean of undergraduate students, providing additional training about new rules to residential college advisers (RCAs) so they can discuss the policy with freshmen, and inviting student leaders of unrecognized Greek organizations to meet with administrators to address any questions they may have about how the policy will be implemented.