An elite liberal arts college in Connecticut is backing off its unpopular push to force all its Greek houses to go coed.
In 2012, then-Trinity College president James F. Jones announced that by 2016 every fraternity and sorority would have to have roughly equal numbers of males and females or else face closure. The policy was intended to increase gender equality on campus and to clean up perceived problems such as alcohol abuse and sexual assault.
Rather than giving in, though, Trinity’s Greek organizations have held firm. By the fall of 2014, no females had joined an all-male frat, and no men had joined all-female sororities. Although only about 20 percent of Trinity students join Greek houses, the measure was widely disliked, with 82 percent of students voting against it in a student government-sponsored referendum.
Now, new president Joanne Berger-Sweeney has reversed course, releasing a public letter abandoning the push for coed frats and calling it misguided.
Berger-Sweeney told The Chronicle of Higher Education that she researched similar pushes at other colleges and couldn’t find a single example where forcible coeducation had worked out.
“I couldn’t even find a strong rationale for why it would work,” she said.
In her letter to the campus, Berger-Sweeney notes that forcing every group to be coed would have several destructive consequences.
“For example, after conversations with Greek-letter national organizations, it became clear that at least 50 percent of the local chapters would lose their national charters since their national organizations require that they be single sex. With only two sororities at Trinity – the largest of which is nationally affiliated – our female students would bear a disproportionately adverse impact,” she said. “Thus, instead of advancing gender parity, the outcome would have been a step backward.”
Berger-Sweeney also told the Chronicle that she had come to believe that gender equality didn’t simply mean men and women being equally represented everywhere, but rather “that individuals of both sexes feel empowered to create the kind of climate and atmosphere that they want on campus.” That could only happen if students were free to have single-sex organizations in addition to coed ones (Trinity already has three coed houses).
Trinity’s reversal goes against a broader trend of actions against Greek life taken by liberal arts colleges in recent years. Last year, Wesleyan University announced that all-male houses would be forced to admit women within three years, although that policy change has resulted in a lawsuit. Amherst College went a step further, banning students from joining fraternities entirely. (RELATED: Fraternity Fights Against Order To Admit Women)
This actually isn’t the first time Trinity has had to abort a push for coeducation. Such a requirement was approved by the school’s board of trustees in the 1980s, and there was a push to enforce that rule in the 1990s, but it has never actually come to pass.
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