Fraternities say Duke's latest action poses 'existential threat' to Greek life

Nine Duke University fraternities decided to disaffiliate from the school and form their own interfraternity council.

The decision was made after Duke decided to ban freshman recruitment for fraternities and sororities.

After Duke University decided to end recruitment of freshmen by Greek and non-Greek selective living groups, nine fraternities decided to disaffiliate from the Interfraternity Council, and thus from the university itself.

Duke University has made several changes to Greek life since the hiring of former Tufts University dean of student affairs Mary Pat McMahon. McMahon is now the vice president and vice provost for student affairs at Duke.

McMahon collaborated with the Office of Undergraduate Education to create a new committee called the Next Generation Living and Learning 2.0 Committee in 2020. The committee seeks to “build a joyful and intentional 4-year residential experience that promotes growth, meaningful inclusion, and health, and that is distinctly Duke.”

In November, the committee announced its decision to delay Panhellenic and Interfraternity Council (IFC) recruitment of freshmen. 

“Panhellenic & IFC can recruit sophomores, juniors, and seniors. As shared in the NGLLE 2.0 document in November, no first-year students can join at this time. [Multicultural Greek Council] & [National Pan-Hellenic Council] can recruit students of any class year this semester. Future years, this is subject to change due to the continued examination of the fraternity/sorority experience through NGLLE 2.0,” a January announcement read.

According to the Duke Chronicle, in response to the change, nine fraternities decided to disaffiliate from Duke’s Interfraternity Council and form a new council called the Durham Interfraternity Council.

Disaffiliated fraternities include Alpha Delta Phi, Alpha Tau Omega, Delta Tau Delta, Kappa Alpha Order (KA), Pi Kappa Phi, Sigma Chi and Sigma Nu, Alpha Epsilon Pi and Pi Kappa Alpha.

North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) spokesperson Todd Shelton told Campus Reform that “Duke’s actions to impose sophomore deferred recruitment for IFC fraternities (and NPC sororities) while not impeding other student organizations from recruiting from the start of freshman year” are what caused the fraternities to disaffiliate.

Durham IFC president Will Santee told Campus Reform that this change was “especially frustrating, since most juniors would be abroad and most seniors are relatively apathetic about rush.” Santee also said that the new administration moved fraternities’ living spaces to the “back corner of campus” and “limited them to juniors and seniors, most of whom choose to live off-campus.”

Campus Reform obtained a letter sent to alumni of Kappa Alpha Order which stated that these changes were made unilaterally by McMahon without the Duke Board of Trustees’ knowledge.

Duke Alumni Letter by Campus Reform on Scribd

“Unfortunately, that partnership [between national organizations and universities] has failed with the University’s unilateral pronouncement that students cannot join some fraternities and sororities until their sophomore year. This was preceded by another unilateral decision revoking housing privileges for fraternities and sororities. These actions were taken without consultation from the members of the fraternity and sorority community,” KA executive director Larry Stanton Wiese wrote. 

Duke junior and president of KA Lowell Weil told Campus Reform that his fraternity was “disappointed” with the “lack of dialogue between the school and its members of greek life when considering changing recruitment to sophomore fall.”

[RELATED: Duke sorority council bans events with male groups]

McMahon told the Chronicle, however, that she met with IFC and fraternity presidents in October to discuss the decision to ban the recruitment of first-years. Wiese noted that NIC was able to meet with McMahon after several attempts to reach her to discuss its concerns over the deferment but she made it clear that the policy would not be reversed.

NIC published a statement of support for the newly formed Durham Interfraternity Council and claimed that “higher levels of positive mental health along with lower rates of depression and anxiety” are reported among first-year students involved with fraternities.

Wiese warned that the new rule is an “existential threat” and “could force IFC fraternities into extinction.”

Weill echoed this sentiment when he told Campus Reform, “I believe that this decision changes the fraternity experience in a negative way, as the relationships that are built between classes in our fraternity will be weaker. Some of my best memories as a college student were fraternity events during my freshmen spring, and with the new changes that Duke will implement, those would never have been possible.”

McMahon sent an email to all IFC-affiliated students in organizations choosing to forgo university recognition asking them to reconsider their decision to disaffiliate. The letter also made clear that independent fraternities would no longer have access to university resources such as funding and facilities.

“We are concerned that disaffiliation from Duke will ultimately be detrimental to your organization’s immediate and longer-term viability and that it may also lead to unforeseen consequences for you, other individual students, and possibly your families,” the email warned.

These changes come as calls to reform and abolish Duke fraternities and sororities have been on the rise. Campus Reform reported on the Duke Panhellenic Council vote to ban its sorority chapters from hosting “mixers” with all-male organizations in order to “refocus the Panhellenic community on women’s empowerment and disassociate the sorority value from male organizations.”

A group called “Abolish Duke IFC and Panhel” was established last summer to “shed light on the racism, elitism, sexism, and classism prevalent within panhellenic and IFC organizations.”

Campus Reform spoke to two of the organizations’ leaders, Shreyas Gupta and Christine Bergamini about the Greek life reforms and subsequent decisions to disaffiliate.

Gupta said that the new lack of partnership between the university and the fraternities is “dangerous.” For example, “the rush process will become whiter, wealthier, more legacy-based than it already was.” Bergamini added that the fraternities will be “governing themselves” in areas such as COVID-19 precautions, sexual assault prevention, and racial bias training.

[RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Inside a ‘Marxist Feminist’ event with a Duke professor]

“We think it will have a really drastic effect on the health and safety of just men in the fraternities and the women and all people attending. The little bit that Duke did do to police them and provide sexual assault training, you know it wasn’t much and clearly didn’t make the system great, but like it was something. And now they won’t even have that, so it’s scary,” Bergamini said.

“It’s dangerous. Like there are just no rules,” Gupta said.

Santee, however, told Campus Reform that he sees this independence as a positive.

“We have and will continue to prove to ourselves and others that we can operate without Duke’s guidance,” he concluded.

“It’s an absolute shame that Duke has gone so far down the woke road. [McMahon] should be ashamed of herself for this absolutely creepy intrusion into the lives of young students who chose to associate themselves how they themselves see fit. Harming students won’t make the lives of those complaining any better. This is an utter embarasment [sic] for Duke and should be reconsidered immediately,” Duke KA alumnus Mike Howell told Campus Reform.

“When Duke goes, the other southern private schools will follow,” Howell continued.

The Durham Interfraternity Council began a completely virtual spring rush process in February.

“With creating a new IFC, we hope to restore those experiences while committing to being positive influences in our local community,” Lowell said.

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