Chi Omega on Saturday, Sep. 26, 2015. (Jeremy Caldwell / The Tufts Daily Archives)

Student Life Review Committee releases its long-awaited report

The Student Life Review Committee released its exhaustive final report today, following months of study on the Greek life system and undergraduate student life.

The Committee report finds that Tufts has not adequately planned the undergraduate co-curricular experience, creating a social activity “‘vacuum’” on campus that Greek life came to fill. As a result, the report states, fraternities and sororities have dominated student social life.

According to Dean of Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon, the report and its recommendations will usher in a new vision for social life. Staffed by faculty, students, staff, alumni and representatives from Medford and Somerville, the committee’s findings are supplemented by months of research and review done by various administrative and student-led bodies and aggregated by the consulting firm Keeling and Associates, McMahon said.

In University President Anthony Monaco’s initial charge to the Committee, issued in January, he encouraged it to examine student life fully and ultimately produce an assessment that would “inform the development of specific, actionable recommendations for how we can better support holistic, inclusive engagement in undergraduate student life at Tufts.”

Content of the Report

The full report details how Tufts will work to create a “vibrant co-curricular experience” for undergraduate students. It recommends that programs and services be collaborative, and that student-centered efforts should galvanize and strengthen the campus community. According to McMahon, moving forward, the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs plans to develop and communicate these concepts to bring the Tufts community closer to a more inclusive social atmosphere.

The release of the report follows a June 1 update from Monaco which detailed seven key areas of focus: student safety and well-being, diversity and inclusion, campus-wide community, the first-year experience, the residential experience, Greek life and enhancing social space.

The report argues that the abolition of Greek life is unfeasible at this moment. According to the report, students noticed a rise in “‘underground,’” unregulated off-campus parties and more drinking among first-year students following the suspension of Greek life last year.

“It was clear that some members of the Committee would prefer to abolish Greek life immediately, were it not for the on-the-ground problems that might result from doing so,” the report says.

One of the report’s long-term recommendations is to establish a deadline, perhaps three or four years, to re-evaluate the Greek life system and assess whether enough changes have been made to the system. Thus, abolition of Greek life has not been ruled out as a long-term option.

The report recommends that administrators hold fraternities and sororities accountable for policy violations and encourage inclusion. In particular, the report says that Greek life groups should demonstrate a commitment to Tufts’ community values that is equal to or greater than their commitment to their national counterparts’ values.

The Committee found that, in the past, Greek life has held a disproportionate and unsafe amount of power in the campus social scene.

“The Committee accepting that Greek life had a monopoly on student life and is violating certain policies is validating and important to publicize,” Paris Sanders, a senior, said.

Sanders said the administration should focus first on non-Greek student organizations, as these organizations have less access to the off-campus resources and additional funding that some Greek organizations enjoy. She noted that the administration had not been supportive of these other organizations in the past.

“There needs to be access to space, access to resources and access to autonomy [for these student groups],” Sanders said.

McMahon said that space was a fundamental theme that was integrated through the other six areas of focus and informed the committee’s conversations continuously. She said students seek spaces for housing, learning and socializing. The report identifies that currently, fraternities control a large amount of centrally located, dedicated space.

“It all goes back to space,” McMahon said. “More intentionally developed student-dedicated space is a short-term and a long-term goal.”

Megan Mooney, a senior, expressed disappointment that Tufts has not abolished fraternities entirely. She spoke about the importance of themed housing as an alternative to Greek housing.

“There’s such a long list of groups that want to have program housing, which is less exclusive, they do more events [and] it’s not a financial burden to ever be a part of one of them, but Tufts won’t put resources into them,” Mooney said. “What really made me more energized was a vision of Tufts with way more community organizations like that.”

Benya Kraus, Tufts Community Union (TCU) President and a member of the Committee, expressed excitement about the social changes and open conversations this report has sparked, especially with regards to making space available.

“While I know many may be unsettled about the decision to have Greek life remain, I think this report opens up a broader conversation on how the university has failed to invest equitably in diverse social spaces, especially those for and organized by marginalized communities,” Kraus, a senior, told the Daily in an electronic message. “To have the intersection of social power and social space centered in the [Committee] report is therefore a step in the right direction.”

