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Liveblogging Trustees’ Meeting

Frat Meeting

(Evelyn Ting)– Tonight, I will be covering the open meeting with the student body about the trustees’ decision to ban fraternities on and off campus.  The trustees joining us will be Cullen Murphy ’74 and Andrew Nussbaum ’85.

Stay tuned for more updates.

6.28  It is two minutes before the meeting, and Kirby Theater is halfway full.  Biddy has made a presence here, as well as three members of the police dressed in ordinary clothing.

6:31 Trustees have stated that it is their hope that this be a conversation within the Amherst community, after asking if any students are present who do not attend Amherst.

6:32 Cullen Murphy is introducing Andrew Nussbaum, who he calls “Andy”.  Andy is currently a lawyer in New York, and was here when fraternities were abolished in 1984.

6:35 Murphy states “Many of the board members were part of fraternities.  The role of the board is not to micromanage.  The board’s job is to address broad policy.”

6:37 Murphy states “The goal of the 1984 decision was not to push fraternities underground, but to abolish them entirely.  We must have policy and procedures under place.  We do not intend for some future meeting to look back on this one and come to the same conclusions.”

6:41 Male in white shirt asks why there was no student input in coming to the [April] Board decision.  He says it seems that the trustees have already arrived at the decision of how to revise the honor code without student input.

6:43 Murphy says there are some principles that would never make it into the honor code.  Murphy gives “plagiarism” as an example.  The trustees hold power through a charter to assert particular principles.

6:45 Andy admits that there are pros and cons to the decision.  The board thought about it for more than a year, and it was difficult.

6:46 Yoni Rechtman (’17) asks, “What plans do you have to replace these invaluable support groups [referring to fraternities]“?

6:49 Murphy says,”When Biddy Martin first came to the college, she spoke to the board about profound changes needed to the college’s social life.  The board has been unanimous in saying that she will have the support that she needs.”

6:51 Andy says that the board on its own is not able to create any type of social structure on campus.  The best they can do is provide resources and support.  It will require the input of students to bridge the deficiencies.  The long term solution will be in a strategic planning committee that will include students.

6:53 Another male says it is interesting that they didn’t choose the decision to “bring the fraternities into the light”.  Another solution would be to make them “regulatorily viable”.  Especially since the college is under scrutiny for sexual misconduct.

6:55 Andy says with or without the OCR complaint, this decision would have still been made.  It had “nothing to do with the OCR complaint”

6:56 Same male points out that there are other groups on this campus that are single sex.

6:56 Andy replies that there are no other groups whose behavior and activities are not under the oversight of the college and administration.

6:57 Another male says that the trustees have ignored the mental health aspect of the fraternities.

6:58 *Commence great applause*

6:59  Another male remarks, “I don’t know what the Amherst community is.  There seems to be two Amherst communities.  Fraternities bridge this divide”

7:00 Will Kamin, the president of Chi Psi, says, “The United States itself has many things in its past that it is not proud of.  As a fraternity member, I think it is fair to say the same about fraternities.  As the US has reformed over the years, so have fraternities.”  Fraternities are very different today than they were in 1984.

7:03 Murphy says that Andy and him have read all of the testimonials sent to him about members’ personal fraternity experiences.  They were touched.  But the board was left to two choices–“we will not have a system like this period, or we will invite the old system back on campus”

7:07 Judith Frank is the chair of the Committee on the Integration of Curricular and Co-Curricular Learning.  This committee has been working for a year talking to students about how to create better environment for students on campus.  She realizes that fraternities have benefited from a small group mentorship and coaching that many students would benefit from on campus. Frank urges students to talk to her about their suggestions for improving student life.

7:09  Frank–“We are ranked number one in overwhelmed, lonely, and sad”.

7:10 Male says that the board of trustees have refused to renovate facilities, even when alumni have offered to support these structures.  Seems to be off-topic.

7:12 Male explains he meant that the Board of Trustees was using the fraternities as a scapegoat for the college’s issues.

7:13 Andy says no institution should do something just because others offer to pay for it (referring to why the board has not renovated facilities).  Too many risks in building the intended science center, and they have invested their resources in a better and smarter science center plan.

7:16  “What we’ve seen Biddy Martin do is throw money at problems”  Student does not think that Martin is addressing the relevant social problems.  He follows with, “I think that most students would prefer that instead of renovating the power plant, we renovated the gym.”

7:20  Another male says, “In the honor code, it says that violations that occur off campus are still punishable.  So violations that occur in fraternities off campus are still punishable.  Seems that those offenses are already dealt with under the honor code.”  He suggests the college DOES have oversight, which directly opposes a reason spoken earlier for banning fraternities.

