When I return to the college on the hill, the memories come easily, spurred by the sights and sounds of the campus. Even when I was an undergraduate it always held a certain mystical quality for me, and I am not unique among its many fervent alumni in this regard.
It is filled with special places: the athletic fields where my collegiate football career began and ended, Faulkner Recital Hall where I first learned to sing the praises of the college, the quiet jogging trail in the woods by the Connecticut River where I sweated out effects of some of my more excessive nights, and even the comfortable armchair in Sanborn House where I fell asleep so many times trying to wade through the collected works of long-dead poets.
All of these places shaped my college experience, and they remain unchanged; blissfully ignorant of my passing or my nostalgic emotional investments. Perhaps it is for this reason that my fraternity holds such an important place in my heart. Even after 10 years in the real world, when I return to campus, Sigma Phi Epsilon is still my home.
There are the walls we painted, the floors we refinished, the deck we built, and the wiring we installed. Our class composite still hangs on the wall as a testament to the friendships we forged, many still as strong (or stronger) today than the day we graduated. We tried to make our house our home, and leave it a better place than we found it - simple principles of stewardship that mark all institutions that stand the test of time.
With this in mind, perhaps it will be easier for some to understand why there has been such an outpouring of emotion following the implied threats to the Greek system.
On a personal and very selfish level, I feel as if the college is trying to sever one of the strongest ties to my undergraduate days and deny others the opportunity to experience the Dartmouth I knew and loved.
But there are larger issues, too. This is about tolerance and intolerance, freedom of choice and freedom from abuse, exclusion and collusion, and a host of other issues. The debate rages on the college's electronic bulletin boards, as proponents and opponents of the Greeks, each armed with fierce stereotypes, compile lists of the faults and merits of a system that dates back more than 100 years. They are skeptically hoping the college will listen to what they have to say. Debate is always good we were taught at Dartmouth, but it usually helps if both sides participate.
The trustees' case is built on the assumption that major changes to the Greek system (or its abolition) are the only means to achieving their goals. My experiences tell me that they may well be removing the most important vehicle to help them effect the changes we all desire. The Co-ed Fraternity and Sorority Council has worked in good faith with the administration for more than a decade to help address campus issues and become a positive influence. Unfortunately, it does not have the power to change outdated "Animal House" perceptions or influence college rankings, which seem to be the administration's real focus. If they are truly trying to build a better Dartmouth, I wish them luck. They will need a keg of it if they are going to make it a better school than I attended.
*Michael A. Keller graduated in 1990. He is a manager at Andersen Consulting in Chicago.