Fraternities, Abolition of

Serious questions about the viability of Greek life at Williams had been raised for several years before any significant actions were taken to address the problem. In one of the first steps toward non-affiliation, following the recommendation of the January 1951 Sterling Committee Progress Report, Baxter Hall was constructed from 1953 to1954. After the opening of this student union, freshman center, and dining hall, all fraternity rushing was to be delayed until sophomore year and all freshmen were compelled to eat together.

Questions of the educational and social costs of the Greek letter societies were highlighted in the “Statement of the Board of Trustees and Report of the Committee on Review of Fraternity Questions,” released June 30, 1962 and more commonly known as the Angevine Committee Report. This report came to an overall conclusion concerning the ills of the Williams fraternity system:

Long continued delegation to the fraternities by the College of a large part of its responsibility with respect to the housing, eating, and social accommodations of the student body is a major cause of many existing conditions which are harmful to the educational purpose of the college; and early steps should be taken by the College to re-assume this responsibility and integrate these functions into the life of the College, where they properly belong.

Attempts to reform the fraternities had met with only limited success and had even exacerbated existing problems. These measures had included quotas, barring freshmen from fraternity affiliation, alternate organizations (such as the ill-fated Garfield Club), and the system of “Total Opportunity” which opened fraternity involvement to larger numbers of students.

In addition to their vast control over campus social activities, fraternities were responsible for feeding 94% of the upper classes and housing 44% of students. The College wanted greater control over these aspects of campus life and also hoped to do away with “hell week” and curb the growth of alcohol consumption. As expected, the College met with opposition from both students and alumni who believed that the fraternities continued to provide opportunities for significant connections to be made in closely-knit groups, to foster independent living, and to make useful contacts with alumni.

On October 30, 1962, four months after the publication of the Angevine Report, “A Report to the Williams College Family Containing Additional Information and Some Alternate Views on the Williams Fraternity System” was published with the official support of Psi Upsilon and Theta Delta Chi, and also the unofficial support of alumni from other fraternities. This particular pamphlet provided a direct critique of the Angevine Report, evaluating its “technique and methodology, historical and current interpretation, and the implications of the presently advanced proposals.” The critique also took exception to the Angevine Report’s depiction of the fraternities’ attempts at reform. It asserted:

It must honestly be said that a number of the most liberal Williams graduates and many members of the faculty have felt that the fraternity system contained within itself the seeds for further improvement. Continuing evaluation along paths already laid out by the majority of fraternities that are financially solvent and intellectually and morally responsible seems preferable to a completely new and untried institutional system.

Students also became involved in the controversy, arguing for and against the new plan. In addition to debates and heated exchanges in the Williams Record , there were angrier confrontations, such as a rowdy late-night demonstration in front of the President’s House. This particular incident was reproved by fellow students who felt that the protest did more harm than good, undermining the very system that the mob was attempting to preserve. An article in the following day’s Williams Record criticized:

There are many of us who believe in the fraternity system and would like it to remain here at Williams. There are probably as many who would even encourage a large student protest, if conducted properly. However, most would be offended by the despicable way this group handled itself. Instead of helping the fraternity situation these people only illustrate the barbaric state into which fraternities may someday collapse. Rather than jeering and making fools of themselves, the ringleaders might put their “leadership” to use in an organized manner. If such distasteful actions continue, maybe the system of fraternity living should be abolished. (September 21, 1962)

When it became clear that the College’s commitment to the abolishment of fraternities was real and implacable, the Record advised cooperation:

The time has passed for bickering; the time has come for constructive planning of the new social system. The planning committees have been wisely selected for a wide range of undergraduate opinion and a notable lack of campus politico types. We hope that every interested student will contribute his opinions, for only in this way, can we, as undergraduates, preserve and foster the values which we feel are important. The task ahead is a highly challenging and exciting one, and one that will mean much for the future. We hope that all members of the Williams family will contribute to its solution. (October 10, 1962)

Several years of negotiations followed, with thirteen of the fraternities transferring their houses to Williams through sale, lease, or donation. Only Phi Gamma Delta refused to cooperate in any way, choosing instead to sell its house to the Town, rather than have it fall under the control of the College. From the house essays in the College yearbook (the Gulielmensian ), we can see that some of the houses were making a real effort to adjust to the new Williams social system, while some of the fraternities still refused to cooperate. The Garfield House essay begins:

With the advent of the first year of the “New Williams,” Delta Upsilons stepped into its new role without missing a stride. Under the awesome auspices of James A. Garfield House, it has succeeded in a way almost unique to any other house in integrating the old fraternity ideals with the new college realities. This year has witnessed the continuation and development of a strong and spirited sense of brotherhood, without the old “Greek” overtones. Each D.U.-Garf takes tremendous pride in being a member of the “Zoo,” a house which has shown its excellence in all phases of College life at Williams. ( Gulielmensian 1965)

A Psi Upsilon essay has a more pointed approach to detailing the many accomplishments of its house members:

Psi Upsilon for the second straight year pursued a round of activities which earned it the title “least involved” from the ever-surrealist Record . Among the Knights of obscurity were swimming co-captains Don Rodger and Jim Rider . . . Less successful was the Psi U. plot to destroy the Williams social system by boring from within — a scheme uncovered by the relentless newshounds from the Record . At any rate, the Brotherhood hopes to continue its tradition of navel-contemplation in quiet seclusion from the rush and bother of important campus activities. ( Gulielmensian 1966)

The changes wrought by the abolishment of fraternities encouraged the formation of the system we know today, including the conversion of fraternity houses into general dormitories or academic facilities and the construction of new buildings, like those of the Greylock Quadrangle and Mission Park.

By Jaime Margalotti (Williams Class of 2000)

Sources

“Statement of the Board of Trustees and Report of the Committee on Review of Fraternity Questions” (Angevine Committee Report). 30 June 1962. Williams College Archives.

Mondell, Al, Clark Willmott, and Bill Hubbard. “Riot: ‘Despicable.’ ” Letter. Williams Record . 21 Sept. 1962.

“Hail . . . And Farewell.” Editorial. Williams Record . 10 October 1962.

“A Report to the Williams College Family Containing Additional Information and Some Alternate Views on the Williams Fraternity System.” 30 October 1962. Williams College Archives.

Gulielmensian (1965).

Gulielmensaan (1966).

Lewis, R. Cragin, ed. Williams 1793 – 1993: A Pictoral History . Williamstown: Williams College Bicentennial Commission, 1993.