Imágenes de páginas

the higher education of women in the Middle West, lies with the sororities. It is certainly true that the sororities could destroy coeducation in spite of all efforts on the part of academic authorities to prevent, short of expelling those sororities. And though the sororities could never cover the whole field to be controlled, they could, if they would, practically maintain coeducation; for they could do so much, if they really lived up to their own possibilities, that other problems of social life would solve themselves easily.

A sorority may, and often does, give a group of girls a really homelike place to live in. It gives its members considerable training in executive work of various kinds. It nearly always gives a girl a certain social ease; and if its own social usages are correct, it will transform an awkward girl into a young woman of charming manner. A good sorority fosters the spirit of loyalty and esprit de corps that girls so especially need to have developed; and it teaches a girl to keep a secret, to adjust herself cheerfully to difficulties, to subordinate her selfish interests to the good of others. In a properly managed chapter, the freshmen learn to accept guidance from the seniors, and the seniors have the inestimable benefit of being responsible for the good of the freshmen.

In fact, if all under classmen were docile and amenable to wise seniors, and if all upper classmen were busy setting good examples to freshmen, again we should have the dawn of a millenium. Meantime, far as we are from this condition, I cheerfully bear witness to the good work of sororities, and I am willing to defend the thesis that the average sorority girl is better equipped for the vicissitudes of after life than her classmate who has lived in the average student boarding house.

I think I have given a fair idea of the elements of sorority strength. There are, I think, two inherent weaknesses, each itself the reverse side of a great trength. The first weakness results from the irrevocable nature of the bond, more irrevocable than marriage; for, while a girl and her sorority may be separated in rare cases, this divorce can never under any circumstances be followed by union with a different sorority. Once initiated the girl belongs to the sorority, to have its stamp put upon her, to be molded for life. And yet every year mistakes are made in forming this adamantine bond. From the sorority point of view, the damage to the chapter is usually emphasized; but I confess that my memory dwells on a few occasions when a girl has allowed me a glimpse of the sufferings of the individual who has made the mistake, a hint at the intolerable burden of the bond. The usual method of avoiding these mistakes, by postponing the choice for a year, safeguards both the chapter and the individual, but introduces a new problem-that is, what to do with freshmen. Under a system of late pledging, the freshmen are left in that Limbo-or shall we call it, in their case, Ante-Purgatory?—where hover the girls who are not sorority material. The second inherent weakness of the sorority lies in its exclusions. One cannot choose one's exclusive circle without leaving things outside. In general, sororities, being human institutions, have the defects of their qualities.

Now if they had only such defects, why could we not look forward to an immediate Utopia under Greek letter auspices? Let us recall the fact that the sorority chapter is simply a small group of girls arbitrarily marked off from the rest of that student body whose make-up ard characteristics I described in the first part of this paper. A chapter contains nearly all the component elements of the student body-the descendant of colonial governors and the granddaughter of the peasant. While it is still true that the sororities take most of the girls who are in the rest sense strong socially, they also take in ever increasing numbers the girls of the cheaper social standards, the girls who are trying to better their social positions. Gladys and Maybelle often make' the best chapter. For one girl who is choseu for good-breeding and general ability, two or three or more, shall I say?-are chosen for their gowns, their coiffures, and the names they can show on dance programs. Too often a girl is virtually chosen, not by the sorority members, tut by the suffrages of interested fraternities. In the rapid changes of student personnel one never knows when a chapter may pass entirely into the control of its own foolish and frivolous element, when the only seniors there are to guide frestimen are girls whose careers not even the sorority alumnæ try to justify. I have seen chapters lapse into such social bankruptcy, and while present social conditions and standards prevail, what better can the average chapter do than avoid such periods of lapse and keep the cheaper element down to a minimum? It is significant that writers on these questions usually assume that the social dissipation that menaces coeducation is confined to the Greek letter circle. Student opinion tacitly assumes the identification of the Greek letter w rld with the world of the frivolous, of the less worthy aims. These assumptions are probably as just as any rough generalization can be. Thoughtful sorority alumnæ do not gainsay them. In fact, one sorority woman, well-known in educatioral circles, who spends much of her time working for her own organization, told me recently that she expected the Greek letter organizations, within the next fifty years, to perish from their own internal corruption.

I should say then that, just as a great social problem in the uni versity is imported into it by the entrance of students of cheap and low social standards and usages, so the greatest weakness of the sororities at present is a social weakness, taken on by them from their environment; and that this social weakness is a fatal obstacle 'in the way of their carrying out any such system of social control as is suggested by Mr. Birdseye. Another and only less serious obstacle is a financial one. I pass over this lightly, important as it is; but as long as some of the oldest sororities cannot afford to send an official visitor to their chapter for more than a few days every other year. and as long as many chapters have no adequate funds for securing the right sort of chaperones to preside in their houses, so long will there be a financial obstacle in the way

of sorority perfection.

