Alums cite athletics, Greek life as concerns

Michael Kowaleski

As President Alison Byerly begins to write her legacy at Lafayette College, she must manage and repair relations with alumni who have grown distanced with the school during the previous administration.

“One of [Byerly’s] main jobs is going to be drawing back in alumni who have gotten disenchanted,” Christina Griffin ‘99 said.

There are plenty of alumni who agree with Griffin.

“There’s a large faction of our alumni who are disenfranchised or disillusioned,” John Pierce ‘81 said. “I think there are a lot of our alumni who are still skeptical about whether this administration really can close some of the gaps that have formed.”

There is little contention about what Byerly is going to have to address in order to close those gaps. Out of seven interviews with key Lafayette alumni, six members cited Greek life, five cited social life, and five cited Lafayette’s commitment to Division I athletics as important aspects for President Byerly to concentrate on during her tenure.

Pierce believes that there are “many significant gaps” for Byerly to focus on. When asked to cite specific examples, Pierce said, “Gee, where to begin? I would say engineering, athletics, and the Greeks.”

Greek life was the most common concern for the alumni interviewed.

“Greek life needs to be a part of the school,” Carolyn Romney ‘08 said. Romney is a member of the Delta Gamma sorority. “It’s always been, it’s rooted in tradition. The way that that takes form is kind of determined by the future, but I’d like her to preserve the ties to our rich past.”

“Greek Alumni need to be brought back into the Lafayette Family,” Co-chair of the Lafayette Alumni Interfraternity and Sorority Board William Messick ‘68 said via email. “Over 16,000 of our Alumni are Greek, with some 10,000 without on-campus affiliations. Since 1993, the College has conducted a systematic purge of Fraternities with the use of the Student Conduct policies and the taking of Fraternity buildings.”

In an interview with The Lafayette published on August 31, President Byerly acknowledged that Greeks are “embattled and defensive,” also adding, “given recent history, I can see why that is.” Acknowledging and respecting Lafayette’s history and traditions have been aspects that Byerly has stated multiple times that she’s counting as one of her main objectives.

“Everyone wants to make sure that there’s a healthy respect for legacy and traditions,” William Rappolt ‘67 said. “Fraternity and sorority systems, athletics, everything that that implies in terms of culture.”

By the same token, the alumni expressed a desire for the reins on social life at the college to be loosened. They believe that it’s possible for students to maintain a traditionally social atmosphere while also being safe, a notion that’s been reflected by students such as Delta Upsilon President Zach Lappen ‘14.

“Many colleges across the nation successfully find a balance between keeping the fun part of college going and controlling it,“ Ori Kalmus ‘08 said. “I expect our president to reach out to other colleges that have the same problems as Lafayette and find an amicable solution. She has a tough job ahead of her.”

After being informed that tailgating activities for homecoming and Lafayette-Lehigh were severely curbed last year, Romney replied, “They need to bring that back this year.”

“There’s a lot of opportunity to expand the social side of campus life,” Rappolt added. “The preservation of that is important to alumni. I think the college can do better.”

The majority of the interviewed alumni also mentioned continued dedication to Division I level of athletic competition as a major area of concern.

“It’s a strength uniting alumni and students as a source of pride,” Rappolt said. “She sat in the stands at a field hockey game. She sat with the students, she sat with the parents, and she was interested in being a part of who we are.”

Despite these concerns, the alumni expressed optimism for Byerly’s tenure. Those that had spoken with her at least once came away with a hopeful view for the future.

“I have had the privilege of talking to Byerly several times,” Pierce said. “I can say personally I am very encouraged by what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard from President Byerly.”

“She’s really impressive,” Romney said. “She’s going to be a good leader.”