Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut, is undergoing the kind of institutional transformation that our relentless fixation on U – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut, is undergoing the kind of institutional transformation that our relentless fixation on U

All undergraduates, barring those few who receive special allowances, must live either in dorms or in Program Housing

If you want an object lesson in how all of this actually works-how fraternities exert their power over colleges, how college and university presidents can be reluctant to move unilaterally against dangerous fraternities, and how students can meet terrible fates as a result-there can be no better example than the $10 million Title IX lawsuit filed against Wesleyan University and the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. The plaintiff was a young woman who had been assaulted in the house, and who-in one of the bizarre twists so common to fraternity litigation-ended up being blamed by the university for her own assault.

S. News World Report rankings has wrought for a number of colleges and universities in the past three decades. As great as its faculty may be-and it has included, over the years, some of the most renowned scholars in the world-it is the undergraduate population itself that constitutes its most impressive resource. Wesleyan is one of those places that has by now become so hard to get into that the mere fact of attendance is testament, in most cases, to a level of high-school preparation-combined with sheer academic ability-that exists among students at only a handful of top colleges in this country and that is almost without historical precedent. Wesleyan is a school with a large number of aspiring artists-many of whom took, and aced, AP Calculus as 11th-graders.

Given these sensibilities, Wesleyan might not seem the type of institution likely to have a typical fraternity scene, but as we have observed, fraternities are older than political correctness

Still, what the university is perhaps most broadly famous for is its progressive politics, manifest in any number of actions, from the hiring of five Muslim chaplains in the years since 9/11; to the use of the gender-neutral pronouns ze and hir in the campus newspaper; to the creation of a Diversity Education Facilitation Program. The Princeton Review, among other publications, has named Wesleyan America’s most politically active campus, an encomium that appears on the university’s Web site.

There are three all-male residential frats at Wesleyan, all founded in the 19th century and occupying a row of large houses on High Street; over the years, they have counted some of the university’s most accomplished and loyal alumni among their members. If you raise the topic of fraternity alumni with a college president in a private moment, he or she will emit the weary sigh of the ancients. The group includes some of the most financially generous and institutionally helpful former students a school may have. But try to do some small thing to bring the contemporary fraternity scene in line with current campus priorities, and you will hear from them-loudly-before you even hit send on the e-mail.

By 2005, Wesleyan had taken such an action: it had pressured all three fraternities to offer residence, although not membership, to female students, if they wanted to be part of university-approved Program Housing. Wesleyan has a rare requirement. Integrating affinity group housing had lately been on the mind of the administration; recent lack of student interest in living in the Malcolm X House, for example, had ultimately led to that residence’s becoming racially integrated, a charged and in many respects unpopular administration decision. But there was no shortage of fraternity brothers wishing to live in their houses-nor were the houses owned by the university or located on university property, as the Malcolm X House was have a glimpse at the hyperlink. Predictably, and perhaps not irrationally, many in the Greek community viewed this new edict as antagonistic toward their way of life.

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