7:21 Another student reads from the 1984 College Council Statement on the Fraternity Policy that says that students were free to associate with whomever they wished off campus.

7:22 Murphy, “Is that the 1984 statement that does not have the status of legislation passed by either the Board of Trustees or by the full faculty of Amherst College?”

7:23  Apparently it was.

7:25 Murphy, “When the board in 1984 banned fraternities, it was something opposed by many alums and most of the student body.”  Hopes students will be available immediately to decide what revisions to the Honor Code are needed.

7:28 A person sitting near me just left, huffing “This is stupid”

7:29 First female student speaks.  Asks why board didn’t make fraternities co-ed and more accepting.  College students would rather find support in a group of peers rather than go to a wellness center.

7:32  Andy read today about how Middlebury has dealt with this issue.  Points out that they do not have a fraternity, but rather co-ed houses.

7:34 Female says that fraternities bridge socioeconomic divide, and racial divide.  She came to Amherst to learn from people who were different than herself.  Says most groups on campus are homogenous.  She cannot imagine anything else that would create that kind of group.

7:36 Jasjaap Sidhu, a member of DKE, says that the support in these groups can only be found in a single-sex and self-selecting environment.  Asks if the college would be open to offering students a single-sex and self-selecting alternative social option.

7:41 There are 23 female students in the mostly full room, counting myself.

7:42 Joyce Wamala (’18 E) thanks the trustees for talking with the students.  She wants to clarify what frat life is.  She is a member of a Christian group, and sometimes they split according to gender.  “If we bought a cake and made students crawl on the quad and pick up the pieces to show their devotion to God, would that constitute a fraternity-like institution?”

7:46  Wamala says “I’m sure the board is full of very privileged people who would be for sweeping this issue under the rug.”  Many of the board members themselves were in stereotypical fraternities back in the day.  She followed with asking why the board is now making a decision against the status quo, and asked how this decision would affect less privileged students.

7:51 Wamala asks what the goal was of the fraternity ban–that people might still be a part of a fraternity even though they’re “officially” banned.  Andy says it goes back to the importance of residential life at Amherst.  That maybe it doesn’t have the right building structures and support.  He didn’t seem to answer her question.

7:53 Hands are raised all over the crowd.  Unfortunately, we have five minutes left and not all of them will get a chance to speak.

7:55 Blaine Patrick Werner (’15) Argues there is still much ambiguity–that there can be fraternities that aren’t chartered fraternities (i.e. a cappella or glee club) but still perform fraternity like behavior.

7:57 Andy replies that these groups may have faculty advisor, or receive funding from the AAS so the college can maintain oversight over their activities.

7:59  What elements of fraternities are you looking for to deem those organizations fraternity-like?

8:00  Andy, “You and I, as clever as we are, know what we’re talking about”.  His personal view is that groups such as those that encourage initiation rites and hazing would be considered fraternities.  However, he hasn’t discussed this with the Board.

8:01  Professor Rhonda Cobham Sanders was moved by many of the stories fraternity members share about their experiences.  But, it is important for all students to have the opportunity to benefit from this environment.  It is important for students to have safe, often homogenous spaces.  She says cultural competence is also important though–to move away from those “safe” groups toward greater integration into different groups.

8:04 Savannah West (’15) says that college has a commitment to diversity.  The ban is restricting members from joining outside black fraternities or black sororities.  *Loud clapping*  ResLife told students at the outset that they were allowed to join historically black Greek systems.

8:07 Murphy says they will have to talk to ResLife about this (they were not aware of this particular issue), and they will make sure to clarify what they mean by banning membership in off-campus Greek life.

8:09  “It is currently 8:15″.  Smooth, Murphy.  You know how to close up a meeting.

8:10 Murphy–“You may think that the people on the board are people whose experience at the college was 98%, and you may think that the people of the board are all coming from places of what you may call privilege.  That’s not the case.  Some of you in the future will probably be on the board, and some of you will be making comments like this.  Thank you for the conversation.”

About acvinvestigates

AC Voice Investigates publishes in-depth reporting and breaking news for the Amherst College community. Contact us with tips, story ideas or any other questions and comments at acvinvestigates@gmail.com!

37 comments on “Liveblogging Trustees’ Meeting

  1. Anonymous
    May 12, 2014

    Is there food at these events?

  2. Liya Rechtman
    May 12, 2014

    Is there any way you could ask people to give their names as a preface to their comments? I would love to know who is saying what.

    • Ethan Corey
      May 12, 2014

      See my comment below. I think we want students to have an option about whether or not their name is attached to what they say. Some students may not be comfortable making their comments public, and we want to respect that.

