John Engelman "is a genuinely good guy," says Alpha Delta (AD) fraternity member Forrest Hanson '06. "I'm not sure he knows how much he means to us." Adds Josh Gregg '06, president of VOX Sportswear, a student-run clothing company, "Any time you run into an AD alumnus, his first question is, 'How's John?'"
Engelman, or "Papa," as he's known, is AD's alumni advisor. "He's exactly the kind of person you want in that role," says AD President Griffin Gordon '06.
What is it about Engelman that has these students so enthused? "I guess I provide continuity and institutional memory so the [AD] brothers don't have to reinvent the wheel every few years," Engelman responds.
Continuity is something he knows a lot about. He arrived in Hanover in 1964 - a member of a class of 812 men. "It was a turbulent time" he says. "I lived in the AD house during my junior and senior years and it was an important part of my life at the College."
After a stint in the Chicago banking world, Engelman returned to the Upper Valley in 1975 to work in Hanover and, about four years later, became AD's advisor. That "institutional memory" he describes - excluding his student days - spans close to three decades.
Engelman is also President of the AD Corporation which makes him head of the legal entity that owns the house and the property. "I help the fraternity maintain its physical plant, so it continues to be a safe, healthy, and comfortable place to live."
Over the past eight years, expectations for Dartmouth's fraternities and sororities have been raised substantially. Each group must develop and meet an action plan describing how it will fulfill six principles agreed on by a committee largely made up of undergraduates. The principles challenge groups to demonstrate how they will measure up in scholarship, brotherhood/sisterhood, service, leadership, inclusiveness, and accountability.
Engelman tells AD members that meeting these goals, as well as the day-to-day running of the house, is their responsibility. "I'll do what I can to be supportive, but it's their organization. Taking responsibility builds leadership," he says.
Some of Dartmouth's fraternities date back to the 1820s, when they served as "literary societies" that housed book collections long before there was a Baker, much less a Berry, Library. In the 20th century, fraternities - and later sororities - became known primarily as social organizations. Once again they're undergoing profound change, spurred in part by the advent of the College's action plan system and by changes in society at large. It's an evolutionary process that's led to a great deal of introspection on the part of the Coed, Fraternity, and Sorority (CFS) system, and the administration itself.
Engelman feels that alumni advisors play an important role during this phase. "We're go-betweens," he explains. "For example, administrators in the Office of Residential Life, which oversees the CFS system and Dartmouth's other residential programs, meet regularly with advisors. They give us information and we provide input based on our knowledge of individual students and groups."
"There will always be tensions - that's the nature of the beast," he says. "But advisors and corporation officers believe the administration is committed to keeping these organizations a vital part of the Dartmouth community."
Yet not all Dartmouth students wish to be affiliated with a fraternity or a sorority, and the same initiative that boosted expectations of CFS houses created more social opportunities for unaffiliated students. What, then, is it about Greek life that students still find appealing?
"For me," says Hanson, "it's an opportunity to grow close to friends I might not have known otherwise." A member of the College's Ultimate Frisbee team who also trains Dartmouth Outing Club trip leaders, Hanson recently won the Pamela Joyner '79 Prize for African American Studies for his paper, "Signifying on Marx: The Application of Marxist Ideals to the Modern African American Literary Tradition."
"It's phenomenal," adds Gordon, a history major with an economics minor. "I've met some of my best friends and it's been the defining aspect of my Dartmouth experience." Gordon worked this year to strengthen the fraternity's ties to Grass Roots Soccer, an HIV/AIDS education program begun by AD alumnus Thomas S. Clark '92, DMS '01. He also volunteers locally for Big Brother/Big Sister.
"Every student needs a core of friends to rely on," says Engelman. "Fraternities and sororities are two of a variety of options on campus that fill that need. We should be proud of the progress they've made. Undergraduates and administrators are working together for the long term benefit of Greek organizations and the College."
By LAUREL STAVIS
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Last Updated: 5/30/08