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ND policy upheld by hall tradition

Katie Perry | Thursday, March 23, 2006

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three-part series examining the absence of fraternities and sororities at Notre Dame.

Greekpages.com – “the original, the definitive fraternity and sorority Web site” – boasts listings of 1,680 distinct social organizations at 1,291 campuses nationwide. Not surprisingly, Notre Dame is not included in this database. But why?

The immediate reason is clear. Fraternities and sororities are explicitly prohibited in the University’s rule book, duLac, under its “Student Activities Policies.”

“The establishment of, or membership in, social fraternities or sororities is considered contrary to the educational and residential mission of the University and is consequently prohibited.”

Though surface rationale behind the University’s lack of a Greek system – it’s against the rules – is widely understood by students, the deeper reasoning behind the policy is less clear. Is the principle solely grounded in tradition, or are there additional factors at work?

Secrets, secrets are no fun

The Catholic Church has denounced secret societies, or exclusive social groups with rituals involving an oath of allegiance and private ceremonies or events, for more than 260 years. Pope Clement XII first condemned freemasonry in 1738 – a sentiment that was later echoed and applied to colleges and other scholastic academies by Pius VIII in 1829.

The Church has no official doctrine outlawing the presence of fraternities and sororities at Catholic universities. And by virtue of the 1967 “Land O’ Lakes” statement – created at a conference held between top leaders from Catholic colleges and universities -individual institutions enjoy sovereignty in shaping Catholic character.

Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Bill Kirk said while the Church’s stance on secret societies “may have been a part of the motivation” for the policy in the past, today’s statute is in place for a different reason.

“It’s the nature of our residence hall system that makes [fraternities and sororities] unnecessary,” Kirk said. “You are a member of the community simply by virtue of being placed there.”

Welsh Family rector Candace Carson said Notre Dame’s housing system “is a blend of both Catholicism and tradition.” Residence halls are communities and not solely social establishments like fraternities and sororities, she said.

“We’re not exclusive – we’re inclusive,” Carson said. “At Notre Dame you’re part of a community when you walk in the door. You don’t have to pass any ‘test’ besides getting into [the University], and there’s no hazing. You’re accepted and that’s part of our Catholic nature.”

Greek societies are often accompanied with such “negatives” as initiations and hazings, Kirk said.

Junior Nate Munson said while he believes the thinking behind Notre Dame’s residence hall system is to designed to “encourage a typically Catholic-minded community,” the policy has a limited effect.

“I have personally found that measures such as parietals, single-sex dorms, and friendly, helpful rectors can only go so far to recreate that family environment which this establishment endorses,” he said.

Junior Ann Flies said the University’s housing structure reflects a distinct appreciation for tradition and not necessarily the Catholic nature of the campus.

“I think you could have a Catholic community on campus without having the dorms set-up that we do, but it is conducive to a sense of tradition,” she said.

Tradition and omission

The Notre Dame admissions Web site attributes the absence of Greek organizations to “the residential nature of the campus and its unique stay-hall system, in which students typically remain in the same dormitory for their entire time on campus.” Such an arrangement “fosters a strong sense of community,” the Web site says.

“I’ve heard our residential life [described] as the advantages of the Greek system without any of the disadvantages – rush, the cliques, deciding on whether you’re good enough to join them, monthly ‘dues’ [and a] much lower diversity of people living together,” Director of Admissions Dan Saracino said.

Keough rector Father Peter Jarret said some parallels exist between the Greek system and Notre Dame’s residence hall system, but comparing the two is a case of “apples and oranges.”

“There are some similarities, [for instance] the closeness of those who live in dorm and the sense of brotherhood or sisterhood,” he said. “It’s more than just a place to put your head down at night – it’s a community.”

Carson said the University fosters a sense of dorm pride without excluding students who are “too fat” or “not pretty enough,” as sororities stereotypically do.

“I don’t think there is any hall on campus that would not tell you they’re the best dorm on campus – from the little, like Badin and Howard, to the huge, like Lewis and Dillon,” she said. “That’s what fraternities and sororities give people who don’t have the same residential system as we do here.”

Carson, who is a ’77 Notre Dame graduate, said hall spirit at the University is “natural” because it is “rounded out by other aspects” aside from social facets.

“People will tell you, ‘Nowhere else but Notre Dame.’ It’s a corny phrase, but it’s really true,” she said. “I can’t tell you the number of football weekends I let women in [the hall] because they want to show their families and friends where they lived. You might not get that with a fraternity or sorority … That’s unique to us.”

Jarret also called the University’s system “unique” and said the lack of fraternities and sororities “doesn’t hurt [Notre Dame] at all” because undergraduates have the option to remain in the same hall for all four years.

“There are some negative aspects that are beyond alcohol or hazing issues that I think we are well-served by not having the Greek system,” he said.

Munson said dorm life at Notre Dame is different from other schools in that it fosters “generally more closely-knit groups of students of varying ages and interests.”

“The assertion that the dorms are ‘just like frats and sororities’ is a bit of an equivocation, considering the connotations regarding alcohol that terms like fraternity and sorority involve, coupled with our current alcohol policy,” he said. “The absence of frats and sororities has not led to a corresponding absence of abusive drinking or other partying at this campus.”

Flies said part of the logic behind the policy might be to cut down on excessive partying, but does not believe that is “the main reason [the] dorm system is in place the way it is.”

“Everyone realizes that there is plenty of partying in the way things are, so I would say dorm unity and community is the major goal of the current dorm system,” she said.

National statistics that link Greek affiliation with habits of “excessive partying” are difficult to consider within the context of Notre Dame since membership or non-membership in fraternities and sororities is not an option at the University. But they do indicate the negative influences such societies seem to have on college campuses in general.

A 2001 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol study – a national examination of college drinking habits – found fraternity members were far more likely to engage in “heavy” drinking than their non-fraternity peers (75.1 percent versus 48.6 percent). More than 60 percent of sorority members engaged in “heavy” drinking, as compared to roughly 40 percent of non-sorority members.

The Harvard study also said living in fraternity and sorority houses was associated with even higher rates of binge drinking – a statistic that falls in line with a 1999 Core Institute study which found the “largest on-campus venues for drinking” to be Greek houses.