According to Kraus, the Committee has given rise to an array of new initiatives to transform how space is reserved and utilized on campus. According to Kraus and McMahon, more rooms will be made available for student groups to book online. McMahon said the cost of renting the multi-purpose space at 51 Winthrop St. will decrease significantly, and the space formerly occupied by Brown and Brew Coffee House will become a student-dedicated venue for groups to rent out, similar to the Sophia Gordon Multi-Purpose Room. The Crane Room and the Alumnae Lounge will also become more available for the use of student groups than they have been in the past, according to McMahon.

Additionally, according to Kraus, the university will seriously examine the benefits of themed housing and cooperative living projects.

“All this, in combination with student activism and demands for furthering the diversity of social spaces and expanding access to space for the most marginalized on campus, will be what really turns this … report into tangible change,” Kraus added.

Kraus is also excited about the Dean of Student Affairs Office’s appointment of Alice Shaughnessy, who recently completed a Master of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and who worked with the Committee last year. Her role will be to implement the Committee’s recommendations and ensure that organizations are held accountable to them. According to McMahon, Shaughnessy is working on a website designed for feedback from the community.

McMahon said finding a niche in a student group is central to the student experience at Tufts, but by focusing on smaller events that contribute to the student experience, like late night dining, the administration can continue to foster a vibrant social community.

“I want to make sure that there’s something between your niche student group, and Spring Fling and Fall Gala. We do these big community events really well, but on a typical weekend night, where do we offer things for people?” she said.

Kraus said the Committee’s recommendations have also given rise to JumboLife, a new student organization that aims to revolutionize campus social life through large-scale parties and other events. According to McMahon, JumboLife is backed strongly by the administration.

Changes to Residential Life

The Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) is also trying to make Tufts a more socially accessible place. For the first time, ResLife is housing all first-years together, whereas some first-years previously lived in halls with upperclassmen. The Orientation Leader program has been eliminated; First Year Assistants (FYAs) led orientation with groups of students on the same floor. Community Development Assistants (CDAs) have been added to all upperclassman dormitories, including previously unstaffed dorms such as Latin Way and Sophia Gordon Hall.

These changes to ResLife, according to McMahon, are part of the effort to implement the recommendations of the Committee. They are meant to enrich the residential experience of the past, which failed to provide adequate community spaces, equalize the amounts of space given to themed houses and provide sufficient housing options for students in general, according to the report.

“The Committee strongly supports the University’s current plan to create residential environments that house first-year students together and help support their ability to establish relationships and find community,” the report says.

The report adds that the Committee supports long-term ResLife reforms as well, including further evaluation of themed houses, an assessment of the number of available beds on campus and an investment in more communal residential spaces.

Accountability

Kevin Kraft, the director of community standards, stressed that the report provides a unique opportunity for existing organizations to examine seriously how their actions impact Tufts’ culture and hold themselves and one another accountable.

“I think [the report] is a call for student organizations to take a fresh look at themselves,” Kraft said. “And I think this applies to all student organizations.”

Kraft emphasized that, while student organizations must answer to the administration in the cases of hazing, violence, sexual misconduct and other serious violations of university policy, groups can and do use the internal accountability structures which exist in student-centered legislative bodies and within the Greek life system.

Changes within Greek Life

Tufts has joined a Hazing Prevention Consortium under StopHazing, led by the researcher Elizabeth Allan and based out of the University of Maine. According to Kraft, this means Tufts will work with other schools to apply Allan’s research on campus as part of a three-year effort to address community engagement around inclusivity.

Kraft and McMahon agreed that this development could position Tufts as a leader among U.S. campuses in promoting inclusivity in Greek life.

Sally Williams, the president of Tufts’ Inter-Greek Council (IGC) and a member of the Committee, said that the IGC has overseen many efforts to improve transparency and make Greek life more inclusive.

She said that new members must now attend weekly trainings on topics including sexual misconduct, social justice and mental health. According to Rebecca Ennis, the president of the Panhellenic Council, all members of Greek life are also required to participate in a violence-prevention training program.

According to Williams, every Greek organization has implemented a Diversity Chair. She added that all Greek organizations must publish their dues and financial aid amounts online in an effort to increase transparency.

Ennis expressed that she was excited about the direction of Greek life.

“I’ve been really proud of the Greek community and its ability to … grow as individuals, grow as a Greek community, but also grow as a part of the Tufts community,” she said.

UPDATE: This article has been updated to clarify the mode of communication in which Benya Kraus spoke to the Daily.

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