When the University turned Locust Street into a pedestrian thoroughfare more than 25 years ago, it hoped to bring together a campus that had an impersonal, commuter environment. It was a structural change designed to create a more peaceful and attractive setting, a single move that had broad support across campus. It was a simpler time, and the new Locust Walk reflected the University circa 1960: fraternities dominated the society and they dominated the new central corridor. In this homogeneous community, women and minority students did not have a powerful voice, and they were quietly confined to the periphery of the University. This time around, however, changing the center of campus has not been so straightforward. While people agree that the Walk must change to represent the new, broader spectrum of the University, they have become polarized over what should be done. The Walk discussion has expanded well beyond a single sliver of land between Walnut and Spruce streets. At stake is not only who will live on the Walk, but also issues of racism, sexism, Greek property rights and the role campus opinion plays in administrative decisions. These schisms have made it increasingly difficult for anyone to find a collective vision for the University community, and few of the conflicting groups seem willing to accept defeat quietly. Interest groups of every kind are clamoring about problems on campus, and unlike in the 1950s, the administration cannot resolve the complaints by closing a street. · The issues embodied in the Walk discussion have plagued the campus since women and minorities were first allowed to attend the University. But over the past 30 years, the issue has gained prominence as the number of women and minorities on campus has skyrocketed. Over the past year, Locust Walk, with its imposing academic buildings and 10 predominantly white fraternities, has taken on symbolic importance in the struggle for an open and tolerant environment. Since President Sheldon Hackney announced last April that he wanted the Walk to be more inclusive, the campus has been mired in controversies over the process. Only in recent weeks has Hackney's committee begun the nuts and bolts process of restructuring the center of campus. On one side, the fraternities see themselves struggling to retain the houses that are part of their histories. Members say that they have a legal and moral right to remain on the Walk, and they feel decades of anti-fraternity sentiment has created this the movement to kick them off the Walk. On the other, a loose coalition of groups representing female and minority students argue that their members deserve the same rights given to Greeks 25 years ago. The Progressive Student Alliance, a small but vocal group which sees fraternities as the embodiment of white male privelege, has taken the most extreme opinion, calling for wholesale fraternity eviction. Although they differ with the PSA's tactics and extreme demands, the other organizations, including the Women's Alliance, the Black Student League, the United Minorities Council and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Alliance, side with the ultra-left-wing group on most issues. Outside all these groups lie the majority of the student body, in whose name the diversity cause is being undertaken. They cannot currently live on Locust Walk and have been almost untouched by the process. Under many of the plans discussed, they may remain that way. Hackney, who critics say advocated serious changes on the Walk last April then cooled his stance, has decided to pool the clashing groups together in a committee to find a moderate stance out of the maelstrom of conflicting ideas. From the beginning, the committee's membership has been called into question, as women and minorities, graduate students, faculty and alumni say they are not fairly represented and that Greeks carry too much weight. But at the vortex of the controversy is Hackney's charge to the committee, which only advises the president, in which he forbade members from considering moving Walk fraternities. Some committee members say they feel Hackney has tied their hands, and that it indicates that the president wants superficial, not substantial change. While they say the charge shows a change in the president's attitude, Hackney said yesterday he has remained true to his goals the entire time. He said he has always felt change could be accomplished on the Walk without moving fraternities. "I said it in public but it was not picked up," he said. Because of how he has handled the process, the president has been attacked from nearly every corner. Last spring, fraternities told him he was being too radical. This fall, other special interest groups are saying he is not willing to go far enough. Hackney said that he began the process because he wanted change. "The issue was not very visible when I found it," he said. "I decided we needed to do something about it. It was not in response to any outcry." The committee plans to report to Hackney at the end of the school year, but with only a fraction of the work behind them, the committee will have to scramble to meet the deadline. While the committee's chairperson, Vice Provost for University Life Kim Morrisson, said she is heading towards a group consensus for the Walk, other members have expressed distrust and dislike for the system. At this point, few people are certain where the process is going or that it can yield a universally acceptable outcome. "One of the challenges [of the committee] is defining a vision," Morrisson said. "Here we're talking about a collective vision." As the second semester of "diversity on the Walk" comes to a close, there are still more questions than answers. People have rarely discussed in public many of the most crucial issues, including who owns the Walk, what is the role of the Trustees and what are the proposals being discussed. Before Locust Walk truly becomes reflective of the University community, the community itself will have to address these questions. While Hackney will make the final plan for the Walk, there is no guarantee that his mandate will put the entire issue to rest.Comments powered by Disqus
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