  3. Ethan Corey
    May 12, 2014

    Just as a note on our editorial policy with regards to the use of names or identifying information about students who speak during the meeting: If students give their names when they choose to speak, we will reprint them; if no name is given, students will not be identified. If your name is used in this article and you would prefer to remain unnamed, please email acvinvestigates@gmail.com, and we will remove your name as soon as possible.

  4. Anonymous
    May 12, 2014

    Professor Frank is the bomb.

    • Defining Amherst
      May 12, 2014

      Most accurate comment I’ve seen in this whole debacle.

    • Christian
      May 12, 2014

      Professor Frank is the last voice of reason on this campus. #Bless her heart.

  5. Anonymous
    May 12, 2014

    How many females are in attendance just curious?

  6. Anonymous
    May 12, 2014

    How many females are in the audience?

  7. Will Savino
    May 12, 2014

    Jasjaap isn’t president of DKE. Otherwise, good reporting!

    • Anonymous
      May 12, 2014

      Brian Lobdell’15

  8. Anonymous
    May 12, 2014

    Is Andy related to Daniel Nussbaum ’16, a DKE brother?

    • Anon
      May 12, 2014

      Andy is Daniel’s uncle.

  9. Anonymous
    May 12, 2014

    “I think that most students would prefer that instead of renovating the power plant, we renovated the gym.”

    Nahhh man. Just, nahhhhhhh.

    • Most students, or you and your friends?
      May 12, 2014

      I was thinking the same thing!

      • Anonymous
        May 12, 2014

        Does prove that students don’t talk to people not like them . . . .

  10. Anonymous
    May 12, 2014

    “7:34 Female says that fraternities bridge socioeconomic divide, and racial divide. She came to Amherst to learn from people who were different than herself. Says most groups on campus are homogenous. She cannot imagine anything else that would create that kind of group.”

    Doesn’t a frat have its own homogenizing dimension in that you have to be male to be in one??

    • anonymous
      May 16, 2014

      You didn’t have to be a male to be in PSI U, which the College — in its infinite wisdom — banned 4 years ago.

  11. jhildebrand15
    May 12, 2014

    “What elements of fraternities are you looking for to deem those organizations fraternity-like?”

    ” Andy, ‘You and I, as clever as we are, know what we’re talking about’.”

    I just want to say that I called it last week:

    “I figure that the administration will have no choice but to resort to stereotypes of what fraternity activity looks like, relying too heavily on a “we know it when we see it” model of Honor Code enforcement.

    http://acvoice.com/2014/05/06/is-an-off-campus-fraternity-ban-actually-enforceable/

    • Anonymous
      May 12, 2014

      When Andy made that statement he was pointing out how ridiculous it is to call a group such as the Christian group on campus or Route 9 a fraternity-like organization. He clearly distinguished the difference between a group on campus and a fraternity by pointing out that groups on campus receive funding from the school and frats engage in activities such as initiation and hazing.

      • jhildebrand15
        May 12, 2014

        I see what you’re saying. I think people are still asking questions about the “fraternity-like” designation because the reality of on-campus groups is that some of them do engage in initiation and hazing activities. Because Andy used this as a uniqueness argument re: fraternity activity, I think it’s reasonable for people to feel uncomfortable with his answer. He openly admitted that he still hasn’t discussed it with the board yet. He may have clearly distinguished the difference, but that distinction isn’t as clear as he thinks it is.

      • Anonymous
        May 12, 2014

        A cappella groups do not receive funding from the school because they are exclusive.

  12. Alum '13
    May 12, 2014

    This was awesome. Thank you for liveblogging for us curious alums :)

  13. An Alumnus
    May 12, 2014

    I rank initiation into my Amherst fraternity right behind my marriage rite and first communion in their ceremonial importance in my life. Please don’t conflate initiation with hazing. My fraternity was and is not guilty of the latter.

    • Anonymous
      May 12, 2014

      AMEN!

  14. Judd '16
    May 12, 2014

    6:57 Another male says that the trustees have ignored the mental health aspect of the fraternities.

    6:59 Another male remarks, “I don’t know what the Amherst community is. There seems to be two Amherst communities. Fraternities bridge this divide”

    Both of those are me. Thanks for blogging this ethan. I do think, however, that you have biased your live blog by giving a broader description to some comments…

    • Judd '16
      May 12, 2014

      Sorry Evelyn. I saw ethan with a computer and thought he was doing the blogging (he blogged the senate meeting). Sorry for assuming it was him! thanks for doing this.

      • Liya Rechtman
        May 12, 2014

        Hi Judd, do would you like us to add your name into those sections?

