This semester, Trinity College president Joanne Berger-Sweeney announced that the University will reverse its decision to coeducate their fraternities and sororities. The announcement comes with the conclusion that the co-ed mandate would be ultimately unsuccessful in achieving Trinity’s goals for its social community.
The coeducation mandate was first announced in 2012 in the “Charter for Building Social Community at Trinity College,” a report put together by trustees of the Charter Committee in order to change social life at Trinity. The primary goal of the charter was to offer recommendations on how to build a stronger campus community.
“Social options are limited, and the purposes of those we have do not always align with the underlying mission of the College,” the charter reads.
Many students disagreed with the coeducation policy, with a survey stating that 82 percent of students voted against it. It was also unpopular among alumni, as donations reportedly fell following the mandate.
This mandate was put into effect by Trinity’s previous president, James F. Jones. When he stepped down in 2013, Berger-Sweeney inherited the mandate and, after considering the potential effect of the charter, announced the reversal of the decision.
Berger-Sweeney reportedly conducted 15 months of research and feedback collection from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents about student social life on campus.
“Based on all the feedback and information I collected over the past 15 months, I have concluded that the coed mandate is unlikely to achieve its intended goal of gender equity,” Berger-Sweeney wrote in an email to the Trinity College community.
She said she believes that gender equality is important but that this would not be the most effective way of ensuring this equality.
“Gender equity is, and remains, an ongoing priority for Trinity College,” Berger-Sweeney wrote. “Furthermore, I do not believe that requiring coed membership is the best way to address gender discrimination or to promote inclusiveness. In fact, community-wide dialogue concerning this issue has been divisive and counterproductive.”
Similarly, she notes that there would be many consequences of the mandate for coeducation.
“Requiring coed membership, however, carries a number of consequences,” Berger-Sweeney wrote. “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.”
She believes that sororities and fraternities, though staying single-sex, could become beneficial to the campus atmosphere.
“Sorority and fraternity members should take a leadership role in promoting inclusivity, demonstrating respect for their peers, and making measurable contributions to the community,” Berger-Sweeney wrote.
This reversal of the mandate also comes after last year’s announcement that all of the University’s fraternities had to become co-ed.
Matt Siegelman ’16, former President of the Psi Upsilon (Psi U) fraternity, expressed his belief that coeducation of the University’s fraternities would have worked due to the nature of the school community.
“I thought it was good that we had this opportunity, as a liberal arts college with thoughtful, smart, intelligent [and] creative students to be leaders in what may very well be a widespread reformation of Greek life,” Siegelman said.
Siegelman talked about the positive side of coeducation, and its potential to change the University’s male-controlled social scene.
“I think coeducating is good because women should have the opportunity to be a part of a prominent social organization on this campus,” Siegelman said.
At the end of last year, Psi U invited women to become a part of their fraternity, and Siegelman said this had a positive effect on all of the members of Psi U.
“I saw more motivation and more drive on the part of this recent pledge class and the brothers that I believe has existed any other semester,” Siegelman said. “And I think that’s because coeducation caused us to think critically about what we stand for. I think it was a great thing.”
Kush Sharma ’18, a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), a non-residential fraternity, also expressed the sentiment that coeducation can be a positive step toward solving some of the problems that fraternities have encountered.
“I think that coeducation can definitely help the situation if taken seriously,” Sharma said. “Having the opinions of females in fraternities can help in having more productive conversations about sexual assault.”
However, according to Berger-Sweeney, reversing coeducation is the only way to ameliorate students’ social lives at Trinity.
“The ultimate goal of the Charter Committee for Building Social Community was to build a more intellectually robust, inclusive, and respectful campus environment,” Berger-Sweeney wrote. “Beyond the coed mandate, there were many other recommendations related to selective social organizations that have been successfully implemented and will continue as we move forward… All of these are essential as we continue to build and maintain a strong sense of community.”
The decision to reverse the coeducation mandate does not discount the other recommendations made by the Charter, including to create a new mentoring program and to increase student life programming.
Berger-Sweeney is also still open to recommendations on how to advance and improve Trinity’s social scene.
“We will continue to work together to create a campus where all of our members are intellectually engaged and socially involved, feel a sense of inclusion, and are free from any form of discrimination,” Berger-Sweeney wrote. “I invite your participation.”