When cries of "Take back the Walk" overwhelmed an anti-rape rally last March, no one was more surprised than the fraternity members who had supported and co-sponsored the event. As marchers challenged the fraternity presence on Locust Walk, Greek leaders expressed dismay that the "Take Back the Night" march -- an anti-crime demonstration -- had been transformed into a political event. They and other students became confused three weeks later when President Sheldon Hackney, in a suprise move, endorsed the idea of putting non-Greeks, especially women and minorities, on the fraternity-dominated Walk. "It was completely unforeseen," Interfraternity Council President Bret Kinsella said this month. "It did not come with consultation from the people who are directly involved." But like most major social movements, "diversity on the Walk" did not spring from barren ground. Campus leaders say they had discussed the future of the Walk privately for years, and officials interviewed this month point to History Professor Drew Faust and her University Life Committee, rather than rallies and the Progresive Student Alliance, as the true catalysts of change. Last week President Hackney officially charged a committee to change the residential mix on Locust Walk, but over the past year, he and Faust have discussed the issue several times. By next month he is expected to approve her committee's final report, which will call for non-Greek housing in the residential core of campus. While some students believe that the president buckled under pressure from radical liberals or that the administration has targetted fraternities, such as Psi Upsilon, which was evicted from its Locust Walk house last May, Hackney said last week that his decision came from measured discussion. "I think Drew Faust was the most influential," the president said. "In the process of talking with her, as that committee went along, she began to make me aware of not only the importance of Locust Walk, but also the way it is seen and experienced." And Faust said her inspiration, and the beginning of the recent movement, came from five black freshmen with whom she ate dinner in Hill House in the spring of 1989. Members of the University Life Committee were eating dinner in the dormitory to talk to students about their college experiences. Faust said she expected students to complain about the low number of black faculty members, but was surprised when they mentioned Locust Walk. "They were very happy about their freshman year," Faust said. "[But] they said it was upsetting to come to this campus and see that the center campus space was dominated by white fraternities and the Wharton School, which is also primarily male and primarily white." The history professor said she had never thought about the social importance of Locust Walk, even though physical relationships are important in her academic work. She said when she returned to discuss the Walk with administrators and other faculty members, she found many of them had either been harassed walking by fraternities or wondered why women and minorities were excluded from the prime locations. "Once the issue came up, people said, 'Oh, yeah,' " Faust said. College senior Erica Strohl, a member of the president's "diversity on the Walk" committee, said students considered Locust Walk to be a problem since at least her freshman year. In fact, Assistant to the President William Epstein said a group of female undergraduates talked with Hackney about the issue early last semester. He said the president endorsed the idea last April because "the time seemed ripe." "It was something that was coming up more and more frequently as an issue," Epstein said. "Contrary to what some people believe, it was very much before the Castle [Psi Upsilon] issue." Next month as the "diversity on the Walk" committee begins its year-long study, it will continue to try to answer questions raised by five freshmen 18 months ago.Comments powered by Disqus
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