        Ethan commented during the live blogging:

        “Just as a note on our editorial policy with regards to the use of names or identifying information about students who speak during the meeting: If students give their names when they choose to speak, we will reprint them; if no name is given, students will not be identified. If your name is used in this article and you would prefer to remain unnamed, please email acvinvestigates@gmail.com, and we will remove your name as soon as possible.”

  15. Anonymous
    May 12, 2014

    “7:57 Andy replies that these groups may have faculty advisor, or receive funding from the AAS so the college can maintain oversight over their activities.”

    Actually, neither of these are the case with a cappella groups (which are also exclusive and in some cases single sex). There is none of this oversight. This seems like a troublesome way to determine what makes a group “frat-like.”

  16. Anononononono
    May 13, 2014

    At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what they define “frat-like” to be. Look back at similar schools who banned frats in the past. Hell, look back at our own Psi U. The administrators and the BoT don’t *want* to expel anyone, just like no one in Psi U was expelled, and just like in the cases of similar schools, only people who openly admit to being in a fraternity as a means of lashing out were expelled. It’s bad publicity. Enforcing the ban is enough to deter new pledges and by the time the 4-year turnover is done, whatever is left of frats will have 0 influence on social life at Amherst. Exactly like Psi U. This is what the BoT wants to happen.

  17. Anonymous
    May 13, 2014

    The honorable thing for the Trustees to do following last night’s meeting is to eat crow and apologize to the Amherst community. They should be ashamed to have delegated a New York lawyer-trustee to browbeat and condescend to Amherst students: they preferred this meeting to be a bullying moment rather than a teaching one. They didn’t bother to investigate or do due diligence prior to their edict (none of their stated indictment of fraternities extends beyond the circumstances of 1984), but now they know more of the actual situation, including how absolutely essential membership in these organizations is to our most vulnerable undergraduates, including gay men, women, first generation students and racial minorities. Their lawyers did not provide a legally workable mechanism of implementing the proposed policy. They cannot satisfy the College’s published protocols for amending the Honor Code for this purpose and meet their July 1 deadline. The Trustees, if they were properly chastened for their breach of their duty of care, would dial back and say: “This is an educational moment for us and for the College; let’s have a full deliberation next fall. We have learned from our smart and passionate students and apologize for our arrogance and inattention. And we have fired our three in-house lawyers and will be using the savings to hire more faculty.”

    • Anonymous
      May 13, 2014

      Oh please.

      ‘…essential membership in these organizations is to our most vulnerable undergraduates, including gay men, women, first generation students and racial minorities.’

      Really? Is that what you want to say? I can’t take you seriously after that I really can’t.

    • nofuture
      May 14, 2014

      “…including how absolutely essential membership in these organizations is to our most vulnerable undergraduates, including gay men, women, first generation students and racial minorities.”

      wait hold on. “…including gay men, women…”

      am i missing something, or doesn’t one of the main argument against fraternities hinge on the fact that membership in these organizations is exclusive to male students, and that there exist no comparable organizations for women? i know that amherst frats were co-ed shortly before the forced exile, but, as every DKE on this campus keeps petulantly insisting, that was, like, 30 years ago.

      perhaps you’re trying to claim that women on this campus benefit vicariously from the membership of male students, but that would be one hell of a stretch.

  18. Anonymous
    May 13, 2014

    Then you are trivializing the testimony of your fellow students. Their various voices are more powerful than your reflexive, privileged dismissal.

    • Anonymous
      May 14, 2014

      I’m a bit more concerned about the truth than any number of people’s voices, and the truth of the matter is the fraternities on this campus are anything but essential to our ‘vulnerable undergraduates’, how dare we even call these groups of people ‘vulnerable’? Whoever wrote this is exaggerating, as usual, how useful fraternities are on this campus and completely glazing over how insidiously divisive and self-congratulatory they are.

      Privileged. This writing wreaks of privilege, the privilege of the elite who feel that they have the right to speak for me. I fall into at least two of the categories mentioned above and I know that fraternity life is nothing if not completely antithetical to my experience here.

  19. Joyce
    May 20, 2014

    thank you for blogging Evelyn! To this day I stand by my comments and opinions. Even white males (no matter how privileged) are a sort of minority. They have as much a right to their frats as I do to my christian group or BSU or international student’s union.

    Generalizing the shortcomings of frats and saying all frats are responsible for sexual misconduct is like generalizing and saying all christian groups encourage misogyny and homophobia.

    Sexual Assault and Title Nine issues are a separate entity and should be addressed as such. It is about time that Amherst’s leadership is held seriously accountable for it’s decisions.

    If it takes a Frat ban to get this change going then so be it. I sincerely hope our ‘more privileged ALUMNI lend a voice to this cause, it goes beyond Amherst’s current
    +/-1800 students.

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