The Tufts administration has been attempting to assess and reform social life on campus amid the recent controversy surrounding Greek life. University President Anthony Monaco recently called for the formation of the Student Life Review Committee to address social issues at Tufts. Although the creation of the group itself is a positive step in fostering dialogue and action, there remains a troubling lack of transparency around the panel.
On Dec. 22, 2016, the Office of the President announced plans to form a committee in hopes of addressing “residential strategy, student organizations, athletics and clubs as well as the Greek system.” A month after that, Monaco released another letter, the Charge to the Student Life Review Committee, which requested the committee consider structural reforms to social life at Tufts and emphasized support for “holistic, inclusive engagement in undergraduate student life at Tufts.”
The administration has rightly prioritized the issue of Greek life and is addressing it in tandem with other aspects of student social life through this committee. However, the panel falls short by failing to proportionally represent the student body it seeks to assess and advise on.
The list of committee members includes seven students, a majority of whom have been or continue to be affiliated with Greek organizations, while three quarters of the student body is not involved in Greek life.
Some of the other committee panelists have ties to Greek life as well. One of the committee chairs and the alumni representative, for example, are both former members of Delta Upsilon. While it is critical to include the voices of those who have been involved in Greek life in a dialogue so central to them, it is impossible to holistically evaluate this system without proportional representation from the rest of the student body.
Furthermore, the process by which these students were chosen was completely opaque. The university should have called for student volunteers to submit their credentials, explain their desire to be on the panel and elaborate on their opinions concerning Greek life and general social life on campus. This would have given the university a variety of voices to choose from for the committee.
Instead of putting in the effort to seek out fresh voices, the school went with known entities. For example, three of the seven students on the committee are members of Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate. Having almost half of the committee’s student representatives coming from one student group (elected by only a quarter of the student population) wastes an opportunity to bring a variety of student voices into a decision-making body with such influence over students’ lives.
Benya Kraus, a student representative on the Student Life Review Committee, is TCU Senate Diversity and Community Affairs Officer and a former member of Chi Omega sorority.
“I, like many others, am concerned about the high density of committee members affiliated with Greek life, especially when 75 percent of the student body is not involved in Greek life,” Kraus, a junior, said.
In an attempt to include more student voices, Kraus is offering to hold one-on-one conversations with students, which they can sign up for online. Her initiative is valuable, but it should have been part of the university’s approach from the outset. Similarly, Monaco’s plans for an open forum, idea wall and comment form are also important, but this desire to include student voices should have been present during the committee selection process.
The work of the Student Life Review Committee will be critical in implementing tangible changes to social life at Tufts. Its short timeline (Monaco wants a report by the end of the spring semester) and important mission make the committee’s limited membership reasonable, as it is difficult to make big decisions with big groups. That is exactly why, when a small group is making crucial decisions for a much larger group, it is absolutely essential to ensure that the small group is as representative as possible. Hopefully, the committee works diligently to collect the opinions and voices that have been left out of the committee itself.