The mention of this last matter recalls a fact which it is the fashion to ignore. The fact is that we of the Middle West are living and working in a very young country, less than a hundred years old on the average. The garment that we call civilization is very thin as yet in the West, full of holes and liable to tear. The people who are busy at the making of this garment are true creators on the earthly plane; and they have the rewards of the maker, the poet; but it is a false sort of optimism to think that the flimsy garment is as stout as the heavier one. In the thrill of the creative effort, the great, vital West gets its logic confused, and concludes that because a cast-iron suit of civilization is uncomfortable, therefore a chiffon garment wears better than one of stout cloth. In the face of such logic, I still regret that the sororities are too poor to pay for visitors and high-priced chaperones. In the face of such assertions, I still think that there are, not only in the sororities but still more in the student body as a whole, certain things unsatisfactory, crude, and unfinished, that time alone will ameliorate. Meanwhile, we cannot make the frail tissue stand the strain borne by the older fabrics. For the present generation seems to be thoroughly habituated to the manners and customs of Tommy Atkins; it knows more than its elders, knows that it knows more, and hides not its knowledge; it scandalizes its visitors and friends, and then compels their bewildered admiration; it flocks to the university, works tremendously there, and makes havoc of academic traditions; it keeps sorority houses full of noise, free-and-easy manners, and jolly girls; it knows not the word control, or the word reverence, or the word fail. For these young barbarians, some of whom masquerade as Greeks, I do not believe that any satisfactory system of control can be gotten by machinery, whether of faculty, or of deans, or of sororities, or of what not. Machine work is all very well on wood or iron or linen, but it is merely a makeshift on young human beings.

The control of college social life must begin in the home. And as the great Mississippi valley gets older and its people win more leisure, there will always be in it more and more homes in which boys and girls are carefully trained, in which will be anticipated those subtler points on the entrance requirements that are not expressed as languages and mathematics. Such homes, of course, exist all over the West now; and many graduates of this decade are establishing such homes. These homes will really relieve the university of much of its present social function, at least of the responsibility of bringing girls out into society. In the Middle West it seems improbable that the academic functions of the university will be superseded by athletics; and, if the institution can be prevented from becoming a miniature Newport, it may very well continue to be an intellectual centre.

As to pressing problems of social control immediately confronting us, of course therc are numerous expedients. We may coax, persuade, threaten, make rules, and discipline offenders. The national Greek letter organizations can do much to help, and they would themselves grow stronger if their help were oftener asked. Their national chapters are always willing to do the utmost in their power in response to an appeal. Far more effectively than the Greek letter organizations, the students themselves can help. The social excesses make a certain set of students conspicuous, but back of that set there are always the majority—the eager, industrious, steady young people into whose sturdy ranks the frivolous come almost as intruders. Anyone who lives in a state university appreciates the weight of conservatism of the student body,

But though the ultimate solution of our problem of social control lies with the next generation, and will develop as civilization develops; though we may find that temporary expedients in the way of machine control are all more or less unsatisfactory; let it not be thought that we must fold our hands, or be content with purely temporary expedients. Two agencies are at work now, always available, really effective, though perhaps not sufficiently appreciated in educational high places. These agencies are, first, the humanizing and cultivating pursuit of liberal studies; and second, the informal, continuous influence of well-bred, cultured men and women. These agencies are simple, subtle, and costly, not so much in money as in far more precious things, such as time and thought. To discuss the ameliorating effect of humane studies when brought to bear through the personality of a great teacher, would lead me too far afield. But in this day of original research too little recognition is given to the services of the man who merely teaches supremely well; and it is quite as short-sighted to leave this influence out of account in our consideration of student problems as it is to forget, in discussing sociological questions, the stupendous realities of religion. And incidentally, stiffening the requrements for entrance and graduation would be a most efficacious remedy for “harmless flirtations,” and might even prevent Gladys and Maybelle from becoming students.

Outside the classroom, the most effective control of student life at present is exerted by gentlemen and gentlewomen of culture and experience, some of them in official capacities, some in more or less accidental contact with university life, but all in close personal touch with individual students, few or many. A woman of great experience and authority in educational matters once said to me that the place in which effective influence could be brought to bear was in the house where the student slept and ate. My own experience confirms this entirely. A former dean of women, whose long experience was filled with success, said once that the only really effective work she did was that perfectly informal mingling with the women students in committee work and in student frolics, where her footing was personal, not official. This utterance is so true that one may almost call it inspired. The real control of student life is the often unconscious influence of men and women who lodge in the same houses, work on committees, or perhaps merely live ordered, thoughtful lives in the house next door or across the

« AnteriorContinuar »