“They took the bannister off the staircase railing, they broke holes in the walls, they broke windows — because they were just so angry.And twenty-something years later, the college isn’t looking back with regret.“We’re pleased that Middlebury decided some time ago to make our residential life system inclusive of all students,” said Shirley Collado, Dean of the College.“I think that Middlebury is stronger and more diverse.” The transition, Collado said, was set in motion a decade or so prior, when in early 1979 the Board of Trustees voted to conclude the long-running tradition of fraternity dining.A crudely battered female mannequin dangled from a Middlebury College frat balcony in early May of 1988.Doused in blood-tinted paint and flashing a sexually charged slur, the gross spectacle appeared during a toga party at Delta Upsilon, the jock fraternity — and there it remained the following day, an ugly blight on the Vermont college’s idyllic campus, until a dean intervened. It was the school’s small group of feminists who alerted the news crews up north in Burlington.“It could be argued that [by supporting the school’s fraternities] you are at least tacitly approving that in a way.”At Middlebury, the mannequin was an emblem of the unchecked influence six fraternities had exerted over campus life for generations — and it marked the beginning of the end.Later that month, Middlebury president Olin Robison declared it “a point beyond which our tolerance cannot and must not be stretched” and placed Delta Upsilon under suspension for a full year.
By January of 1990, the Board of Trustees insisted that the frats integrate women, presumably forfeiting their national affiliations in the process, or dissolve. But not so at Middlebury, or the handful of elite Northeastern colleges that took similar steps, both before and after, to tweak the gender gap in the Greek sphere.
A year later, the school’s fraternities had been officially abolished, several of them swept up into a new decade’s system of coed “social houses.”’s March cover story, “fraternities are now mightier than the colleges and universities that host them.” Perhaps, armed with their sordid hazing rituals and sexist customs, they have hardened into unassailable American institutions, clutching in a stranglehold grip those schools and administrators who dare question their formidable rule. At Middlebury, the system came shakily — if not neatly — undone.
When Cole Moore Odell arrived as a freshman in the Fall of 1989, the story still hung fresh in the air.
“The mannequin-out-the-window incident was kind of famous on campus when we got there,” he said a quarter of a century later.
At the time, Hal Findlay, class of 1980, Drama struck further when, in 1986, Vermont raised the drinking age to 21, rendering illegal the booze-fueled hijinks frats had long taken for granted.Then, the mannequin episode, and then, in late 1989, a task force study The Board of Trustees made the call, unanimously, the following month.