The administration may leave the house door open “down the road,” but in reality, the announcement sticks the proverbial fork into the Mu Epsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi as a residential fraternity experience.
Since I completed my undergraduate term and my active service to the Wesleyan Student Assembly, I have regretted that the clock pushed my class off of campus during a time of such cultural discord. The zeitgeist of Reunion and Commencement provided a welcome façade to cover the many divisions that arose over our undergraduate years. Ad hominem attacks volleyed from all sides of debates over residential fraternities, policing, racial divisions… the list goes on and on. Clearly, our class has not yet fulfilled the charge of the alma mater – “The altar fires our fathers lit shall still more brightly glow.” I call on my class to continue the work that needs to be done, even as we have passed the torch.
In the meantime, I applaud President Roth and the administration for making a thorough, concrete decision. The move may not satisfy all critics of Greek life at Wesleyan, and it remains to be seen whether Beta Theta Pi will not be the only Greek-lettered domino to fall. But reminding the community of the Chi Psi precedent, the administration has affirmed a strong stance regarding the safety of students on College Row and elsewhere.
I knew that the administration would act within the year, especially as the Board of Trustees prepares to discuss the future of the University’s residential Greek life at their next meeting. But I am pleasantly surprised that the administration so swiftly made an appropriate decision. The administration clearly learned from their mistakes from 2011, when they hastily wrote a vague regulation banning students from all private societies outside Wesleyan’s recognition. If they wanted to single out Beta Theta Pi, this is what they should have done in the first place.
I argue the above with a very heavy heart, one that has grown fond of the power of tradition in a community such as Wesleyan. The past decade has witnessed the degradation or loss of many powerful traditions, from the need-blind financial aid model to the Olla Podrida. And I would hate to see a rare link to Wesleyan’s first century die. But the chapter has failed in its many chances to make its gatherings less dangerous and its home less hazardous.
Sadly, the Mu Epsilon chapter’s image does not honor the fraternity’s mission. The chapter’s website details five core values that create “men of principle”. The values are mutual assistance, intellectual growth, trust, responsible conduct, and integrity. That these values are echoed in our dormant Honor Code and our ever-enforced CNAC would suggest that the fraternity and Wesleyan can mutually benefit from each other.
Indeed, the chapter has enjoyed a 125-year run at Wesleyan and wields a long legacy. According to the website, the 1913 Tudor-revival home may be the longest continually occupied chapter house in the fraternity. That house has been home to many professors, businessmen, attorneys, and two United States Senators – one of whom is current Sen. Michael Bennet ’87 (D-CO). His father, Douglas Bennet ’59 (yes, freshmen, that Bennet), was also a Beta and later Wesleyan University’s president. Ironically, he ordered in 2005 that all residential Greek groups let women live in their houses or lose the houses.
In recent years, the house has been home to the Beta Lecture Series – which brought to campus, among others, a former Jerusalem Bureau Chief of the New York Times and the incumbent Deputy Director of the International Monetary Fund. And, of course, it has sponsored many concerts, events, and service initiatives over the years.
I, among others, would hate to see that venerable legacy jeopardized – but the chapter has tarnished it with despicable conduct. So I must reluctantly say: it is past time for Beta Theta Pi at Wesleyan, as a residential fraternity experience, to end.
For the University’s sake, however, the house must be cleaned up and re-opened as soon as possible. It occupies a key location on campus, one within walking distance of many University buildings. More importantly, in these turbulent times, we need more spaces where people in our community can gather. Where speakers can bring in new perspectives, where artists can display their work, where people can socialize and make valuable connections.
I sincerely hope the university purchases the hallowed, historic house and brings in local and reputable actors to clean it up. That means, among other things, removing the bedbugs, fixing the windows, and painting over the walls. Bring in the HAZMAT suits if the case need be. Then, may be inhabited by a more honorable group and transformed into a safe, meaningful space for community building and community gathering. In turbulent times such as these, we need spaces that both are honored as spaces for community building and honor those who walk into them with the utmost respect.
That includes living up to the values symbolized by those three Greek letters above the doorpost.
Jason Shatz is a member of the class of 2014.