On Wednesday, Oct. 24, faculty gathered to discuss a proposed motion to eliminate “single-sex social and residential organizations.” The motion, which began circulating through the faculty listserv, was recommended by Assistant Professor of Classics Dana Burgess. Initially, the motion proposed the abolishment of all single-gender student organizations and spaces. It was later amended to include only sororities and fraternities.
Elyse Semerdjian, Associate Professor of Islamic World/Middle East History, shed light on the process.
“The faculty code does not allow faculty-generated discussion without a motion. Professor Burgess used the only mechanism we have in code to bring a discussion to the faculty floor,” Semerdjian said over email correspondence. “As I read [the faculty code], we are not allowed to talk unless we advance a motion, which gets the discussion item on the agenda, or are invited by the faculty chair to speak or ask questions.”
For Semerdjian, faculty meetings are important spaces for necessary dialogue — regardless of what the final outcome turns out to be.
“If the motion had been voted on and passed, it would have been toothless anyway since the faculty do not hold the power to determine whether fraternities and sororities stay or go,” Semerdjian said. “I do want more faculty deliberation and speech in faculty meetings as a rule because I believe we are better when we work together to address problems.”
Susanne Beechey, Associate Professor of Politics, also believes that discussion is imperative for working through such matters.
“Many who spoke at the faculty meeting expressed concern that a broad range of student voices had not been directly heard on the question,” Beechey said over email correspondence. “The sense of the room was that folks wanted to see a more deliberative process before voting on the motion.”
Beechey acknowledged the complexities and long-running discussions surrounding the issue.
“I spoke about the need for an external review of the Greek system at Whitman, as recommended by the [Whitman Inclusion, Diversity and Equity] subcommittee, on Greek Life as well as an internal review of the role of Greek Life at Whitman, which should include consideration of whether other institutional formations could approximate the benefits of the Greek system without some of the accompanying exclusions and limitations,” Beechey said. “Others noted that the Student Life Committee already had a charge relevant to the question, so I made a motion to send the question to the Student Life Committee, in the hopes that they could coordinate an external review of Greek Life and the deliberative process faculty and students had indicated they wanted to see.”
The issue has now been transferred to the Student Life Committee.
“My sense was that all the faculty were pleased that Professor Beechey had directed us to the place where this conversation should take place and where, at a later time, more information could be generated,” Semerdjian said.
Moving forward, Beechey recommends avoiding generalizations when it comes to important issues that impact a broad range of Whitman community members. “I think there is a disconnect anytime we think about the faculty or the students as singular groups,” Beechey said. “’The students’ is a label for broad constituencies with varied, diverse, and sometimes competing interests. The same is true for ‘the faculty.’”