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Campus Still Split Over Fraternity Ban

May 25, 1985 GMT

WATERVILLE, Maine (AP) _ The three-story Georgian mansion embodies some of the fondest memories of Matt Nickerson’s years at Colby College. But when the Zeta Psi house became Pierce Hall, Nickerson found it painful to return.

″I went back once. Once was enough,″ said Nickerson, a senior from Medfield, Mass. ″It was kind of sterile. It lost all its character.″

After graduation Sunday, he and other fraternity members leave Colby with a lingering resentment over a decision a year ago by college trustees to outlaw frats, which they linked to drunkenness and poor grades. Sororities were banned, too.


The fraternity houses, denounced by the trustees as ″detrimental and divisive,″ have become ivy-covered dorms. Other student groups are now setting the social agenda at the private, liberal arts college.

″There’s more creativity now,″ said Tom Claytor of Radnor, Pa., student body president. ″With the frats, it was just a keg party where you would either pass out or stumble home.″

Several fraternities are refusing to die quietly, although a lawsuit failed to block the closings. A few still hold brotherhood meetings off-campus, stage traditional theme parties and in some cases apparently continue rushing and pledging activities in defiance of the administration.

″You can’t quash a 100-year tradition in one swoop,″ said Gregory Shefrin of West Hartford, Conn., former vice president of the Interfraternity Council.

Several frats have pledged about a dozen members each, said Nickerson, who claimed ″the national fraternities are behind us all the way.″

Because fraternities no longer have houses to attract new members, Nickerson says they are emphasizing ″the brotherhood, the loyalty and the friendships.″

Colby administrators appear unconcerend about the underground activities.

″It’s fine for a while to have a secret meeting,″ says Earl Smith, dean of the college. ″But without recognition from the college and without recognition from the national fraternity, they don’t have very much to offer.″

Smith asserts that the new campus housing system - built around four self- governing residential groupings known as commons - is progressing well.

″I think we are a better college now from the point of view of student life and in terms of equality of opportunity,″ he says.


Administrators say each commons, with dorms and a dining hall for 300 to 500 students, will develop a home-like atmosphere and a unique identity that can inspire loyalty among residents.

In addition to $1.6 million in repairs and renovations to the fraternity buildings, the college is building a $3.5 million student center that should be completed this fall.

But many students, even those most sympathetic to the changes, remain skeptical.

″Don’t worry so much about commons identity. Focus on college unity,″ says Susan Perry of Chatham Township, N.J., who questions whether a college as small as Colby should adopt a system that divides the campus in four.

There have been many smaller parties, sometimes three or more a night. Students organized a ″Medieval Manor″ dinner party, a ″Dive-In Movie″ with students watching ″Jaws″ from inner tubes in the college pool, and - the biggest event of all - an outdoor dance concert featuring Otis Day and the Knights of ″Animal House″ fame.

The commons system has enhanced the college’s cultural life, according to Ms. Perry, head of the committee that brought such speakers as nuclear protester Dr. Helen Caldicott and Soviet dissident Alexander Ginzburg to the campus.

But Smith acknowledges that some fraternity men have stopped contributing to Colby in protest.

He also notes that the college’s decision came at a time when Greek-letter organizations, by most accounts, have been enjoying a resurgence in many parts of the country. However, Amherst College also abolished its fraternities.