This week’s main controversy in the Record concerns the existence of a “fraternity” at Williams.

Amidst growing awareness of the Lambda Chapter of St. Anthony Hall, a secret fraternity and literary society at Williams, Dean Roseman has announced the College will forego disciplinary action against students involved in an underground fraternity if members come forward and agree to adhere to College regulations.

All the descriptions that I have read about St. Anthony Hall make it seem like almost an anti-fraternity. At least I don’t remember my father talking about all the poetry slams that they had at the DKE House back in 1958.

Jacob Eiser notes in his blog:

The ones who are [in St. Anthony Hall], according to my informants (that is, not the Record) strike me less as the truly intellectual honest and more as the very deliberately and aesthetically ‘tortured,’ who ask the ‘deep questions’ and are primarily interested in projecting a particular image of angst which is immature and self-indulgent.

I don’t know if Eiser is being fair, but the main motivation for the College’s prohibition against fraternities is the conflict between “traditional” fraternities and the intellectual values that Williams holds dear. How such concerns would apply to a co-ed literary society is unclear to me. The Record reports:

Sources have confirmed that members of St. Anthony Hall generally meet once a week to share literary works and personal experiences. Unlike other fraternities, alcohol is not central to the function of St. Anthony HallĀ’s weekly meetings, they said. These meetings take place at a variety of off-campus sites, including a meeting space located in Vermont, known informally to members as “The Barn.” It is uncertain whether St. Anthony owns the Barn or is given access to it by a friend of the fraternity.

Even though this particular “fraternity” — literary society and therapy group would perhaps be a better description — seems harmless, I think that Aidan is correct when he argues that the

Trustees of Williams College are very (crystal even) clear on the position that frat membership is unacceptable. In fact, let’s quote them:

…Williams students may neither join nor participate in fraternities during their time at the College.

I think that’s clear enough. Moreover, the statement, that we all had to sign to matriculate at Williams College, goes on to clearlyenunciatee punishments for those found in violation:

The College will take disciplinary action against students who are found to be participating in such organizations. Penalties may include suspension or expulsion from the College.

I don’t see a lot of wiggle room or ambiguity here. I don’t see any “amnesty” clause. I understand that the administration is willing (wants to) downplay this whole situation, but they are really softpeddaling on an issue of vital importance, in fact, what the Trustees deemed the “central goal” of the college:

the sustenance of a community characterized by openness, academic vitality, and equality of opportunity.

I ask, can we really fudge on this? Can we jocularly joke about “the ‘secret’ frat” and chuckle that funny people like Amir Wyne were asked to join, and remember those whispered stories about “the football frat” up in Vermont, and in short, ignore this. Well, I don’t think so.

[…]

The only explanation, as far as I can see, is that St. Anthony Hall members are wealthy, donors, rich alums, well connected, and have been, as long as there haven’t been “fraternities” on the campus, tacitly allowed.

[…]

cut the crap–end the frat.

Note that Finley’s whole posting is well-worth a read. I think that he overestimates the impact of wealthy alums on issues like this, unless of course someone like Herb Allen ’62 is a former member.

UPDATE: My own advice to the members of St. Anthony Hall at Williams would be to take the deal that Dean Roseman is offering. You can still be exclusive (think Gargoyle). You can still meet in secret. You can probably still maintain a relationship with the national organization. Not taking the deal, on the other hand, would be to run a significant risk. Don’t underestimate the degree to which Williams takes its anti-fraternity position seriously. If the administration lets you (continue to) flaunt the rules, they won’t be able to stop the sorts of fraternities that don’t read poetry.

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