Turf War

The mother of all Kenyon battles, at least in the modern era, erupted in the fall of 1989, when the trustees' Commission on Student Life proposed ending the housing privileges traditionally enjoyed by fraternities. In the historic south-end residence halls, the "aura of male dominance" should give way to "an inclusive, coed atmosphere," said the commission. Their report actually covered an array of issues. But all the fulmination was about housing and the Greek system.

Quick facts: In 1991, the College followed up on the report by adopting a more open housing policy. In 1994, the campus chapter of Alpha Delta Phi and its alumni group, the East Wing Association, sued, charging breach of contract on the basis of a 1906 agreement. In 1996, the suit ended amicably with a settlement acknowledging Kenyon's authority over housing matters while allowing the fraternity alumni to fund the construction of Ganter Price Hall.

But the facts don't capture the mood of all-out war. There was sniping and counter-sniping over everything, even the commission report's bibliography. Another dispute had to do with whether fraternity members were trying to intimidate their opponents at open meetings by "clicking their fingers" when they agreed with a speaker.

At the center of the storm: the fraternities, and their role and value.

"The Commission plan is an obvious ploy to do away with the fraternity system and to impose a political agenda on the student body," wrote one student.

Fraternities are "a moral, intellectual, aesthetic, and cultural blight," responded another.

Even Nook and Goo weighed in. A Collegian comic strip created by Phil Hebert '92 and John Ursu '92, "Nook and Goo" traced the stumbles of two aliens trying to make sense of Earth customs as encountered in a corner of the planet called Kenyon. A March 29, 1990, strip shows the duo girl-watching, holding a book called Frat Man's Guide to Scoring Babes. Only after they've been felled by a whip-wielding woman in fishnet stockings do they realize that the book was written pre-commission. "I'm sensitive now," moans one of the aliens, dazed on the ground. "I'm sensitive."

Perhaps the most imaginative gesture came from Bobby Voth '92, who, while sitting around bored one spring day, decided to phone Lord Kenyon in England—and actually got through. Recounting his adventure in the Collegian, Voth noted that after some pleasantries ("How is the lovely place?" asked the lord. "Just beautiful, sir, and how is it in England?" "Quite balmy today."), Voth asked his lordship's opinion on fraternities.

"Well, this is a point with many pros and cons," Voth reported Lord Kenyon as saying, "and I believe both sides to have equal ground for their arguments."

Not the last word, to be sure. But such a temperate tone. And a good one to end on.

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