Amherst College Bans All Fraternities, and One Member Explains Why

Fraternities were banned from Amherst College in 1984. But for the last 30 years, they’re existed in a kind of limbo—officially unrecognized by the school, yet easily seen on party invites and DKE sweatshirts.

Yesterday, though, the college planned to end all “fraternity-like organizations;” essentially because Amherst has no control over the three off-campus fraternities for which it ultimately may be held responsible. (This would also be solved by actually recognizing the frats, but I digress.) From Inside Higher Ed:

The statement issued by trustees Tuesday stated that the college would no longer look the other way. “The condition of seeming to have some measure of responsibility without possessing any measure of authority is inherently problematic,” it read.

Coffey said the move comes as the college is expanding residential and student life opportunities, including four new dorms that will soon open up. She added that the college would not tolerate pledging, rushing or initiation-type activities when the policy goes into effect July 1.

“We’re trying to create spaces and opportunities for students to get to know each other. That is the theme,”  she said. “There’s a lot of things going on that are aimed at the entire student body and not a subset of the student body that’s underground.”

The school believes 90 students are members of the underground fraternities. This doesn’t seem like a lot. But 90 students is 10 percent of the tiny school’s male undergraduate population, and these guys could be expelled if they’re found to be a fraternity member.

According to one DKE guy, this is a frightening development, and it was done with no student input.  “Today the whole school got an email that the 1984 would be enforced with expulsion starting in June,” he wrote in. “There was no warning and no student input. Obviously we’re fighting it.”

The member also said that banning fraternities won’t fix the other, larger issues Amherst is grappling with, including being one of the 55 colleges currently under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases. “I think [this ban] deserves media attention especially regarding how this fixes none of the real endemic problems at the school (sexual assault and poor campus life),” he said.

The situation is weird, if only because the school doesn’t even know who it’s banning—it can’t even say the actual number of fraternity members. “Fraternity-like organizations” is also a poorly defined term. Does this include all-male intramural teams, which could one day take the place of the banned frats? Are you going to ban parties thrown by a large group of males? Where does it end?

Anyway, we’ll see. Odds are, this story isn’t over yet.