College Bans Psi Upsilon Fraternity
By Elaine Teng '12, Editor-in-Chief
Last week, College President Anthony Marx sent a campus-wide email banning all membership in the fraternity Psi Upsilon (Psi-U) for their “serious violation involving the leadership and members.” Any student caught participating in the fraternity could be suspended or expelled.

Marx made the decision after receiving recommendations from College Council, a committee of students, faculty and staff, who reviewed the case and held a hearing with the fraternity. While on-campus fraternities were banned in 1984, with many of their houses converted into dormitories, they are allowed at the College as long as their activities remain off-campus. However, Marx made it clear that Psi-U had violated this rule.

“[They] had activities on campus and the College Council recommended that therefore they lose the right to even off-campus activities,” Marx said. “That’s what’s changed. We have also alerted the other fraternities that they should be mindful and observant of the rules.”

Though there has been no elaboration as to what this violation was, Tom Hanford ’62, a member of the Psi-U Alumni Advisory Board, said that the fraternity would not protest the decision.

“The reason why [there is no appeal] is that there is no question the fraternity violated the Trustees’ ban on on-campus fraternity activity,” he said. “It shouldn’t have been done. I do not feel an appeal would have any chance of success. The President indicated in his letter to the student body that the matter will be subject to possible review down the road and I think we’ll take him at his word.”

While Hanford is disappointed with the members’ actions that led to the discontinuation of the 169-year organization, he also recognized that students can make mistakes.

“I have volumes of correspondents over the years from members attesting to how much they enjoyed their fraternity experience,” said Hanford. “I regret that students are not going to have this opportunity to enjoy the fraternity and to gain the benefits that many generations of students have. The men and women who have been members of Psi-U… [are] the best and the brightest, but having raised college-aged kids, I clearly know that even the best and brightest can go astray. That’s the nature of things and we have to accept that.”

When asked, members of Psi-U refused to comment, with one saying that they “are all still processing the situation.” However, Christian Salmeron*, a member of another campus fraternity, felt that the administration was not being transparent and clear enough with their reaction.

“It’s hard to say if [Psi-U] deserved it because [the administration] never told us what they were being banned for,” he said. “The reason that [the administration] can get away with something like this is that people don’t know very much about us (fraternities), which is partially our fault. In essence, they’re threatening Amherst students with expulsion or suspension and not giving any real reason as to why.”

The decision was released just when many fraternities were sending out their bids for new members, which has made the other fraternities become more cautious in their pledging process, according to Josh Winthrop*, another campus fraternity member. For example, his fraternity debated having pledges walk off campus by themselves instead of being picked up by members of the fraternity. Winthrop also said his fraternity discussed possible courses of action in reaction to the Psi-U ban.

“Some people just said, ‘Go ahead, they don’t care. It’ll blow over.’ I was in the camp that we should not do this (pledging process),” he recalled. “The general reaction is that the College is taking this seriously.”

He also supported the College’s decision and voiced his disapproval of fraternities and their hazing processes, arguing that though some fraternities refrain from physical intimidation, the verbal and mental abuse is no less traumatizing.

“When I was doing it (pledging), there were a lot of times when I was really, really scared or more nervous than I’ve ever been in my entire life,” he said. “I really don’t do much with the pledge process because it makes me really uncomfortable. A lot of these people are my friends anyway, and I can’t bring myself to intimidate myself for essentially my own pleasure. It’s like a power trip. You see movies like ‘Animal House’ that satirize the whole fraternity thing, but when you see it in action, it’s not that far away, it’s actually that ridiculous.”

Now that the College has banned Psi-U, Winthrop no longer wishes to be a part of his fraternity, but cannot see a way out of an organization that very much emphasis bonding, commitment and tradition.

“These are all people I’m supposed to trust and confide my deepest secrets in, but… I can’t trust any of them enough to go up to them and tell them that I’m really apprehensive and ask them how to I get out,” he said. “I’m not afraid to talk about things, [and] I don’t know if some people in it feel differently than I do, but I’m just slightly less intimidated than I was when I was pledging. Now looking back, it seems sort of foolish that I did in the first place, but you’re sort of ensnared.”

However, Salmeron felt that the pledging process, including hazing, is not overly harsh and brings the members together.

“If pledging [were] truly that horrific, we would not be able to keep such a low profile on a campus of 1,600,” he said. “I can honestly say that the pledging experience was one I’ll have the fondest memories of for the rest of my life. We have the camaraderie of a sports team, with a higher emphasis on history and those that came before.”

According to him, much of the negative stereotypes and images that many students have of fraternities stems from ignorance of the fraternities’ processes and events.

“People have formed opinions not about what they’ve witnessed on campus, but horror stories they’ve heard,” Salmeron said. “By our nature, and through the administration’s policies, we’re forced to into silence, and so these stereotypical opinions prevail on campus. Fraternity members at Amherst are not drunken buffoons that stumble around all day in a house miles off campus. Like you, we too are contributing members of the best liberal arts college in America.”

Whatever the effect of fraternities, the College will possibly review the ban on Psi-U in four years, and in the meantime, will assess the impact of fraternities upon the social life of the campus as a whole, according to Dean of Students Allen Hart.

“There’s a need for people to be socially connected in a variety of different ways,” said Hart. “I think the challenge for the Dean of Students office is to think what needs have been met by different social groups and work with different organizations on campus to investigate and see if there’s a need that’s not being met by our services.”

* Names changed due to sensitive nature of issue

Issue 16, Submitted 2010-02-24 03:49:44